Film Review: Space Battleship Yamato (2010)
Moviestardom: The Final Frontier
by Ender’s Girl
Kimura Takuya, Kuroki Meisa, Yanagiba Toshiro, Ogata Naoto, Yamazaki Tsutomu
Directed by Yamazaki Takashi / Toho; TBS Films, 2010
In a Nutshell:
A single battleship and its doughty crew are mankind’s last hope against an invading alien race!!!
The Real Nutshell:
Kimura Takuya makes a bid for international moviestardom!!!
(SpoilLert: Well it’s that kind of film, so can there really be anything to spoil?)
It’s 2199 and there’s something straaange in the solar system: Earth is this close to getting nuked out of existence by an invading alien race – SO WHO YA GONNA CALL?????????????
(Did the Ghostbusters theme song start playing in your head just now??? It did, dinnit??? Hahahaha)
The last time a cocky, nonconformist hero saved the world from imminent destruction while a Steven Tyler power ballad blared in the background, the year was 1998 and the movie was Armageddon. It’s 2011 and (a newly relevant) Steven Tyler is still caterwauling the same tune (well, almost), although the crew nationalities have changed from Eeemrrican to Japanese, the Earth faces a different kind of threat (enemy extraterrestrials! instead of giant asteroids!), and the hero (Kimura Takuya in full-on Moviestar Mode) has way more hair than Bruce Willis did in Armageddon (or anything he starred in since 1987, for that matter).
I don’t know if the producers of the 2010 Space Battleship Yamato remake intentionally hired Steven Tyler as a nod to Armageddon – and, by association, that other celestial-body-on-a-collision-course-with-Earth-OHNOES!!! flick from 1998, Deep Impact (whose plotline the Bay/Bruckheimer/Willis mega-production reportedly cribbed off, tsk tsk). Strictly speaking, Yamato isn’t a disaster sci-fi flick like Armageddon or Deep Impact, but it runs on the same basic premise: A motley crew of spacemen sets out on a hail-Mary mission to [insert planetary body], which they must [destroy/steal an alien device from] in order to save the earth. Chances of success or survival seem dire, but the intrepid officers and crewmen are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of our planet!!! *cue [insert Steven Tyler song]*
As the first live-action feature based on the successful 1970s anime-manga franchise, Space Battleship Yamato was given its own daunting mission to execute: to entice the core fan base back to the mother ship; to wow new and younger audiences with astronomical (pun intended) doses of visual and sound FX; and to break into international markets and, er, boldly go where no KimuTaku film has gone before.
Growing up I never really followed the original anime, or even the dubbed U.S. release, Star Blazers. (I did watch a bit of Macross, but was a far bigger fan of the cheesy supah roboto shows like Voltron and Voltes V – eeewww, I know. Hahaha.) So I can’t speak for the Yamato die-hards and judge whether the live-action was a worthy remake or not – although a quick comparison of googled photos shows that the movie had the key visual references from the series pretty much covered – from the design of the Yamato battleship to Captain Okita’s naval uniform with the white combination cap, etc. – obviously so as not to alienate the
nerds fans. Well, the franchise fans didn’t seem to mind: joining forces with a hefty slice of Japan’s moviegoing public AND Kimmy’s ever-formidable fanbase, they helped propel Yamato to the top of the box-office, where it knocked Potter 7: Part 1 off the No. 1 slot in December 2010 and maintained a strong showing for the rest of its extended run.
I wish I could say that I found Space Battleship Yamato extremely enjoyable, and that I would still watch the movie even without Kimura in it. But I can’t. And while the production design and VFX (more on that later) were very impressive for the relatively modest budget (relative to Hollywood, of course), there was little else that kept me stoked. Although to be fair to the movie, it stays faithful to the original story and its space-opera genre, not deviating off-course for even one nanodegree. But it also loses points for staying too faithful to a genre that started feeling dated a good while back. The familiar tropes of a traditional space opera, which decades ago may have felt as exciting as a freshly minted Galaxy-class starship, are now clichéd and outmoded. (“Built-in obsolescence,” yah? I guess even genres have a shelf life, lol.) Space Battleship Yamato safely tries to go where a whole bunch of sci-fi shows have gone before, but did I really want another retread of the same old stuff?
