might know this franchise as Star Blazers. For many Americans, it was their first
introduction to anime and is considered an influence on several subsequent
sci-fi series, including Battlestar
Galactica. Leiji Matsumoto and
Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s space opera finally gets the live action treatment with Takashi
Yamazaki’s Space Battleship Yamato (trailer here), which has its
West Coast premiere this Sunday during the 2013 Japan Film Festival of San Francisco.
far, the future is a serious bummer. A ruthless
alien race known as Gamilas have rendered the surface of the Earth
uninhabitable through their constant bombardment and it is only a matter of
time before the radiation reaches the subterranean settlements. The opening space battle is an unqualified
disaster for Earth, with only the flagship Yamato surviving, thanks to the noble
sacrifice of Captain Mamoru Kodai and the crew of the Yukikaze. Kodai’s younger brother Susumu does not quite
see it that way. He bitterly and vocally
rails against Captain Okita and his alleged cowardice. As a result, it is a little awkward when he
re-enlists for a last ditch mission on the Yamato.
seems the Gamila are not alone in their far corner of the universe. The mysterious people of Iskandar have sent
Earth a warp engine schematic and a vague invitation. Seizing on Iskandar as a symbol of hope,
Okita leads the Yamato where no man has gone before. Of course, it will hardly be a smooth
trip. Kodai will clash Hepburn-and-Tracy
style with Yuki Mori, the leader of the Black Tiger fighter pilots, while the
Gamilas harass the ship every step of the way.
big budget production, the live action Yamato
boasts some legitimately impressive space battles. In an odd contrast, some of the Earthly sets
look rather flimsy, but fans should find the spirit mostly in keeping with the
original series and successive features and reboots. In fact, sacrifice is a
conspicuous theme in Yamazaki’s film, even though such plot developments were occasionally
walked back in the television productions as a result of viewer feedback.
star-making-the-feature-transition Takuya Kimura is reasonably solid as the
Maverick-esque Kodai and Meisa Kimura makes a credible and engaging action
figure as Mori. Tsutomu Yamazaki (so
wise and graceful as the old encoffineer in Departures) has the right commanding presence for
Okita, but he is overly done-up, looking like he and his beard might feel at
home on a bottle of aftershave. Still,
there are some distinctive supporting turns amongst the crew, including Ip Man alumnus Hiroyuki Ikeuchi as the
hardcore commando Hajime Saito and Naoto Ogata as the devoted family man
navigator, Daisuke Shima.
In an odd bit of equal opportunity casting, the
film pulls a gender switch on Dr. Sado, evidently to demonstrate women are just
as capable of aimlessly staggering about the ship with a bottle of sake as any
man. (Right, so don’t get sick on the Yamato.)
Nevertheless, all the essential elements are there. Yamazaki has a good sense of when to crank up
the Kirkian melodrama and when to dial it down.
As a result, Space Battleship
Yamato is pretty consistently entertaining military science fiction with
somewhat apocalyptic overtones.
Recommended for franchise fans, it screens this Sunday (8/4) at the New
People Cinema in San Francisco.
Labels: Japanese Cinema, JFFSF '13, Sci-Fi films, Space Battleship Yamato