Rumour has it that Space Battleship Yamato star, Kimura Takuya offered to reduce his own salary so more could be spent on the film itself and better position it as a rival to the likes of Avatar. True or not, the movie cost around two billion yen to make – a huge amount in Japan, even though it doesn’t come close to the most expensive Hollywood films. Was it worth it?
I didn’t know much about Space Battleship Yamato going into the movie, except it was based on an anime series by Leiji Matsumoto. If pressed, I would have said it was about a battleship named Yamato in space. While the ending may be as familiar to Japanese audiences as the connection between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker is to me, I wasn’t aware of it. It was a shock.
The opening was stunning. For most of the action of the first half, they seem to have eschewed the standard CGI in favour of model shots with enhanced backgrounds featuring the kind of star formations you can find on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day. At least, I believe these to be model shots, despite the advertised “80% CGI” claim. If it’s really CGI, it’s brilliant.
There is also one incredible shot of the underground city where Kodai lives. It appears on screen for maybe ten seconds, but the detail is all there.
The basic plot is simple, but the specifics are tough to follow, possibly because the Japanese is a level above what is normally required. There’s a mixture of nautical and sci-fi terms which are fairly challenging and you just know that they would consist of a string of ten kanji if written down. I had the same problem with Ghost in the Shell: Innocence.
The earth has been scorched beyond repair by aliens, and humanity only has about a year before the radiation reaches their underground city. However, despite the destruction of all greenery, there are still cats. One day, a capsule said to be from a planet called Iscandar is dropped on Earth and is found to contain a message which states there is a way to reduce the radiation levels. The same message instructs humanity on how to equip Yamato with a hadou engine which allows them to warp through space from Earth to Iscandar.
Kodai is a former pilot and the younger brother of a space captain who was killed in combat. He re-enlists and bravely notes the ship doctor has a cat. Once aboard, Captain Okita eventually recognises Kodai’s earnestness and sense of duty and hands the ship over to him on his deathbed. Kodai faces difficult decisions as captain, but the final one is the most difficult of all and the film stays with him throughout his decision-making process.
As for the final scene… I didn’t know it and I’ll assume you don’t want to know it either. All I will say is that we’re in flu season in Japan and there was coughing throughout the film until that final moment. The music dropped away and so did the sounds of the audience members. Complete silence throughout the theatre.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen this combination before in a live action movie — a hard sci-fi aesthetic, space opera action and the morality of a Japanese war film. The mix is unique and visually amazing, with a real ‘lived-in’ feel to the technology.
The cat survives, by the way.