20 September 2011

Movie review: Space Battleship Yamato (2010 live action)

I imprinted on Leiji Matsumoto's works at a very early age. I was about 5 (we only had HBO for a year), and I was watching the cartoons they showed one day. There was a kid, a space train, and this woman with long blonde hair, which was all I could remember about it until I found a VHS (remember those?) of Galaxy Express 999 at Suncoast (remember them?) when I was in college. Those were the days when you had to pay extra for the "collector's edition," which was Japanese audio with subtitles, because those letters were really expensive.

Back in the 80s, Matsumoto's other main work, Space Battleship Yamato, was dubbed into English and shown on American TV as Star Blazers, renaming ace pilot Kodai Susumu to Derek Wildstar. (I almost put Rick Hunter there, but that's what Ichijou Hikaru ended up as in Robotech, the US adaptation of Macross.) This fan site has plot summaries.

Last December, the live action movie was released in theaters, starring quite a few famous Japanese actors like Kimura Takuya (from the J-drama and movie Hero, about a lawyer, among other things). They made a few changes, notably making Dr Sado, of the bottle of sake and large orange cat, a woman, making it a little less of a sausage-fest. Still, there are only three named women on the Yamato: Sado, Mori Yuki, and the one whose name I forget but who's one of the Black Tigers.

It's the year 2199, and about five years ago, meteor bombs started hitting the Earth, making the surface too irradiated to live on and sending people underground to try to eke out a living. Humanity is fighting off Gamilas attacks, and everything they do, the Gamilas adapt to counter them. Captain Okita is leading an assault/defense force at Mars, and the Gamilan fleet is too strong for their weaponry. Kodai Mamoru, captain of the Yukikaze, uses his ship as a shield to allow Okita to escape and take the news to Earth.

Kodai Susumu is a scavenger. He goes out looking for metal to take to the military. While he's out scavenging, a strange object falls from the sky and knocks off his protective gear. He picks it up and mysteriously survives the deadly radiation levels. At the same time, Okita's ship returns. He takes the object to the military, and they examine it and find coordinates for planet Iscandar, where the Gamilas come from, and blueprints for a warp engine and a powerful weapon, the wave motion gun.

The leader of the military decides to send the Yamato out to Iscandar to find a decontamination device, which would allow people to move back to the surface, and Kodai joins up again. He'd been an ace pilot at the time of the initial Gamilan attacks, but he left after a personal tragedy. He is angry at Okita, because he believes Okita sacrificed his brother in order to escape. He meets up with his old buddies, the Black Tigers.

The name for the ship wasn't chosen at random. The Yamato was a WW2 battleship that was sent on a mission to defend Okinawa until it was destroyed, to give the Japanese people a last hope (as Kodai explains in a speech at the end). Pasting from wikipedia, Yamato's symbolic might was such that some Japanese citizens held the belief that their country could never fall as long as the ship was able to fight. The word Yamato also carries significance in Japan as a poetic name for the country and remains as a metaphor for the end of the empire.

While they're in transit, they're repeatedly attacked by Gamilan forces, and when they eventually make it to Iscandar, they find something unexpected. I won't spoil the ending, but I saw it coming, because I've seen the old anime movies.

At times, it's goofy. I couldn't help but laugh at the Star Trek-like "the bridge is shaking, everybody lean to the right and look like you're hanging on" effects, but the CG was really nice. I couldn't figure out why they made a land assault at Iscandar rather than stay in their nice ships, other than to allow for heroism and sacrifice. The zero-g-love scene made me giggle (mainly because it put this song in my head). But it's based on one of the classics of science fiction anime, and even as it changes and updates a few things (like the Gamilans being energy beings (they're still blue, though) and the Cosmo Zero having something like a Valkyrie's Gerwalk mode, probably just because it looks cool), it's still the story Matsumoto wrote at its core.

It's worth seeing, if you know how to get hold of it. There's no word yet of an English release.

1 comment:

Geobaldi said...

I'm a geezer fan from way back and I have to say it was beautifully done. I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out and went into it prepared for the worst. I was very impressed.
Granted it deviated in many ways to modernize it but I realized that not only was that to keep a new audience's attention but in order to tell a story that was 26 episodes long (the first season)into an hour and a half.
The feel of the movie has Matsumoto's spirit in it if not his work, though I thought I saw an article stating he wrote the story for the movie.
Don't miss this movie if you were ever a fan or even have never heard of it before for that matter, it's a real jewel.