Again, trying to be fair to the movie, I get that its source material was a product of its time more than anything: As one of the earliest space/military sci-fi shows in Japan, predating even the Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica franchises, all the 1974 anime had for a template was the 1966-69 Star Trek: TOS, and you really can’t get more “space operatic” than that. So it’s no wonder that the Yamato franchise comes replete with all its genre conventions, like the predictable plot trajectory and stock characters; Shatneresque (lol) voice-overs; a preponderance of technobabble (shock cannons! meteorite bombs! wave motion guns!); highly evolved alien species possessing godlike technologies that can either save or destroy mankind; smart-mouthed robot sidekicks (but okay, I loved Kimura’s robot sidekick in this one, lol); super-cool mega-weapons (i.e. the wave motion gun, called a “laser beam on steroids” by tvtropes.com, lol); etc. etc.
It doesn’t help either that the live-action Yamato came out a few years after the Sci-Fi Channel’s excellent reimagining of the 1978 Battlestar Galactica series. This acclaimed 2004-2009 drama was a touchstone both for the space/military sci-fi genre and for television in general, smashing well-entrenched norms and opening global audiences to the possibility that, yes, there IS more to these types of shows than phasers and latex-suited aliens and spacecraft (or should I say, cameras? lol) that pitch wildly while the crew on the bridge scream, “We’re hit aft! Losing thrust!” “Incoming!” – and later, “Aaauughhh!!!!” (lol) So I’m not sure how the 2010 Yamato remake can still be relevant, let alone sustainably entertaining, in this post-Galactica world where “naturalistic science fiction” is the new paradigm, and adult audiences are seeking more sophisticated, character-driven instead of hardware-driven forms of entertainment.
Ah, well, on with our space J-popera: It’s 2199 and for the last five years Earth has been under heavy attack from a hostile alien race known only as “Gamilas.” The unrelenting blitzing by Gamilas forces – in the form of nuclear “meteorite bombs” – has reduced the planet’s surface to one vast radioactive funk and driven the human survivors below ground where they live like starving sardines in dingy, shoebox-type bunkers. (The fact that Yamato opened in Japan just a few months before 3/11 gives the film an extra meta dimension, doesn’t it? You also realize that though the story is pure science fiction, the effects of a full-blown nuclear crisis are already being felt in the present world. A disturbing thought.)
On the verge of utter defeat, the Earth Defense Force (EDF) musters one final counterattack, but the superior technology and firepower of the alien spacecraft wipe out the entire EDF fleet except for one ship. (The Earth Defense Force is supposedly a global military alliance of sorts, but the movie makes no bones about who’s in charge: in mankind’s ultimate war for survival, Nihon stands alone. Which is perfectly understandable – this is a Japanese movie after all; even Armageddon never bothered to hide its core theme of “White American Hero saves the world!!!” and the audiences lapped it up. So it’s moot.)
Soon after that disastrous space battle, a mysterious pod thing crashes on Earth, bearing what appears to be an alien care package from the planet Iskandar in a neighboring galaxy: there are hologram-encoded blueprints for two über-technologies, namely a device that enables faster-than-light (FTL) travel, and a humungous “wave motion cannon” that can vaporize enemy ships in a single ka-boom. Also in the capsule are coordinates to Iskandar, which happens to be in possession of an anti-radiation thingamajiggy. Whoever sent the message means for the humans to come and get said curative, and then race back to clean up Earth’s irradiated surface and restore the planet to inhabitable levels. (I dunno about you but these aliens have pretty much taken the term “good neighbors” to a whole new dimension, lol.)
