Space Battleship Yamato: The Movie
Reviewed by Daniel Huddleston:
"Space Battleship Yamato" (the movie), according its box, is "a feature film, produced for release in theaters, where it broke attendance records" in Japan. It covers the first story arc in the classic "Yamato" television series (known as "Starblazers" in the U.S).
Earth is at war with the planet Gamilus. The aliens are pounding the earth with radiation bombs from their base on Pluto (their idea of "terraforming"!) and the masses of humanity now live underground for survival. Only a year remains before the earth becomes completely uninhabitable. Suddenly a spaceship crashes on Mars. The body of a beautiful woman, still clutching a mysterious message capsule, is found in the wreckage. The message is from Queen Stasha of the planet Iscandar, in the Greater Magellanic Cloud. For reasons we don't learn until much later, Stasha has taken pity on the humans, and offered them a device that can eradicate the radiation that is killing the earth. The only catch is, the humans have to come and get it themselves before time runs out for the earth. The message also contains plans for a warp engine that can get them there, assuming they can fight their way through Gamilon lines.
The majority of the TV series covered the journey to and from Iscandar, and explored the relationships among the crew of the Yamato during their one-year voyage. Unfortunately, after watching the Yamato movie, I couldn't help thinking that the cut, renamed, kiddified "Starblazers" was more faithful to the original show than the movie released in Japanese theaters. It's a compilation movie, and appears to be made entirely of recycled footage from the TV series. The artwork never is never better than a 70's TV cartoon (this would be OK if we weren't expecting a "feature film"), and the story reads like a Cliff's Notes version of the classic space opera I remember.
The beginning of the story is mostly intact (there's even a WWII flashback that was missing from the US release). Memories flood back. The charm is still there. Life is good. Unfortunately, the middle portion of the TV series is summarized exclusively in terms of its battles. All of the character development and relationships that made the series so special is cut out. As a child, I remember watching an episode where the ship begins to leave the range of earth's radio transmitters. Each crewman is allotted a few minutes to talk to their families one last time, but one of the main characters foregoes his turn, and we gradually learn why he has no one left on earth to call. I clearly remember being moved to tears when I watched this as a child. But in the movie version, all we get is the captain making a final address to his commanders as the transmission fades away. Battles abound, but they are summarized and unsatisfying. Even if I knew nothing about the original series, I don't see how this could hold up, with so little attention paid to characterization. Near the end, the cutting lightens up a little, and again, the magic is there. But it's too little and too late. We're left wondering who these people were, and why we should even care.
Parent's Guide Rating:
green (suitable for family viewing)
There is no sex or nudity, but the subtitled version uses the "d" word occasionally. Also, it doesn't try to hide the fact that people are dying when spaceships explode, though the violence is never graphic. One message of "Yamato" and "Starblazers" is that war is a sad thing where even the winners must make terrible sacrifices. Far less dangerous, in my mind, than "nonviolent" shows where they always parachute to safety and nobody gets hurt.
There's one line that I found problematic: ***SPOILER ALERT*** Near the end, Susumu looks across the devastated landscape of what's left of Gamilus, and with a twinge of guilt, says "We should have never fought them." This is preposterous. The only alternative they'd been offered was extinction. ***STAND DOWN FROM SPOILER ALERT***
I'd skip the movie, if I were you. In the same breath, though, I thoroughly, heartily and fully recommend "Starblazers" (which is devoid of the naughty words and has all the good stuff the movie was missing) for children and even the occasional, curious parent. For a show that teaches children about the horrors of war, the nobility of sacrifice, and the power of love, it still doesn't get much better than "Starblazers."
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