a review by Nalini Haynes
Please note: this review is written without having seen the original TV series of the same name.
Twenty-second century Earth is under attack by an alien race who has not made contact and has not revealed their objective in this ongoing war. Earth is being bombarded by radiation, rendering the surface uninhabitable. The space battle continues, with heroes valiantly defending Earth and dying, while the aliens’ technology improves to surmount Earth’s defences. The Japanese government and a captain of the Space Battleship Yamato decide to deceive the people of Earth into believing that there is hope in Earth’s dying days, hope of a device that will clean up the radiation in order to make the surface green again. While the audience knows the government is deliberately deceiving the people, the extent of the deceit is only revealed over time through the movie. A call for volunteers to man the Yamato results in an unusual crew who needs to form into a fighting force and a community in this journey.
Reference is made to the original Battleship Yamato in this movie. According to Wikipedia, the Battleship Yamato was sent on a one-way mission to protect Okinawa only to be sunk en route in April 1945. The Wikipedia entry doesn’t seem to give the interpretation the Japanese gave to the Yamato in this movie, which was one of inspiration in a hopeless situation. Although named for a ship that failed in its mission, the characters in the movie draw strength from the historical ship and strive to succeed where their historical counterpart failed.
Before people comment telling me that Japan produces the originals and America the remake, I’d like to point out that I watched Kimba the White Lion as a child, then I saw The Lion King. However, I have insufficient experience with anime and Japanese productions in general to place this movie within its proper context, so I will discuss it within the context of what I’ve watched. I felt strongly reminded of Battlestar Galactica throughout this movie; also Crusade, Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, Star Trek and a few other TV shows, but predominantly BG.
The opening shots of pilots in ships, the CG fighter ships and space battles were very reminiscent of the above TV shows and movies (with the exception of ST fighter scenes), but the similarity to BG went further. Susumu Kodai was a Starbuck-esque character whose insubordination put the ship at risk in order to save another pilot, for example. Kodai was promptly put in the brig by the captain, but not until the captain also risked the ship to give Kodai a chance of success. The captain was dying of cancer, just as the president in BG was dying. Thus the captain had to hand over command while staying in the role of mentor, enabling exploration of issues around responsibility, authority and choices in command. Romance and other relationships developed on board during their journey; the most important relationship was the romance between Kodai and Yuki Mori, set up right from the beginning where she stands out in the crowd carrying a chip on her shoulder against Kodai. There was a Spot-like cat introduced at the boarding stage, allowing for a few comical moments throughout the movie. Kodai has no family and his primary friend is a tricorder-like device with artificial intelligence; unfortunately we see little of this relationship or the personality of the tricorder until the climax.
Space Battleship Yamato felt like a much larger story pared back to basics in order to fit the story into the time available. Unlike Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, the basic story held together, but the development of characters was glossed over (with the exception of Kodai’s ethical struggles with command), opportunities for humour only glimpsed in passing in favour of a focus on military encounters and drama. While I enjoyed this movie I would have preferred to see this made into a short series, somewhat like Game of Thrones, allowing for development of an epic journey where the characters with their disparate backgrounds develop friendships and romances, humour is played to the full as a counter-point to the drama and the struggle to survive is maximised.
Fans of the TV series tend to not be fans of the movie as, like The Last Airbender, the movie has suffered by comparison to the TV series. IMDB rates the movie at 6.1 and the TV series at 8.4. As such, I’d recommend Space Battleship Yamato to people who want a science fiction movie that’s not Hollywood (a bonus!) and who haven’t seen the TV series. If you enjoy the movie, it may be good to then see the TV series: a bit like watching the movie before reading the book so you’re not disappointed in the movie, the story gets richer.