aka Space Battleship ヤマト aka Supesu Batorushippu Yamato
2010 Written by Shimako Sato
Story by Yoshinobu Nishizaki
Directed by Takashi Yamazaki
With the remake trains heading at full speed down the tracks of the movie world, it is only natural that popular franchises like Space Battleship Yamato would become one of the train stations. Space Battleship Yamato (宇宙戦艦ヤマト) was an anime series begun in 1974, it features a continual story arc and was followed up by several sequel series and films and lawsuits. Released in the west as Star Blazers, the anime gained a faithful cult following overseas as well as home. I’ve never seen Star Blazers, though it’s popular enough I’ve become familiar with the concept. Earth under attack by powerful aliens, a lone ship sent on a desperate mission. And that ship just happens to be built in the hull of the infamous World War II battleship Yamato.
This reboot of Space Battleship Yamato takes some cues from the reboot of Battlestar Galactica. More than some cues. Okay, it’s almost a carbon copy of Battlestar Galactica. From the 9-11 inspired opening destruction of Earth’s fleet (which rings way more hollow and is an interesting look at 9-11 from a non-American country) to the characters with templates lifted wholesale (including gender swaps!) to the made up story of hope to inspire a journey across the galaxy, deja vu will deja vu your deja vu. Space Battleship Yamato owes almost its entire existence to Battlestar Galactica, which is odd considering it has a whole original canon to use.
The general concept of the original cartoon using the Yamato was a reference to the final mission of the battleship, which was generally seen as a brave but futile effort to defend Japan before the inevitable defeat. Yamato was seen as a metaphor for the Japanese Empire, double-downed by the name Yamato being a poetic name. Space Battleship Yamato borrows this line of thinking, even going so far as to spell it out to the audience. But the liberal borrowing of concepts and themes from Battlestar Galactica muddies the water. After the Yamato is launched, it becomes a series of episodes with the theme of sacrifice for the greater good. Susumu Kodai has a chip on his shoulder against Captain Okita, believing he abandoned his brother to die. Yuki Mori thinks Kodai leaving the military was abandoning his duty. Kodai violates orders to try to save crew members, endangering the entire ship, but later learns that you can’t avoid Kobayashi Maru forever and sometimes people have to die. Even the ending of the film works on this concept of sacrifice, from the cast thinning to the final actions of Kodai. Characters die, and the survivors will spend far too long thinking about the death in the middle of the action. Time is of the essence, people! These reactions are meant to emphasize the sacrifices, but are so overdone they become distracting. Oddly enough, this focus on duty and sacrifice above all else gives Space Battleship Yamato themes that mimic the thinking of the time of the real battleship Yamato.
The mixed messages cause Space Battleship Yamato to flounder around and lose the emotional punches it needed. I am not familiar enough with the original show to know if it was similarly muddled. The liberal borrowing from another source is also a big red mark against it. The visual effects are wonderful, especially considering the lower budget. It is a nice looking film. But looks are only skin deep, and Space Battleship Yamato is like one of those hollow chocolate bunnies. You know it should be filled with chocolate, but it just isn’t, and it’s not what you wanted.
Susumu Kodai (Takuya Kimura) – Former fighter squad leader (the Black Tigers) who left the service, only to come back into action for the Yamato mission. His best friend is an analyzer, basically an iPhone. Lost his brother in the Gamilas ambush. Definitely not Lee Adama.
Yuki Mori (Meisa Kuroki) – Expert Cosmos Tiger fighter pilot who is always prepared. Definitely not Starbuck. Meisa Kuroki was also in Assault Girls.
Captain Juzo Okita (Tsutomu Yamazaki) – Old grizzled captain of the Yamato. Gruff but recognizes potential in people. Able to make tough decisions. Lost his son to the Gamilas forces. Definitely not Bill Adama.
Gamilas (CGI and Masato Ibu) – Aliens who start attacking Earth for unknown reasons. Then tries to stop the humans when they fight back. Desla is the named Gamilas, who are both individuals and a collective mind.
In a world where Japan avoided going to war with the US, the Meiji Era nobility continues to exist in 1949. This has created a huge divide between the rich and the poor in the capital city of Teito. Yes, Teito. Stay with me here. No social mobility leads to a massive poor underclass and a tiny fraction of superrich. This playland for the rich is not without costs, as a masked villain known as K-20, the Fiend with 20 Faces, drives fear in their hearts as he steals their money. K-20 is not a noble thief or a Robin Hood, he is just a jerk who robs jerks.
There are also police zeppelins that drop police gyroplanes, because that always happens in comic books.
Series creator Edogawa Rampo is a popular horror and mystery writer whose work has been turned into cinema since 1927. After WWII, most samurai and similar films were banned, and Edogawa Rampo’s vast contemporary work was quickly put on the big screen. The K-20 stories originate in a Boy Detectives series launched in 1936 that lasted 26 years. Edogawa Rampo’s character of The Fiend With Twenty Faces is a mysterious master of disguise, and Detective Kogoro Akechi is called Rampo’s alter ego. Other early Rampo films include 1946’s The Palette Knife Murder (Palette Knife no Satsujin) and 1947’s Ghost Pagoda (Yurei To) and Phantom With Twenty Faces (Kaijin Nijumenso), which is the same Phantom story that inspired the novel this film is based on.
Said novel is the 1989 work from playwright Soh Kitamura, which updates the classic Rampo Akechi tales. Kitamura’s completely new take on the tale caused much controversy among Rampo Edogawa’s fans, much like many remakes.
More about Edogawa Rampo: Yes, Edogawa Rampo is not his real name, Taro Hirai named himself after Edgar Allen Poe! His first writing successes were in 1923, his erotic horror style is called eroguro-nansensu. Other Rampo stories on film include 1969’s The Blind Beast (Moju), 1969’s The Horror of Malformed Men (Kyofu Kikei Ningen), 1976’s The Stroller in the Attic (Yaneura no Sanposha) and 1968’s Black Lizard (Kurotokage). Rampo eventually became a character in mystery films of his own, in the movie Rampo (and this film has two wildly different versions.)
Heikichi Endo (Takeshi Kaneshiro) – A poor circus acrobat finds himself framed and in the middle of a giant conspiracy involving super-criminal K20. Totally hates thieves, until he becomes one. Takeshi Kaneshiro is half-Japanese and half-Chinese, and shows up in both Japanese and Chinese films, including the recent The Warlords and Red Cliff.
Detective Kogoro Akechi (Toru Nakamura) – Baron Detective Kogoro Akechi is the nemesis of K20. Has fought him for years, but has a terrible secret. Toru Nakamura was last seen on TarsTarkas.NET in 2009: Lost Memories
Yoko Hashiba (Takako Matsu) – Duchess Yoko Hashiba is the daughter of a creator of a device based on Tesla’s work, as well as a privileged aristocrat who realizes that society is corrupt after seeing the truth. And she likes to fly gyroplanes! Takako Matsu is a hard working actress/singer/theater actress in Japan and is the only idol to never have to wear a swimsuit.
Genji (Jun Kunimura) – Circus gadget maker and thief, who pals around with theives. Helps rescue and save Heikichi, in addition to making him tools to help him get back at K20. Jun Kunimura is probably best known to western audiences as Boss Tanaka in Kill Bill or Funaki in Ichi The Killer.
Yoshio Kobayashi (Kanata Hongo) – Boy assistant to Akechi who is part of a Junior Detectives squad which is related to the original serialized stories but only make a brief cameo in the film. Can figure out insanely complicated plots with little or no clues.
Shinsuke (Yuki Imai) – kid friend of Heikichi who worked at the circus until the police destroyed it and he had to get a job being an orphan who takes care of dozens of other kids. Helped out by Yoko Hashiba once she realizes not everyone is rich.
K20 – The Fiend With Twenty Faces – Kaijin means Fiend, thus the K for K20. Or maybe he is the 20th K. Brother of Special K. A thief who steals from the rich and also from the poor, and is a jerk. Just be a Robin Hood thief like you should be, dingleberry!