Yes, this is a LIVE-ACTION version of the animated “Space Cruiser Yamato” series from the 70s and beyond. You, dear reader, may remember it as Starblazers! After over 30 years, fans are finally treated to a live-action version of the classic anime, and it does not disappoint.
The story is familiar and is a condensed version of the first season: In the year 2199, Earth has been pounded by radioactive “planet bombs” by a mysterious alien race known as The Gamilons, and what’s left of humanity are forced to live in underground cities. The government has determined that if something is not done soon, Earth will be unlivable in one year. A mysterious pod crashes on Earth that contains an information module with plans for a wave-motion engine and wave-motion gun. The Yamato, a World War II Japanese battleship that was sunk, sits at what used to be the bottom of the ocean, but is now the surface of the Earth. The ship is retro-fittted with this new technology, and a crew is assembled to take on the desperate mission to the planet Iscandar in the hopes of retrieving what they believe is a device that will rid the Earth of the radiation and restore the planet to its former glory. But, can the Starforce travel 148,000 light years and back, in just one Earth year??
I don’t want to give too much away beyond the basic synopsis because there are loads of surprises throughout the film. Every scene that I was hoping they would include was in there! I have watched the three anime series, all of the anime feature length movies, and read up on Yamato ever since I was a kid, and being well-versed in all things Yamato I have to say that this movie really, and finally delivers the goods. Viewers who may not be familiar with the Japanese names for the characters (or even the ship which was called “Argo” in the English version), rest assured – they are all the accurate character names, and they look just like their anime counterparts. When the Yamato finally emerges from the ground to begin its mission, and the familiar theme music plays, the hair on the back of my neck stands on end!
The tone of the film is much grittier than the anime version, and rightly so. If the Earth really was in that kind of peril I don’t think everything would be as clean-looking as in the cartoon. But all the elements are there. Even the robot, IQ-9 (called Analyzer in the Japanese version) shows up, at first as a sort of portable computer/pal to Susumu Kodai (you may remember him more as the main character, Wildstar).
Speaking of Wildstar/Kodai, as in the series, the film’s focus is on his journey. Kodai lost his family, and at the beginning of the film his brother is killed in one of Earth’s last space battles so that Captain Saito (Captain Avatar in the English version) can get his crew back to Earth to regroup. Kodai harbors resentment to the Captain for leaving his brother behind. In the anime, Kodai was a cadet, but in this version he’s a former maverick fighter pilot who used to lead a crew of daredevil pilots that now serve as the Black Tiger squadron on the Yamato. Takuya Kimura delivers a great and believable performance as the tortured, but still wide-eyed hotshot determined to succeed in the mission at all costs. In Japan, Kimura is a pop-star and has been in the band Smap since 1988. He’s also one of the most-successful TV stars there. A friend of mine who lives in Japan told me before I’d seen the film that it would be like Justin Bieber taking on a major role of a beloved character. But, since I don’t have that bias, not knowing who Kimura is, I felt objectively that he delivered an outstanding performance.
Nova, the female co-star known in Japanese as Yuki Mori, is not just a simple radar girl, but also a rough and tumble hotshot pilot herself (I think they borrowed a little from Battlestar Galactica’s re-imagining of the character Starbuck). The only major character change is Dr. Sane/Dr. Sado, who, instead of being a stereotype of a Chinese man, is instead a woman. Reiko Takashima hams it up greatly and really captures the spirit of the lovable doctor we all remember, complete with Mimi the cat and the giant bottle of *ahem* spring water (C’mon, we all know it’s really saki!). The character of Shima/Mark Venture has a change, too: In the cartoon, his motivation for saving the Earth was his little brother, Jordy, who is probably seven or eight years old. In this, Jordy is Shima’s son, and I think this minor change works just as effectively. Also, Sgt. Knox/Hajime Saito is in this story even though he does not appear until the second season of the original.
Much of the plot from the first series is condensed down here and I felt the changes that were made were logical, and in some ways improvements. Gone are plots from the “filler” episodes like the giant space lizard, or the bee people, but there is one major scene that involved a character called General Lysis in the first season that is used to great effect in this film. In the original, the Gamilons (the villains of the piece) were blue-skinned humans. I doubt that would have translated well to a live-action feature, although for years I always thought Kyle MacLachlan would make an excellent Desslar/Leader Desslock. The Gamilons are vastly different than their anime counterparts, and when the film was first released in December 2010, reports were that they were a rip-off of the Borg from Star Trek. The only similarity is the hive-mind aspect of the Gamilons, and that’s where the similarities end. I felt that they were scarier and more formidable in this incarnation, and yes, Desslar does show up in the film!
Having studied both the English and Japanese versions for many years, I can tell you that there are scenes directly lifted from the anime with strict attention to detail. Since the American version was watered down, we didn’t get to see many of the characters perish. However, when certain ones do in this film, it is identical to how they died in the anime which speaks volumes to the filmmakers’ attention to detail. It’s like they literally took scenes out of my memory and put them on the silver screen!
And the music is there. While I really wished they’d have simply taken the Symphonic Yamato Suites (a CD series in which a full orchestra plays all of the major themes and incidental music of the series) and used that as the soundtrack, it still delivers with variations of the main theme. Trust me, whenever you hear the familiar notes of the theme song, you are brought back to childhood with giddiness! It would have been nice to hear the familiar Black Tigers theme play as the fighter planes race into battle, but c’est la vie…
The only criticism I had was that they took a pivotal and emotional scene from the second season and used it in this film. This was a major disappointment while at the same time still being a great scene. I got the feeling that this was a case of throwing all their “eggs into one basket” because they didn’t know if the film would be a hit or not. Takashi Yamazaki, the director, is a multi-talented guy who is also an actor, writer, animator, and visual effects supervisor (which he doubled as on this film, too, and it shows). The special effects are top-notch and when you see the Yamato in action, you believe it.
While the story is buttoned up rather nicely, I feel that they could easily make a sequel. Considering the fact that it was one of the biggest box-office smashes in Japan, I’m fairly certain that we’ll get to see the Comet Empire story from season two within our lifetime!
Above: A comparison of the characters from Anime to Film. Wildstar/Kodai, Nova/Yuki, Captain Avatar/Saito
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