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Japanese “Space Battleship Yamato”, based upon the classic 1974 anime television series, hit the big screens in 2010 as a massive blockbuster release, boasting an all star cast and extensive special effects work to bring its epic off world skirmishes to life. Fittingly, the film was helmed by effects maestro turned director Yamazaki Takashi, who previously showed a commercial yet winningly human touch with the likes of “Always – Sunset on Third Street” and “Ballad”. Taking on the lead role of daredevil commander Kodai was popular actor and SMAP member Kimura Takuya (“Hero”), with support from Kuroki Meisa (“Crows Zero”), Yanagiba Toshiro (“Bayside Shakedown”), Nishida Toshiyuki (“The Magic Hour”), Maiko (“Yama no Anata”), Yamazaki Tsutomu (“Departures”), and Ikeuchi Hiroyuki (“Ip Man”).
Set in 2199, the film begins with Earth on the verge of destruction after having been bombarded with toxic meteorite attacks from the Gamilons, an as yet unseen vicious alien enemy. With most of the population cowering in underground shelters, a decision is made to offer the dying world hope by following a map in a strange device found by scavenger Kodai Susumu (Kimura Takuya), which seems to offer a means of salvation on the distant planet Iskandar. Ex-space fighter ace Kodai joins the mission himself, boarding the mighty ship the Yamato along with veteran captain Okita (Yamazaki Tsutomu) and former love interest pilot Yuki (Kuroki Meisa), armed with a powerful wave cannon to help them through enemy territory.
“Space Battleship Yamato” is impressive right from the start, kicking off with some awesome scenes of an earth fleet being defeated by the Gamilons, the special effects work and CGI easily comparable with that of most Hollywood films, despite costing only a fraction of the same amount. Yamazaki Takashi was certainly a great choice of director, and he does an incredible job of bringing the anime to life, authentically recreating its look and feel without slavishly sticking to a cartoonish feel. The production design is similarly top notch, with some gorgeous visuals and epic space backdrops, and although apparently some 80% of the film features computer work, it looks convincing throughout, with only a few shot during the last act on Iskandar being a touch shoddy. This is only a minor criticism however, and thanks to some imaginative handling from Yamazaki, the film is every inch the glossy science fiction blockbuster.
The film also echoes the anime and benefits from a real air of adventure, with some bombastic set pieces and fast paced action as Kodai and his pilots take on the Gamilons in a series of thrilling dog fights. The film is heavy on scenes of mass destruction, with the wave cannon being a breathtaking beast of a weapon, making for some of the more memorable space explosions in recent science fiction cinema. Whilst a lot of these sequences are a little reminiscent of other genre films, given the influential status of the anime this is perhaps forgivable, and Yamazaki does give the proceedings a feel which is both classical and modern at the same time, making it one of the rare examples of a well-judged revisioning or update.
There’s no denying that at nearly two and a half hours the film does flirt with being overstretched, though for the most part it gallops along at a good speed, with the human melodrama largely being at a respectable level. Unfortunately, during the final act it does take over, and although the last half hour still works in some spectacular action it does get dragged down a little by a variety of death speeches and needless flashbacks, something which may seem rather unnecessary to non-Japanese audiences. Still, this is nowhere near enough to cause a real problem, mainly since Kimura Takuya is charismatic and likeable in the lead, giving Kodai just the right balance of angst, heroism and derring-do. The rest of the cast also acquit themselves well, and although most are reduced to fairly stock roles, Kuroki Meisa is suitably appealing as the tough though cute Yuki, and Yamazaki Tsutomu entertainingly gruff as the stoic captain.
As a result, “Space Battleship Yamato” is easily one of the year’s best and biggest Japanese blockbusters, offering awesome visuals and thrilling science fiction action. A successful adaptation and updating of the classic anime, it should please fans and newcomers alike, and is as good as, if not better than, anything in the genre produced by Hollywood of late.
Takashi Yamazaki (director) / Leiji Matsumoto (manga), Shimako Sato (screenplay), Yoshinobu Nishizaki (story)
CAST: Takuya Kimura … Susumu Kodai
Meisa Kuroki … Yuki Mori
Toshirô Yanagiba … Shiro Sanada
Naoto Ogata … Daisuke Shima
Hiroyuki Ikeuchi … Hajime Saito
Shin’ichi Tsutsumi … Mamoru Kodai
Maiko … Aihara
Reiko Takashima … Doctor Sado