For those who are new to the series, it may help to go through some of the history of Space Battleship Yamato. The original 26 episode anime series began in 1974 and was later dubbed and edited for release in the US under the name ‘Star Blazers’. Since the original run, the show has been edited down to a 130 minute feature and has been followed by a series of animated sequels. In 2010, however, the first live action adaptation hit the big screen in Japan.
Set in the year 2199, Earth has been under attack from the alien Gamilon race for five years now, and the planet is irradiated and dying. In a last ditch hope to save humanity, the starship Yamato is sent into the depths of space to respond to a mysterious transmission from an alien planet. It seems that the mysterious Iskandar holds the key to saving the Earth.
The starship itself is the star of the film, really. It looks like a giant warship hurtling through space, and in fact all the craft designs – from the humans’ fighter ships to the alien crafts – look stunning. All the visual effects are wonderful, for that matter. There are a number of excellent space-based dogfights that haven’t been attempted since the Star Wars prequels, and they don’t disappoint.
The crew of the Yamato comprise the elderly yet stoic Captain Jyuzo Okita (Tsutomu Yamazaki), the tough as nails Yuki Mori (Meisa Kuroki) and the typical maverick hero, Susumu Kodai (Takuya Kimura). Kodai (he of the cool hair) is like a hundred heroes we’ve seen before and, as such, the rivalries between the major cast members are pretty humdrum. The performances do the job, but only just. In fact Kuroki is the only person who really impresses.
To make matters worse, Space Battleship Yamato seems to include the worst acting courtesy of extras/incidental characters that you’ve ever seen. There are a couple of offenders ever-present in the control room, and their reactions to events would be hilarious if they weren’t so off-putting. In fact, this is symptomatic of the rest of the film. It simply doesn’t handle the drama well at all. At first, this isn’t much of a problem, since there’s an action scene every ten minutes. But the further you get into the 133 minute running time, the more the ‘drama’ comes to the fore. By the end I was starting to feel like those people who loathed Titanic but were forced to watch it anyway – I just wanted it to end.
It’s such a pity, because there is a great film to be made with this material. It’s just that this isn’t it. The narrative had clearly been sourced from a TV series and compressed – I could work out the main action scene from each episode – and perhaps if I had spent a much longer time with the characters, I would have warmed to them. Instead I’m left to watch dramatic crescendos that play out off key.
The filmmakers behind Space Battleship Yamato know their stuff, and their creative vision is extraordinary, especially when you consider the budget was only around $23 million. But in the end, the drama either falls flat or, even worse, becomes embarrassing. Fans of the original series might find something to appreciate here, but it certainly didn’t work for me.
Space Battleship Yamato is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Madman.Rating: