“Space Pirate Captain Harlock” blasts off again in a new, hugely expensive big screen CG animation that presents a new vision of Matsumoto Leiji’s famous manga, previously adapted as a popular television anime back in the late 1970s, which many viewers in the East and West still remember fondly from their childhoods. Produced with a budget of US$30 million, the film was directed by Aramaki Shinji, who helmed the recent series of CG “Appleseed” outings, and was made using cutting edge motion capture technology, with characters voiced by the likes of Oguri Shun, Miura Haruma and Aoi Yu.
Taking place either “far, far in the future or perhaps in the distant past”, the film is set during a time when humanity has discovered faster than light travel and has colonised the universe, only to be faced with dwindling resources and a falling birth rate. Facing extinction, some five hundred billion humans all decided to head back to earth at once, leading to the terrible Home Coming War and resulting in the Gaia Sanction taking over and declaring the planet sacred and forbidden. The seemingly immortal Space Pirate Captain Harlock (Oguri Shun) is the number one thorn in the side of the Gaia Sanction, travelling the galaxies in his fearsome ship The Arcadia, powered by dark matter and the technology of the elf-like Nibelung aliens. Logan, brother of the Gaia fleet commander Ezra, is sent on a secret mission to infiltrate Harlock’s crew of miscreants and to stand in the way of his quest to unlock the mysterious Nodes of Time.
Though based on the manga and television anime series and revolving around the same basic premise and original characters, “Space Pirate Captain Harlock” is very much a re-visioning, with different backstories, motivations and themes. Though fans of the originals may baulk at some of the changes, the film certainly stays true to the space opera stylings of Matsumoto Leiji, and has an epic feel as it charges around the universe, with a grand, far-reaching plot and no shortage of ideas. Though some of these admittedly don’t make much sense and while some of its revelations and twists are self-defeating, the film wins points for imagination, and it’s very much science fiction in the old fashioned sense of the genre, dealing with exploration, adventure and musings on the role of humanity in the cosmos. Similarly, while the characters may well be different, with some roles being side-lined due to the necessities of the running time, Harlock and company are still engaging and enjoyable to watch. There’s plenty of action throughout, with some great large scale space battles that really impress, and Aramaki Shinji keeps things moving at a fast enough pace to help distract from some of the film’s more muddled elements.
As much as the source material, the main draw here is obviously the technical aspects of the film, and on this level “Space Pirate Captain Harlock” is a pretty stunning achievement – the back of the DVD box boasts a dizzying array of statistics, including the fact that the film took a crew of 150 five years to produce, and created files totalling more than 250 terabytes in size, that would have taken 401 years to render if only one computer was used. The results of all this effort are certainly there on screen to see, as the film looks amazing, being one of the most spectacular CG productions to date and featuring some stunning and incredibly detailed visuals. Though as ever with this kind of thing the character work isn’t always completely convincing or life-like, thanks to some great motion capture it’s closer than in other films of its kind, and after the first few scenes it’s easy to forget that the viewer is watching something generated on a computer.
“Space Pirate Captain Harlock” is a lot of fun either for fans of the originals or anyone looking for space action, and though its story and larger than life characters might differ from the manga and anime, it’s hard to fault the film as a new take on the space buccaneer. Something of a technical milestone, if nothing else, it’s well worth checking out to see how far CG animation has come in recent years and to marvel at Aramaki Shinji’s frequently stunning shot composition and sense of scale.
Shinji Aramaki (director) / Leiji Matsumoto (manga), Harutoshi Fukui & Kiyoto Takeuchi (screenplay)
CAST: Shun Oguri … Captain Harlock (voice)
Yû Aoi … Miime (voice)
Ayano Fukuda … Tori-san (voice)
Arata Furuta … Yattaran (voice)
Kiyoshi Kobayashi … Roujin (voice)
Haruma Miura … Yama (voice)
Toshiyuki Morikawa … Isora (voice)
Chikao Ohtsuka … Soukan (voice)