Soooo let’s see… FTL travel, a badass new weapon, and directions to a radiation cure-all from Earth’s new alien BFF. If that won’t make you think twice before jumping off into hyperspace towards what could very well be a trap, then I don’t know what will. But lo! – desperate times call for desperate measures, and so! – armed with this propitious new info, the EDF brass task their engineers to assemble said gizmos (from scratch!) – and yes, we are expected to believe that unheard-of alien technology will only take humans a few months, if not a few weeks to understand, let alone build. (We are “puny earthlings” no more, didn’t you hear!) But you do wonder why the Gamilas ships didn’t just finish the humans off during this lull, with Earth’s defenses virtually nil. Did the Gamilas E.T.s call a cease-fire or something? Them little green men ain’t so smart after all, huh? lol
Then the EDF (meaning Japan) takes it a notch higher and retrofits the FTL machine and wave gun cannon into the recovered wreckage of the battleship Yamato, that once-mighty flagship that saw action in the Second World War before succumbing to Allied torpedoes in April 1945. In a masterful confluence of digitally rendered matte-backdrops and CGI modeling, the newly resurrected Yamato cruiser breaks free of its subterranean shipyard and majestically lifts off into space, a titanium phoenix rising from the ashes of a post-apocalyptic landscape. (Considering that the anime came out just 30 years after WW II, one may say that this premise making the Yamato 2.0 central to a futuristic salvation story echoes Japan’s post-War nostalgia for its faded military glory, while recalling the original ship’s revered status as a cultural symbol for patriotic duty and self-sacrifice.)
And where does KimuTaku figure in all of this, pray tell? Why, he’s here… there… and EVERYWHERE!!! Lol. No really, he is: manning the controls of the Yamato 2.0… operating the wave motion gun… piloting a fighter plane… tussling with an alien hijacker… rescuing an endangered colleague… leading a daring ground assault team… steering the Yamato into its final maneuver… saving the planet – oh you know, the usual KimuTaku everyday heroics. You’re reminded that this movie is every bit Kimura’s star vehicle as it is a remake of a classic anime. So who does Japan love more – Space Battleship Yamato, or Dorama King KimuTaku? DOH, who cares??? Put them BOTH in one movie and see if you don’t hit pay dirt, hahaha. (Oh wait, the movie studio already did!!!)
Kimura’s character, the “ace pilot” (lol I’ll never get tired of saying that) Kodai Susumu is basically a torqued-up version of one of his most successful dorama character templates, the “KimuTaku as Tom Cruise” template. Kimura really just phoned it all in, reprising his roles as Maverick Pilot Shinkai from Good Luck! and Rule-breaking Hot-rodder Jiro from Engine – but in space!!! Lawl. So when the EDF calls for volunteer crew on the Yamato 2.0’s last-ditch mission to Iskandar, guess who’s first in line??? Shinkai! I mean – Jiro!!! I mean – Kodai!!! Same thing, same thing!!! hahahaha (I swear, I think Kimura’s space uniform in Yamato was actually one of his racer jackets from Engine – I dare you to prove me wrong! Lulz. But it’s all good because oh baby the spaceman jacket suited him oh-so-faha-haiiin…)
Kodai is a man on a mission, but he’s also one man with <wait for it> baggage from his past (oohh, backstory!!! lol). Turns out he was a decorated fighter pilot who quit the EDF some five years ago after a counterattack he was leading against Gamilas bombers went horribly awry, leading to significant civilian casualties (among them his own parents – tsk). Since then he’s eked out a living scavenging for rare earth metals, with only his trusty HAZMAT suit and a wisecracking calculator-sized data analyzing robot named, um, Analyzer to keep him company on the surface wasteland of Earth. It’s funny how life has been reduced to hell on earth, with humans either dying from radiation poisoning above ground, or subsisting on severely rationed supplies under it – AND YET apparently there’s enough hair product available to keep Kimura’s fluffy mahogany mane in perfect luster and bounce, LMAO. Don’t you think Kimura’s character should have turned bald by now from the chronic radiation exposure? A little verisimilitude here, producers?!?!? Yes? Yes? No?
So Kodai enlists – oh I’m sorry, I mean re-enlists – for the EDF. But OH WHAT’S THIS? He’s barely boarded the Yamato when the C.O. reinstates him as squadron leader, never mind that he could be, um, a little rusty after five years? So, um, no re-orientation program or refresher course for EDF dropouts? (i.e. “This is starboard.” “This is a joystick.” “That is Saturn.” Lol) No? None? Not even a few simulation runs to test the mental-physical reflexes of 38-year-old ex-pilots who may have spent a little too much time on the earth’s highly toxic surface? No? None? *sigh*
And that’s not all! Guess who gets to fiddle with the joystick of the Yamato’s prototypical (meaning it’s never even been tested!!!!) wave motion cannon, which apparently is the only weapon strong enough to vaporize Gamilas missiles??? Take a wild guess!!!! Hahahaha. So not only does Kodai find himself on the ship’s flight deck with the other *cough*active and more battle-seasoned*cough* officers, but he gets to be the point man for the prized weapon despite himself admitting to zero experience at the command console of a battleship. But never fear, for our Ace Pilot Kodai <wait for it> has read the wave motion engine manual!!! LMFAO.
Luckily for Kodai (and for the rest of the Yamato’s officers and crew, whose lives Kodai would have recklessly put on the line had he forgotten to read the manual ahahaha), the wave motion gun actually works!!! (I am seriously getting sick of saying “wave motion gun” ayayayayyy) The Gamilas missiles sent to intercept the Yamato are promptly obliterated, allowing the battleship to pull away from the earth’s gravitational field and into space.
The rest of Space Battleship Yamato is an alternating play of flashy, messy, noisy action with close-quarter interpersonal drama, obviously meant to give audiences (as well as the movie studio’s in-house CGI-churning elves, bless their hearts) a brief respite before the next interstellar dogfight or warp jump or whatever. That’s all very good, but I thought the movie’s aim was to let viewers catch their breath, not put them to sleep. The film bogs down when the story unduly magnifies the crew dynamics, mostly to expand on (and later give closure to) unfinished business or lingering tensions between characters X and Y. But these “downtime” scenes are often too drawn-out, if not completely inessential, and only serve to bloat the movie’s running time to over two hours. (The ponderous voiceover didn’t help the momentum of the movie, either, making me feel I was watching a show at the local planetarium.)
One of my issues with Kimura’s other “ace pilot” (lol) starrer, the 2003 dorama Good Luck!, was that the dramatic tension between the passengers and crew of the ANA flights felt so manufactured. Same with the crew of the Yamato: Aliens above, but these spacemen seemed to have way too many hang-ups for their own good, starting with (who else?) KimuTaku – er, Kodai, who joins the mission carrying an ax to grind against the Yamato’s skipper, Capt. Okita (Yamazaki Tsutomu). We learn that Kodai’s oniisama (Tsutsumi Shinichi in a cameo, and wearing a uniform that was probably swiped from the set of Good Luck! lol), perished with his ship when Gamilas forces nuked the entire EDF fleet in the recent ill-fated battle. Only Capt. Okita’s ship got away, and so Kodai blames Okita for causing his brother’s death, mistakenly thinking that Okita used Tsutsumi Shinichi’s ship as a shield so he could escape – when in fact it was Tsutsumi Shinichi who voluntarily sacrificed his ship on Okita’s behalf.
Some people just DON’T KNOW when to let it go, yo: Kodai just.carps. on. ENDLESSLY aboard the Yamato, and does everything to undermine Capt. Okita’s authority – from sniping barbs in the captain’s general direction, to defying a direct order to stay aboard when a fighter pilot (Kuroki Meisa) gets separated from her squadron following a skirmish with Gamilas pursuers. Of course Kodai goes off to find Meisa, and of course they make it back to the Yamato milliseconds before the next scheduled warp jump, thereby justifying his insubordination once again. I guess it wouldn’t be a “KimuTaku as Tom Cruise” type of role without him giving chain of command The Finger – that’s KimuTaku for you, saving the world… but on his own terms.
When the movie is three-quarters done and Kodai is still taking Capt. Okita to task for leaving his brother to die in space blah blah, that’s when you realize just how badly and cheesily written the script is, particularly in the supposedly “emotionally charged” moments. I mean this was the scene where the captain was in his sickbed for frak’s sake, about to confide to Kodai the Mutinous all the secrets his ship carried – but Kodai couldn’t keep his bitter little trap SHUT for just one minute, couldn’t stop reminding the old man how they were nothing alike because he’d never leave his comrades behind. Sheeeesh.
And I don’t know if the Capt. Okita from the anime was supposed to be as stern and humorless as he was portrayed in the movie, but I expected more from actor Yamazaki Tsutomu – never mind if he looked like Captain Haddock’s grizzled grandpaw (though I wouldn’t have minded seeing him roar out “Blistering blue barnacles!!!” “Troglodytes!!!” and my favorite, “Ectoplasm!!!” just for the heck of it, lololll). It’s just that I greatly enjoyed his performances in Kurosagi (in spite of YamaPi lol) and in Departures because his characters had a twinkle to them, a sense of humor mixed in with irony, which I didn’t see in his character in Yamato.
Capt. Okita’s relationship with Kodai is a big fat flatliner despite attempts by the writing to play up the vaunted similarities between the two men. Too much time is wasted on scenes where crew members tell Kodai that he!is!justlike!theCaptain!!! while Kodai rolls his eyes or snorts in disbelief before making another gibe at the poor skipper.
There’s one scene where Kodai gets thrown in the brig (for disobeying ze captain, what else? *rolleyes*) and the chief engineer Tokugawa pays him a visit. A fleet veteran who knew Kodai from the old days, Tokugawa (played by the actor who also played Kimura’s beloved otosan-in-law in Karei naru Ichizoku) lends a sympathetic ear to the younger man, then tries to explain how Kodai is really a <wait for it!!!> younger version of Capt. Okita. *rolleyes* I liked Tokugawa but didn’t appreciate how his character was only good for perfunctory exposition and for belaboring the Kodai-Okita Ties That Bind Rainbow Connection. Actually, Kodai’s time in the brig is pretty pointless because he goes scot-free like, the next day or something. (And here I thought insubordination was a serious military offense, tsk.) At least the jail stint gives him an excuse to zip off his jacket and do sit-ups in his undershirt, showing his biceps brachii to glorious advantage, heh heh heh.
Another major character with a serious chip on her shoulder is Kuroki Meisa’s character, a prickly little hottie who liberally dispenses scowls and right hooks like a KAT-TUN member on a bad hair day – no wonder nobody likes her. Her beef is mainly with Kodai, whom she idolized in her days as a new recruit, but whose abrupt exit from the military five years ago left her disillusioned and without a father figure (hahaha).
Meisa is one idoru who knows how to play up her strengths and physical attributes (for one, she’s freakin’ gohrgeoussss), and who doesn’t seem to mind being typecast this early as the Token Tough Babe. Still, it doesn’t do her much good to phone in her performance the way Kimura does in this movie. She played someone similar in Ninkyo Helper but at least she managed to draw out highly relatable aspects of the character; she wasn’t just a sexy, one-dimensional gangster in that drama, but a person – an independent woman, a fiercely loyal friend, a girl secretly in love. She also had terrific chemistry with Kusanagi Tsuyoshi, which is more than I can say for her and KimuTaku in Yamato.
You’d expect the combined sex appeal of Kimura and Meisa to ignite some chemistry between their characters, but it’s like all they had in the Zero G of outer space was Zero C – as in zero chemistry, hahaha. Theirs is a rather lame-o “love story” marked by a few heated exchanges on the ship, followed by a couple of emotionally raw, life-and-death moments… aaand before we know it, they’re making out in her cabin and – oh what’s this? – they’re doin’ the horizontal mambo just as the Yamato enters warp drive. Hahahaha WTF??? What is this – warp sex or something? A… quantum quickie? Hahahaha. Er… faster than the speed of light, eh, Kodaiii? *wink, wink* LOLZZZ (Hey I just thought of more alliterative sex-in-space terms: interstellar intercourse? cosmic congress?
FTL… er… never mind. LMAO) But don’t you think it’s – I dunno, SO irresponsible to just go off on a shagalactic time out (aka “Lust in Space” ahahaha) when your sleep-deprived crew mates are ALL PRESENT at their stations, trying their darnedest to keep the ship afloat while staving off the next wave of Gamilas attacks? Tsk tsk tsk.
On second thought, better Kuroki Meisa as the love interest in Yamato than Sawajiri Erika, who was the first choice for the role but got booted off the project for – I dunno, diva issues? ego issues? Kimura issues? (lol) I shudder to think how Sawajiri would’ve handled such a dangerous intergalactic mission: she probably would’ve cried all the time or maybe even summoned her pet magical butterflies or something. (1 Liter of Tears/Shinobi fans go: “Heyyy. Low blow!!! Low blow!!!” lolz) Fragile thing, it’s a good thing she stayed home instead.
But there are a few times when the interpersonal development actually works. For instance I enjoyed Kodai’s scenes with Shima (Ogata Naoto), the Yamato’s chief navigator. (Shima’s pregnant wife was among the collateral dead along with Kodai’s parents in the wake of Kodai’s disastrous mission five years ago. Shima’s son survived but lost his hearing.) Kodai and Shima’s backstory is given enough time and space to unfold, quietly but realistically. And when the two old friends and former shipmates find a chance to reconnect on the flight and learn to put the past behind them, none of it feels contrived.
It’s also quite a relief that Space Battleship Yamato has likable minor characters played by an able supporting cast. Besides the chief navigator Shima and the chief engineer Tokugawa, I particularly liked the chief S&T officer Sanada (Yanagiba Toshiro, who also played the stern but cool senior E.R. doctor who whipped YamaPi’s butt into shapely – er, shape in the Code Blues); swaggering Saito of the Space Commandos (Ikeuchi Hiroyuki, also seen in Beautiful Days and Tatta Hitotsu no Koi); and perhaps my favorite character of all, Analyzer the sentient robot, who shares an unexpectedly touching moment – or two – with Kodai. Analyzer reminds me of Calcifer the fire demon from Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle (and guess who voiced the wizard Howl? KimuTakuuuu!!! lol). If they were people, Analyzer and Calcifer would make a fine duo of wisecracking, know-it-all geeks – or just the sort of guy friends I used to hang out with in school (and still do, lol).
The chipper youngsters of the Black Tiger fighter squadron – Kodai’s old unit – didn’t appeal as much to me: I neither cared to know their names nor felt a twinge of anything when a number of them were KIA. And from the “gruffly affectionate big bro” manner that alpha Tiger Kodai treated his still-loyal space cadets, you’d think you were watching a spinoff episode of Engine II: Lost in Space, hahaha. Just imagine the Engine rugrats growing up to be, um, fighter pilots, and they meet KimuTaku in the mess hall of the Yamato – and what else would you expect but cute, playful banter!!! reminiscing and catching-up!!! heartfelt gestures of loyalty!!! (Guhh but this Good Luck!–Engine–Yamato mash-up is seriously messin’ wid my brain, lolzzz)
Then there’s the cat-toting ship doctor (Takashima Reiko) who doesn’t even know what “warp” means until a crew member in the hallway has to stop and explain it to her. WHUTT. I liked Takashima Reiko in her past roles, but her naïve and constantly befuddled character in Yamato was mildly irritating. Someone tell me why the Earth Defense Force picked a person so lacking in presence of mind, and so ignorant of basic aeronautics to serve as ship doctor? One thing’s for sure – she ain’t no Dr. Beverly Crusher from the Star Trek: TNG series. Oh well.
The scene that packed the most emotional punch for me wasn’t KimuTaku’s rah-rah-rally speech on the embattled ship’s bridge towards the movie’s climax; nor was it the loss of a beloved officer to a lingering illness, or even the perilous ground raid in the warren-like tunnels below Iskandar (or should I say… Gamilas? lol); and it definitely was not that protracted parting scene at the movie’s close. The most effectively touching moment for me was earlier in the film, when the Yamato’s crew were each given a minute of face time with loved ones on Earth before communication lines were cut off as the battleship exited the solar system. I don’t know about you but my eyes were not dry afterwards. This reminded me of Liv Tyler’s immortalized hand-on-static-screen shot from Armageddon – or that equally poignant scene from Deep Impact where the shuttle crew say goodbye to their families. It’s quiet but deeply personal moments like these that are ultimately more satisfying than the melodrama and hyperbolized human conflict that often plague stories set against large-than-life (and louder-than-life) backdrops.
Speaking of backdrops, the art design of Space Battleship Yamato is really commendable, the digital effects comparable to those from any Hollywood film. I enjoyed all the visuals – from the striking panoramic shots of the earth’s gasping, dust-strewn surface; to a brief scene where Kimura crosses a bridge spanning the multi-tiered bunker city the survivors have carved out underground; to the wicked-looking Gamilas ships that resemble gothic arthropods; down to the Yamato’s design – sleek yet robust, fitted with a long, red hull and gaping nozzle, and cruising through space like an interstellar whale. Super cool!
