Space Battleship Yamato (or Star Blazers to Americans) was among the earliest Japanese anime imports to the United States in the late 1970s. It was also the first Japanese anime I ever saw and it deeply affected me at the tender age of eight. If nothing else, it condemned the juvenile, flat and poorly written American animation offerings to the “sucks” category forever. Hannah-Barbera and Disney just could not cut it anymore. I am a fan forever of “Yamato.”
Io9 put up a teaser trailer for “Space Battleship Yamato” and I gleefully watched it. The glee ended quickly.
Watch the trailer for yourself and then read on for the rest of my rant.
Before continuing I need to add a quick disclaimer to this rant. I love Japan. I love the culture, the language and the people. I lived there for two years as a teacher, sleeping on the floor of a 110 square-foot apartment and loved every minute. I was deeply affected by my stay in Japan and consider it one of the most personally transformative periods of my life.
That said, Japanese studios should not make this movie, it is best left to American studios. There is no doubt that Japanese filmmakers have skill. Beat Takeshi and Akira Kurosawa proved and are proving that amazing films come from Japan. Sadly, with an epic space opera like “Yamato,” skill is not the issue. Financing is.
Epic space battles cost, they cost big. Yamato needs big, it needs hundreds of fighters spinning through space and capital ships disintegrating under the “Wave Motion” gun. The trailer displayed a brief snippet of a space battle that is…barely adequate. Episodes of “Battlestar Galactica” easily exceeded what I saw in terms of graphics.
As much as “Yamato” is a Japanese creation, only American studios have the financial strength to do the environment justice. Yes, I am completely overlooking acting, plot or script, but good actors cannot fix low-budget effects. In fact, great actors just make bad special effects look worse.
“Yamato” needs 100 million dollars, minimum. No Japanese studio or actor can generate that kind of box office return internationally. Only the Hollywood juggernaut has any hope of recouping that investment using big-name actors and massive marketing.
Budget issues aside, I am also deeply disturbed by the casting of Takuya Kimura as the lead(Susumu Kodai.) Normally I am pretty forgiving of casting decisions, but this one causes me pain. Why? Let me explain by example.
Justin Timberlake is Luke Skywalker.
Kimura is an aging idoru (manufactured Japanese pop singer) in a boy band called “SMAP.” This casting likely came from the need to recover the, by Japanese standards, large budget. So much for picking the skilled, unknown actor.
Yes, this post is advocating an artistic sell out to the big studios. Yes, some of the original story and cultural influence will be lost. Yes, it will be westernized.
Even with all of that, “Yamato” deserves more than a low-budget effort. “The Dark Knight” proved that “great film” and “summer blockbuster” are not mutually exclusive terms. That is what I want so very badly for “Yamato” and it does not look like I will get it.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer