Space Battleship Yamato (Cert 12)
1 Disc DVD/Blu-ray (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 139 minutes
In 2199 the Earth has been ravaged by a radiation bomb attack from an alien race called the Gamilas with the human population been driven underground. With seventy three days left before humanity perishes for good, former pilot Susumu Kodai (Takuya Kimura) discovers a capsule sent from the planet Iskandar telling of a device which can remove the radiation from the Earth’s surface. With this, the United Nations commission the rebuilding of the last remaining battleship, the Yamato – complete with a new hyper drive system called the Wave Motion engine – under the command of veteran Captain Okita (Tsutomu Yamazaki) to travel to Iskander to save humanity.
If the title sounds familiar it is because it is a classic anime series dating back to 1974, shown in a typically butchered manner internationally under the new title of Star Blazers, and spawning a number of sequels and films over the next thirty years. A live action version was always inevitable but a wait of thirty five years seems extreme, although as we have learned over the years that a lot of sci-fi works best now that technology has advanced enough to make much of the ideas possible. With a rich source of material to draw from, screenwriter Shimako Sato dips into various arcs from the original series to create the script for this film.
The end result is a film that is high on visual content but bogged down by a plodding script and some occasionally cheesy dialogue. Things kick off in an energetic fashion as we are thrown head first into a space battle between Earth Defence Force fighters and the Gamilas, in which Mamoru Kodai (Shinichi Tsutsumi) captain of the destroyer Yukikaze sacrifices himself and his ship to allow the Yamato to escape unharmed. Our hero, Kodai’s younger brother Susumu believes that Okita abandoned Mamoru and holds a grudge against the veteran captain, creating unwanted tension on board the resurrected Yamato.
As time goes on of course, these issues are resolved and when Okita is taken ill, he names Kodai as the acting captain. Another member of the crew that Kodai gets off on the wrong foot with is ace pilot Yuki Mori (Meisa Kuroki, last seen here in the UK in the two Crows Zero films) head of the Black Tiger squadron, who is as mean with her fists and she is with a spacecraft. As the two glamorous leads of the film I’m sure I don’t need to explain how this relationship plays out. Tucked away in the supporting cast is Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (the evil Japanese general in Ip Man) as Commando Team Leader Hajime Saito, a gung ho pilot who is at one point possessed by a Gamila and is used as a conduit to reveal that the Gamila are a hive mind race and won’t be easy to overcome.
Many sci-fi buffs will be quick to make comparisons to this film with the recent Star Trek reboot, what with the main starships named after real life craft and a mixed crew on a mission for peace, etc, but Yamato comes with its own history making these comparisons superficial at best. If Japanese sci-fi has taught us anything it is that there will be a prominent existentialist bent to the plot and the script will involve verbal longueurs on this subject. While the script is often too sluggishly verbose for its own good, it is surprisingly light on the philosophical material, replaced by emotional rousing chest puffing speeches by Kodai which areas corny as hell, and won’t inspire much beyond a sense of cheesiness from the viewer as the cast onscreen well up with pride and motivation.
It is much of the personal interplay among the characters that makes the film run longer than it should and is likely to put some people off, especially if they (like yours truly) haven’t seen the anime. Two and quarter hours is often quite and investment but with Sci-fi the rapid pace and explosive battle scenes usually make the time fly by; Yamato is the opposite and the film almost grinds to a halt once the action element takes a breather. A good twenty minutes could have been cut from the running time without ruining the narrative or coherence of the script, nor would it have damped the effect of the unexpected downbeat ending; if anything some tightening up would have made it more effective.
With a budget of 2.2 billion yen, with most of it dedicated to creating the sixty eight minutes (out of one hundred and thirty nine) of on screen action and effects, the decision to wait until now when modern technology could make the ideas of 1974 workable is vindicated. The visuals are unquestionably the star of the show, utterly stupendous in both construction and execution, easily rivalling anything Hollywood has produced, and it looks great on Blu-ray to boot! The design of the Yamato itself is, unsurprisingly, based on a sea faring battleship (complimented by Captain Okita wearing an old naval cap), while the Gamila ships take on a unique spider like form for added menace. Unfortunately the Yamato itself isn’t involved in any battles leaving that the fighter squads of individual ships, the flight movements of which are based on real life fighter planes for extra credibility.
One does not have to be familiar with Space Battleship Yamato to view or enjoy this film. Even if the script tries too hard to be gallant and emotive, the main intention is to provide high octane, edge of your seat escapist entertainment and to the end, the mission is accomplished. A flawed spectacle but a spectacle none the less.
Japanese DTS-HD 5.1
Japanese LCPM 5.1
Visual Effects – Before & After
VFX Scale Footage
Rating – ***
Man In Black