The Yamato interiors attempt to channel that distressed, space-retro vibe the 2004-2009 Battlestar Galactica series managed to make cool again: spartan and functional, if a little worn, as befitting a military vessel – and way more realistic, too, than chrome-and-leather flight decks. As for the digitally imposed Gamilas aliens, they look like standard-issue extraterrestrials so no surprise there: humanoid but not too humanoid so as to be unsettling (like Mel Gibson’s “burn-victim” visitors from Signs). Still, I think I would’ve enjoyed something looking a little more outta-this-world, like that hilariously grotesque brain bug from Starship Troopers – the brain-slurpin’ scene was SO much fun to watch! lol
All in all, not bad for something made under 24 mil USD. (Hollywood flicks can cost five times more on the average.) So big props to Yamato director/VFX supervisor Yamazaki Takashi (Returner), although let’s not discount claims that KimuTaku used his clout to get the VFX team to spruce up the visuals after finding their initial efforts wanting. His main motivation? A little movie called Avatar. Legend has it that in early 2010, Kimura was sitting in a cushy downtown-Tokyo theater after a screening of the James Cameron eco-epic. He then turned to his
date wife besto friend Kame agent and sobbed, “Why can’t we come up with something like that? Why??!!???”
Okayyy so maybe I embellished a bit, lol. But Japanese media reported that Kimura pushed for spiffier FX when Yamato was already in post-production, even if it meant having to re-shoot certain scenes and re-layer the CGI. But the process wouldn’t come cheap – which is why Kimura offered to take a huge pay cut just so his, um, Avataresque vision could be achieved. A true meta moment for the star of a movie whose core theme is self-sacrifice – although one can also imagine what other belt-tightening measures the studio must have resorted to, like… cast and crew having to eat nothing but Skittles until production wrapped, or Kimura having to, uh, share a trailer with Kuroki Meisa, lol.
The final act of this rambling space odyssey is a cavalcade of textbook heroics, though if you stuck around long enough you’d see the Independence Day and Armageddon (and, uh, Fly Boys Fly!) moments coming from a parsec away – right down to the fuzzy little epilogue (okay so that epilogue was more of a… Pearl Harbor moment, lol). (And I can assure you that Space Battleship Yamato is nothing like the 2003 alien-themed K-movie Save the Green Planet, hah hah.)
But in spite of the plot clichés and the drama, there’s something so inherently and historically Japanese about this film’s central theme of an individual – be it person or ship – making the supreme sacrifice for the sake of their nation. It’s the ultimate bushido ideal: complete your mission in a blaze of glory, or falter and flame out. For whatever it’s worth, perhaps Yamato is just the type of film that Japanese audiences need at this time, an unabashed tribute to their remarkable grit and resilience as a people.
When it comes right down to it, Space Battleship Yamato is Kimura’s baby (and not just the cute critter we see frolicking on an impossibly green Earth at the movie’s close – it’s as if the alien invasion never happened! and if the kid’s mother actually possessed a sense of humor, she’d name him “Warp Child” or “Kal-El,” hahaha). With this film, Kimura has taken his signature Cocky Nonconformist Hero Who Saves the Day on His Own Terms template, blown it up for the big screen, and beamed it far and wide for all the world – nay, the galaxy! – to see, announcing to the nations and the planets and the pulsars that THIS is his flagship role, so damnright you better expect MOAR!!! repeat performances (or variants thereof) in his coming *crossfingers* blockbusters . Call him a late bloomer, but he (and his fans) can now say with growing conviction that, YES, A MOVIESTAR IS BORN. (LOL) So the universe can go screw itself, but the Man from Japan’s got a Mission and a Plan… So excuuuuse Cap’n KimuTaku while he kisses the sky, and takes his Ultimate Hero character to infinityyyy and beyooooond…… Or for now at least, just to a theater near you.
Artistic & technical merit: B
Entertainment value: C+
Photo credits: dramacrazy.net, drama-otaku.com, fat-geisha.blogspot.com, film-book.com, jfilmpowwow.blogspot.com, liveforfilms.com, nipponcinema.com, starblazers.com, tenkai-japan.com, tokyohive.com, total-manga.com, yamato-movie.net, zdoramaagain.blogspot.com, zimbio.com
Oh, and speaking of aliens, here’s a public service message from The Little Dorama Girl: