As a journalist for the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Mr. Hiroyuki Ota writes a serialized column called “Following ____.” He chooses a subject and “follows” it for a time to see where it will lead him. In 2014, he wrote a Following the Battleship Yamato serial, and he decided to follow that up with a Space Battleship version in 2015. (As of this writing, he is planning to expand both into a book.)
Here is the serialized Following Space Battleship Yamato column in its entirety, translated and published here by Mr. Ota’s kind permission.
Part 1: Space Battleship, Admiration, and Bewilderment
A model of Space Battleship Yamato, formerly exhibited in the Yamato Museum in Kure,
Hiroshima Prefecture. It is now at Yamato Gallery Zero in Kure City.
Why am I so fascinated by the story of Space Battleship Yamato?
In 1976, when I was a sixth-grade elementary student taking an exam for junior high, a rerun of Yamato on TV gave me emotional support. “Yamato is trying to save the Earth, so must I.” With this belief I applied myself and studied harder. It may be thanks to Yamato that I was able to pass into my chosen school.
Enthusiasm peaked in 1978 when Farewell to Yamato was released during the summer holidays of my second year in junior high. In a standing-room only movie theater, familiar and long-beloved characters were killed one after another. While wiping away a flood of tears, I looked at the next seat over and saw a fraternity of university students shedding tears like rain, just like me. Yamato was a “common experience” of our generation.
On the other hand, Yamato was subjected to criticism from adults. At around the time of Farewell to Yamato, a critic in Kinejun magazine wrote, “The shadow of militarism is unmistakeable. I fear for the children when I see an ending that glorifies suicide.” I sighed, “They don’t understand Yamato” when I read that.
But when I think about it now that I’m 50 years old, I feel an intense longing and exhilaration when I see the young protagonists of Yamato conduct their suicide attack against the giant enemy battleship. It may be akin to the “patriotism” that filled the hearts of many children and young people before World War II,
As an adolescent who received a post-war peace education after World War II, I believed the story of Yamato was an escape from reality. I was surprised and bewildered that a sentiment that could be publicly called “nationalism” suddenly sprouted in such a personal place.
The concept is that the Battleship Yamato, which sank off the coast of Kyushu, is revived and remodeled to save Earth from a crisis. The Yamato that plays an active role in the story is said to be an “upgrade of the Battleship Yamato itself.”
Of course Yamato is, first and foremost, first-class entertainment. At the same time, because of its concept, it is deeply colored by the shadow of the war. Film director Hideaki Anno, known for such works as the Evangelion series, said about the first 1974 Yamato series, “It’s a work that could have been born only in a country that lost a war. It expresses the regret, emptiness, sadness, hatred, resentment, and desires of people at the time of World War II,”
A “life story” is essential for an individual in a country or a race. We need a story that says “where do we come from and where do we go?” And in those stories, an important issue is “how do you give meaning to a fight that involved our community?”
In this column a year ago, I thought about the relationship between stories and the reality of war through the Battleship Yamato. Now I want to think about the same problem through Space Battleship Yamato.
Part 2: The fall of Earth and the former Japan
A 15-meter long model exhibited in Akasaka, Tokyo for the December 2010
release of the live-action Yamato movie. Photo by Hiroyuki Ota
Film director Hideaki Anno, known for such works as the Evangelion series, wrote about Yamato in a special book in 2000.
“It’s a work that could have been born only in a country that lost a war. It expresses the regret, emptiness, sadness, hatred, resentment, and desires of people at the time of World War II,”
Space Battleship Yamato aired on TV from 1974-75 and premiered in theaters in 1977. Anno was an ardent fan since the first broadcast, referring to it as “the work that determined my life.” I visited Anno’s studio in Tokyo to ask where to look for the shadow of war in Yamato.
The first thing Anno told me was, “To begin with, Yamato was remodeled and reborn from the Battleship Yamato, a symbol of the old Imperial Navy. You have to say it’s linked to the war.”
Film director Hideaki Anno talks about Yamato in
January, 2015. Photo by Hiroyuki Ota
The Yamato story begins from a desperate situation.
In the year 2199, Earth is invaded by a mysterious enemy with overwhelming power and the Earth fleet suffers a crushing defeat in a decisive battle with hostile enemy ships. Only one battleship survives and returns. The Earth has been burned bright red by non-stop nuclear bombing by the enemy. Mankind survives in a subterranean city, but radioactive contamination is seeping underground. The human race will perish in just one year.
Anno said, “This situation is like being exposed to the B29 bombings in the last year of the Pacific War, and resembles Japan at the time when the landing of the US forces on the mainland was imminent.”
Like the Earth fleet, most of Japan’s combined fleet was lost on the verge of destruction, and Japan’s cities were turned into scorched earth. Earthlings waited underground for their demise, holding their breath in air-raid shelters. The Japanese waited for the “decisive mainland battle” for nothing less than “100 million all-out kamikaze attacks.”
In the first place, “Yamato” [Daiwa] is a word that means Japan itself. Yamato is a global story set in the scale of space, but no Earthlings appear other than Japanese people. Clearly, along with the name of the work itself, it is a story of Japan and the Japanese.
Toshio Okada, a critic who once produced anime with Anno, affirms this view by observing, “The appeal of Yamato is the same as the Showa Zankyo-Den [Remnants of Chivalry in the Showa era] movie series starring Ken Takakura.” The main character remains standing even when oppressed by hostile Yakuza, finally exploding with rage and beating down his enemies with one sword. Battleship Yamato sank without being able to play such an active part, but it revives when Earth (Japan) faces a crisis. This indeed overlaps with the story of Yamato, in which a powerful enemy is defeated by just one ship.
However, Anno presented me with a riddle when he said, “While Yamato is an entertainment story that vents the depression of being defeated in war, it also seems to have a complexity that doesn’t easily fit into that viewpoint. The burning, festering Earth is surely Japan, but in fact the enemy Gamilas is Japan as well. Space Battleship Yamato is also Japan fighting itself. It’s a story of war inasmuch as it is two mirrors held against each other.”
What on Earth could that mean?
Part 3: Perpetrator and victim, the shouldering of duality
The proposal for Space Battleship Yamato (from the collection of Isao Ibara). Rather than being
remodeled from the Battleship Yamato, it was originally a “space ship made of an asteroid.”
Very few of these handmade proposals for TV stations still exist.
Space Battleship Yamato’s purpose is to travel to the distant planet Iscandar, 148,000 light years away, and rescue Earth from the brink of destruction. Captain Juuzo Okita tells the crew, “Yamato was not rebuilt to fight.” But Yamato’s journey is actually a continuous battle.
In the early stage, the Pluto base from which Gamilas was bombing Earth is destroyed, and Okita sighs with relief, saying, “No more planet bombs will fall on Earth.” It was like recapturing Saipan, which was a base for B29s. In the middle stage, an enemy base is destroyed on Planet Balan, and an abused native creature is freed. An early production document also contains the term “colonial liberation.”
Film director Hideaki Anno notes, “Planet Balan is located halfway between Earth and Gamilas, in the same position as Hawaii in the Pacific War. You could see it as the story of a reverse invasion in which Battleship Yamato, which sank off the coast of Kyushu, revives to attack the American West Coast. The creators of Yamato were from a generation that had some war experience. Even if they didn’t intend it, by making Yamato a subject, such an image naturally came out.”
On the other hand, when Yamato approaches Gamilas in the final stage of the story, a strange thing happens. The image of “Japan” is gradually shifted over to the Gamilas side.
A Gamilas fleet challenges Yamato to a decisive battle, but in a moment of chance they lose all four of their aircraft carriers. Clearly, this development is conscious of the Battle of Midway.
Furthermore, in the battle of Planet Gamilas, the enemy leader Dessler shouts in the script, “This is the decisive battle of the mainland. Fire, fire, fire at will!” There is also a description of “Kamikaze-like attacks on Yamato.” Gamilas fires huge missiles, their ultimate weapon, one after another, doing more destruction to Gamilas than to Yamato, and destroying the planet itself.
The creators were originally conscious of the German Nazis while conceiving Gamilas, but this image is said to closely resemble what might happen “if Japan had a real decisive mainland battle.”
Eiichi Yamamoto, who wrote the screenplay, recalls, “Gamilas doesn’t have any ships or planes left to fight with. They have no choice but to bury Yamato using the planet itself in a decisive mainland battle. The story was made with that concept.”
Gamilas invaded Earth because their own mother planet was reaching the end of its life, and they needed somewhere else to live. When Japan once invaded Asia, many Japanese though, “There’s no choice but to go to the continent, since Japan can’t survive on its own resources.” In his book The Reality of the Greater East Asian War, former army chief of staff Ryuzo Sejima insisted, “It was a passive war of self-defense and self-preservation for Japan.”
Dessler also claimed that, “The Gamilas people have a right to survive. We cannot accept the fate of dying together at the end of our planet!”
In the story, Yamato destroys Gamilas as Gamilas destroys Earth, taking on the duality of “victim and perpetrator.” This may be nothing but the “duality” that we Japanese shouldered in the previous war.
Part 4: Facing the trauma of war
Leiji Matsumoto speaks before the 1/10 scale model of Battleship Yamato
at the Yamato Museum in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture.
Why does the Space Battleship Yamato story have the strange and complex structure of “Japan fighting on the brink of defeat” and “Japan as the invader”?
Art critic Yohei Kurose, who appreciates some of Japan’s animation as high art, points out that, “Yamato actively draws a self-portrait of postwar Japan, a work trying to overcome the trauma of war.”
In defeat, the story of “Imperial Japan” that the Japanese believed in during World War II fell apart. In the face of this, while struggling to re-integrate, there was no choice but to spin tales to replace it: Japan subjectively tried to liberate Asia; Japan objectively invaded Asia; Japan was really a scorched ruin of a country; or Japan was at war with itself.
According to Kurose, Yamato was one such attempt. It was, so to speak, a media subculture that was relatively free from the social taboo of talking about the war and confronting ideology. That’s why the creators borrowed the form of a “future space war” to perhaps spin a story about “the truth of the previous war” in order to face the trauma of defeat.
Yamato did not specifically originate from novels or manga. The story was spun out of discussions with the late producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki while brainstorming with his main staff. There are examples that indicate the creators’ diverse views on war. In a scene depicting the Battleship Yamato’s last moments, Nishizaki wanted to accompany it with The Warship March, but director Leiji Matsumoto (77) strongly objected.
Matsumoto recalls, “To be honest, I was very reluctant to make Battleship Yamato into the subject.” For Matsumoto, the theme of Yamato’s story isn’t historical, it is one haunted by “death.” When making the series, he tried to avoid using military ranks and colors as much as possible.
On the other hand, according to film director Eiichi Yamamoto, Yoshinobu Nishizaki had a passion for “wanting to make it feel like World War II.”
According to TV Anime Frontline, a book by the late animation director Noboru Ishiguro, he protested against “the right wing” along with Matsumoto and the other younger staff members. As a result, the music was changed just before the broadcast.
Nishizaki was born in 1934, and was a fifth-grader in elementary school at the time of defeat. In a 1980 interview he said, “There is nationalism in Yamato. The prewar attitudes were also inherited by the middle-schoolers and high-schoolers, and it was part of our spiritual formation.”
Matsumoto is only four years younger than Nishizaki, but he did not receive a militaristic education during his childhood. Ishiguro also wrote, “The difference in our ages was little, but there was a big difference where the war was concerned. The difference in our sensibilities was the cause of the conflict.”
Even today, the thoughts of the Japanese about the war are not settled into a single evaluation. People cooperated to make Yamato “a story that captures the overall war for the Japanese,” and this might have deepened their various conflicting values and sensibilities.
Part 5: The Captain was the illusion of a hero
In Leiji Matsumoto’s early manga version of Space Battleship Yamato, published by Akita Shoten,
Juuzo Okita tries to persuade his men as they refuse to retreat. Details in the lines differ from the anime.
People born around 1935 played key roles in the making of Space Battleship Yamato. They did not have the experience of fighting directly, but they were the generation whose fathers and older brothers went to the battlefield, and their memories of the war are clear. These creators directly experienced the atmosphere of hopelessness that fills the beginning of the story. They vividly recall the “air of Japan at the end of the war.”
Yamato’s captain Juuzo Okita was not one to be beaten down by such an air. “Even if I’m the last one left I will not despair,” he vows. His subordinate, who plunges into the enemy in the midst of a suicide attack, shouts, “I can’t face those who died if I retreat!” Okita begs him to stop by saying, “We must endure the humiliation of today for the sake of tomorrow.” During the long and lonely voyage, he warmly encourages his young crew with, “We can’t succeed unless we conquer the anxiety in our own hearts and believe in tomorrow.”
Okita is always depicted as a strong leader who tries to find possibilities and turn hope into reality. Director Leiji Matsumoto patterned Okita after his own father. He was a veteran fighter pilot who spent his whole life regretting the loss of so many of his subordinates. He suffered from extreme poverty after the war, but said he would never again try to get work as a pilot.
In my Following Battleship Yamato series, which was serialized in this column last year, I thought this way. When it was decided to launch Yamato on the suicidal mission of Okinawa with no possibility of success, the logic of the organization was “If you survive after Yamato is defeated as the symbol of the navy, you cannot show your face in the world afterward.” It was the fault of the naval leaders, who created the desperate atmosphere of “100 million all-out kamikaze attacks.”
In contrast with them, Okita is never swept up in that atmosphere. Simply because the creators made such a person into the linchpin of the story, they could create the polar opposite of the kamikazes with the persuasive power of “I will survive and return by all means.”
Confronted with the trauma of defeat, the Yamato story’s unconscious goal was to overcome it. It seems to me that Okita’s presence becomes the key to that purpose.
Even today, getting a real person like Okita from the former military or government into the central position of a traditional Japanese organization or a major company would be extremely difficult. Unless you obey the atmosphere of the organization, it’s difficult to succeed.
Okita’s appearance, with his white beard and mustache, is reminiscent of Togo Heihachiro, the war hero who commanded in the Battle of Tsushima during the Russo-Japanese War and achieved a great victory. His image overlaps with the calm and decisive portrait of Togo in Shiba Ryotaro’s novel Clouds Above the Hill. In this work, Togo and many of the military personnel and politicians of the Meiji period are depicted as ideal leaders.
However, Clouds Above the Hill is a “story” with history as its subject, and is an expression of Japanese desires. In later years, Togo supported the hardliners against the US military and objected to a disarmament treaty. Consequently, he became one of those who opened the way to war.
As long as “atmosphere” casts a spell over us and we can never have a real Okita, isn’t he just the illusion of a hero?
Part 6: The contradiction of saying “Fight for love”
Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s message from the Farewell to Yamato movie program book.
Following the success of the 1977 movie Space Battleship Yamato, the sequel Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato, Soldiers of Love was released the following year, and it mobilized 4 million more people than the previous work. Many boys and girls shed tears, and it became a social phenomenon.
The content of the first work was “a story of living to save Earth and return by all means,” and the second was a big change: “a story of defending Earth to the death.” The complex story structure of “Japan fighting itself” disappeared, giving way to the simpler scheme of “Yamato fighting to protect Earth and space from an invader.” In the end, the main character crashes Yamato into the huge enemy.
The late producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki insisted on this ending, but director Leiji Matsumoto strongly opposed it, saying, “This is nothing but a suicide attack. Young people have to live.” But Nishizaki did not accept this. According to Eiichi Yamamoto, who assisted Nishizaki, the producer granted a lot of freedom to the staff on the first production, and the success of Yamato deepened his confidence in his own opinions. Whereas Yamato started out as a work that reflected a variety of values, it changed into a story that reflected the deep personality of Nishizaki.
Nishizaki was a shrewd businessman whose favorite phrase was “Don’t easily trust people.” On the other hand, he was also a romanticist who freely shared the story of his first love for a woman.
“Love” was Nishizaki’s basis to justify Yamato’s battle. To fans and staff alike, he emphasized that “The theme is love. Space love.”
In the story, the main character shouts, “Space is the mother. All life born there must be equal. It is the truth and the love of space!” Even the alien to which Yamato is lead says, “Now is the time to stand. Not just for Earth, but for the entire universe” and, “The universe is vast, but it is all one.” The suicide attack of Yamato becomes “the ultimate practice of space love.”
Once, the term “universal brotherhood” was used to justify war in Japan. As the religionist Tanaka Chigaku, who authored these words, explained in his work A Study of the Japanese Polity, “Each and every nation, territory, ethnicity, and race reach that place… Settling in around a central great life.” He further explained that, by thinking along the lines that “The people of the world belong equally to this ‘great life’ (i.e. the emperor and his ancestors)”, the government sees war as a way of realizing that.
If you read Japan as the “Earth” of space love and the world as “space,” then “All of life is born from that world” and “Fight not just for Japan, but for the entire world” approach the spirit of universal brotherhood. Thus, “emphasizing the oneness of all to aim for peace” might have been a “thought of love.” But on the other hand, excluding those who are unlike us becomes the other side of the coin.
In the first Yamato, a human exchange is depicted with the enemy. The main character repents, saying, “We should have shown them love instead of fighting.” But the the enemy in Farewell is considered a “demonic civilization” that prefers destruction and slaughter. It is reminiscent of the term “demonic America and England.”
To resolve the contradiction, of “fighting for love,” an enemy of “absolute evil” and no possibility of love was required.
Part 7: Visualizing delusion in a suicide attack scene
In the script for the movie Farewell to Yamato, the climactic suicide attack scene was rewritten many
times. Several versions exist in addition to the four drafts in this photo. (From the collection of Isao Ibara.)
Mitsuru Yoshida, a Yamato survivor and author of the war literature Last Moments of the Battleship Yamato, wrote about Farewell to Yamato for Bungei Shunju magazine in 1978. Yoshida’s writing was based on his own experience of a suicide attack.
“What’s being portrayed here, rather than a violent ‘war’, is nothing more than a fanciful SF farce. There’s not a glimpse of the hopeless human suffering brought on by fighting, of the raw resentment that led to the acceptance of self-sacrifice. The throbbing that children feel in their breasts, the tears that stream down their cheeks, is transparent and simpleminded sentimentality that bears no relation at all to the futile deaths of the kamikaze pilots.”
Yoshida’s view is correct until the middle part. However, rather than the existential conflict of people committing suicide, Farewell originally tried to depict a “euphoric admiration of one’s own sacrifice.”
As for the admiration that we boys and girls sympathized with at the time, it could be that our hearts were filled with the thoughts of a “militaristic boy” of wartime. It would have been the case with Yamato’s producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki, who was born in 1934.
Nishizaki was meticulous about Yamato’s suicide scene in Farewell. He revised the script many times and entrusted the animation to his favorite artist, Yasuhiko Yoshikazu. Nishizaki and his staff said many times that it was like “depicting a state of lingering death.” There is plenty of nuance in the emotion of “lingering.”
The main character Susumu Kodai, who decides to make the suicide attack, says this to his friends: “Life isn’t something that only lasts for a few decades. Doesn’t life grow and last forever in the universe? I’m going so that my life is exchanged for a greater life. This is not death!”
Kodai’s words recall the battlefield military code of “I live in eternal loyalty to the cause.” In the Battle of Okinawa, the commander gave the order to fight using these words, and approximately 190,000 people died, both military and civilian.
We all look for stories that give meaning to our lives. The story of “eternity is more important than life, and sacrificing oneself can bring you eternal life” was drilled into the nation during Nishizaki’s generation, to be completely denied in defeat. Having this foundation for life torn away was a serious trial. Hisashi Yamanaka, a writer three years older than Nishizaki, who wrote the We Children Series after the war, once wrote a story that criticized this indoctrination. It also became an attempt at self-recovery.
But a drilled-in story cannot be completely discarded, so another possible choice is to “somehow play it out in a different form that is acceptable to postwar society.” Maybe Nishizaki unconsciously attempted that in Farewell.
In the suicide scene, into which Nishizaki poured his heart and soul, Kodai’s lover and fallen companions are resurrected. Kodai seems happy as he crashes into the enemy. It would be reasonable for a viewer to interpret this as Kodai’s delusion. But since it is a fantasy, I think it was necessary for this surreal image to be more than a delusion in order to achieve “a story of reaching eternal life.”
Part 8: The accounting calculation that took away the power of the story
program books for the four Space Battleship Yamato movies made from 1977-1983.
In addition, there were four works for TV.
The first Space Battleship Yamato was a story about “confronting the memory of defeat and aiming to overcome the trauma of war.” In contrast to this, Farewell to Yamato went in the opposite direction with a story that said, “ignore defeat and aim to revive the story Japan believed in during wartime.”
The proof that it succeeded as a work of entertainment was in the amount of tears it coaxed out of boys and girls. When I saw Farewell as a 13 years old, its story intoxicated me like no other. It was probably because I caught a glimpse of the spellbinding power in the “story of self-sacrifice” that drove countless people to death during the war.
In a 1980 magazine interview, Producer Nishizaki asserted, “Japanese people themselves haven’t changed that much in the 35 years since the war.” I think that is correct. Our generation, which received a postwar peacetime education, should have easily rejected stories that “affirm the war.”
When Farewell was released in the summer of 1978, then-JSDF minister Hiroomi Kurisu said, “There are holes in the Self-Defense Forces Law, and it cannot withstand enemy aggression.” He appealed for emergency legislation and was dismissed. From there, the taboo of discussing national defense rose quickly.
While adults can’t sufficiently answer the simple question, “how do we protect our country and our family?”, Nishizaki attracted the attention of boys and girls in the Farewell to Yamato movie program with the provocative questions, “Would you protect your beloved even at the risk of your own life? Moreover, would you give your life to fight a great evil, in defense of an idea?”
During production, Nishizaki repeated that “This is the last Yamato.” If that promise had been kept, maybe the story of Farewell would have kept our generation spellbound. But after the film exceeded its expectations of success, Nishizaki changed his previous statement and adapted it for TV as Space Battleship Yamato 2. There was no suicide attack, and the main characters survived.
The one staff member who rebelled the most against Nishizaki’s policy was Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, who single-handedely drew Farewell’s suicide scene. “Didn’t you say it would end with this?” A staff member close to Nishizaki said that when Yasuhiko got angry, the response was, “It’s because this is a story.”
“Isn’t that an irresponsible thing to do to a story? They said, ‘It’s a big hit, we’re not going to end it here.’ There’s no artistic consideration, just an accounting calculation. What about your honor as a creator?”
More than a few fans shared Yasuhiko’s thoughts at the time. As Yamato sequels continued to be made and the impression of Farewell faded, it was said that it fell into mannerisms that “depicted plenty of emotional self-sacrifice in the characters.” It could be said that Nishizaki’s calculations as a businessman took away the spellbinding power of Farewell’s story.
Yasuhiko broke away from Nishizaki to make his next work, Mobile Suit Gundam, which started airing on TV in 1979. Gundam was another anime that depicted war, but Yasuhiko reflected that “The story is completely different from Yamato.”
What was different?
Part 9: The cold reality depicted by Gundam
Many of the robots that appeared in Mobile Suit Gundam were mass-produced, like tanks and fighters.
The year after Farewell to Yamato was released, Mobile Suit Gundam began airing on TV, in the spring of 1979. Director Yoshiyuki Tomino revealed that “What I was conscious of in Gundam was ‘crush Yamato’!”
Tomino was seven years younger than Yamato’s producer, Yoshinobu Nishizaki. I was thinking, “Nishizaki’s generation had to embrace the chagrin of defeat, and it can be understood that it was expressed in Yamato. But the obvious reality is that it was a lost cause. A story like Yamato, filled will nostalgia for World War II, is the wrong kind to raise the next generation to judge history accurately.”
In Gundam, a space colony calling itself the Principality of Zeon claims that “the people living in space must be released from the tyranny of the Earth Federation,” and they cause a war. It is clearly conscious of Japan’s fight to “free Asia from Western colonial rule.”
However, the nation of Zeon has only 1/30 the strength of the Earth Federation. They achieve overwhelming victory through surprise attacks but this gradually erodes as the war is prolonged and they are eventually defeated. It could be said that Yamato depicts the dream of “Japan on the verge of defeat, reversing it with one shot,” but Gundam traces the progress of the Pacific War with cold reality: “Victory or defeat in war is decided by the difference in resources, not love and justice.”
I touched on this last time, but Yasuhiko Yoshikazu left the production site of Yamato to become an animation director on Gundam because he was fascinated by the intent of the story and said, “I want to draw a world of diverse people.”
Not many civilians appear in Yamato, but Gundam depicted a mother and child who burst into tears at the sight of their hometown, which was reduced to ruins by the war. A war orphan girl becomes a military spy to feed her younger brother and sister, and loses her life. The goal was to create a group drama showing how people work hard to survive, soldiers and civilians alike.
In the first Yamato, Japan’s conflict over the war was graphically expressed as “Japan as both the perpetrator and the victim of the fight.” On the other hand, Gundam pushes these internal conflicts aside, perhaps in an attempt to turn people’s eyes toward the harsh realities of war.
Art critic Yohei Kurose’s evaluation is, “The first Yamato begat Gundam to progressively inherit the issue of how to overcome the trauma of war.”
After World War II, war was often regarded as a taboo subject for art. Tsuguharu Foujita, a painter who represented Japan just after the defeat, was denounced for drawing war images and left Japan after he was drummed out of painting circles. Afterward, it was difficult to create art without being conscious of social and ideological conflicts about the war.
Meanwhile, the creators of anime, manga, and tokusatsu (live-action special effects) worked in an unfettered subculture while Japanese people continued to wrestle with the serious problem of war. After the war, many anime and tokusatsu works such as Godzilla, Yamato, Gundam, Nausicaa, and Evangelion became social phenomenons. It’s no coincidence that they all share the theme of “war” and “ruin.”
Part 10: Success produces Ghibli
A segment from “The evolution of anime character military uniforms” which appeared in the August 1981
issue of Animage. A reader protested when actual battlefield photos were place behind the characters.
“In essence, Farewell to Yamato is the recital of a naniwa-bushi [ballad of obligation and compassion]. Does that mean the manga I made for children to change the country called Japan after the war had no meaning?”
Osamu Tezuka shouted this and began to cry.
It was October 1978, two months after the premiere of Farewell. Six leading figures of anime production gathered together for a round-table discussion. Tezuka, the moderator, was 49 at the time. Farewell was a big hit and a huge factor, and it was said that he was venting his emotions by persistently questioning the others about it. Why did Tezuka cry?
In the year of defeat, Tezuka narrowly escaped death as a 16-year-old in the brutal bombing of Osaka. When he saw Osaka’s lights come on again on the night of August 15, he remembers dancing crazily and saying, “I survived.”
In his autobiography, Tezuka wrote, “[This experience] has supported my drawing manga for forty years,” and, “Naturally, the deep emotion I lived for, my gratitude for life, comes out in my manga, even if it’s not consciously.”
To Tezuka, Farewell to Yamato was a reflection and extension of the “aesthetics of destruction” that lead the Japanese to easily sacrifice life. He was still drawing his story, Hymn of Life, which represented the opposing view and attracted the support of boys and girls. Perhaps Tezuka might have felt a strong taste of defeat.
Toshio Suzuki was the editor of Animage who planned that round-table discussion, and now serves as a producer at Studio Ghibli. Born in 1948, his generation was thoroughly educated to believe that “war is absolutely wrong,” in contrast to Yamato producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki. But, in addition to Yamato, the world of anime overflowed with the “depiction of war as entertainment.”
And so, when anime characters wearing military uniforms were accompanied by war photos of real corpses, such opinions as “trashy” were on the rise, and “is war really supposed to be cool?” was asked in the magazine. Readers were strongly opposed to it, but Suzuki didn’t mind. On the other hand, Suzuki also said, “Without Yamato, there wouldn’t be a Ghibli.”
When Yamato became a hit in the world, it was noticed that youth-friendly anime established business. Suzuki was working for Tokuma Shoten in 1978, which launched Animage to ride the Yamato boom. President Yasuyoshi Tokuma tried to collaborate with Nishizaki to produce a movie. Because of this foundation, Suzuki serialized Hayao Miyazaki’s manga Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind in Animage, and Tokuma Shoten was able to invest in a 1984 film adaptation. Its success lead to the founding of Studio Ghibli.
While Nausicaa continuously denies rule by military power, it thoroughly pursued the pleasure of battle scenes. Tezuka also continuously drew battle scenes in The White Pilot (1961).
Though far from the reality of war, the “pleasure of a battle” captivates the masses without arriving at an “anti-war” message. It’s a dilemma that the creators of war stories will continue to face in all ages and countries.
Part 11: Our story does not end
Part of the vast production materials from the time of Space Battleship Yamato. At the will of the
deceased Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki, it is now in the possession of his secretary, Isao Ibara.
Why did I continue to crack into Battleship Yamato and Space Battleship Yamato? In order to solve the mystery, I serialized Following [Battleship] Yamato, and this time I took up [Space Battleship] Yamato. As my coverage continued, the same subject emerged for both, a Japanese “story of war.”
The story of “How can we protect our country” was embodied in Japan’s Battleship Yamato. In order for Japan to win a war against the United States, we had no choice but to defeat the enemy over long distance with the huge guns of a battleship, and Yamato was built to realize it. But Yamato was unable to play an active part in the actual war. At the same time, since Yamato was the biggest battleship in history, it became proof of the failure to “weave a story of a realistic national defense.” And that allowed 3,000 of our countrymen to die in the Okinawa suicide attack, which had no possibility of success.
For the Japanese, Yamato became a symbol of the “trauma of defeat,” suffused with pride, humiliation, and regret. After the war, Japan abandoned the “story of militarism” and chose a new story of pacifism. I wonder if the decision to overcome the “trauma of defeat” was understood from the bottom of their hearts.
In 1946, critic Hideo Kobayashi made a public critique in regard to the tide of remorse being expressed one by one by the intellectuals who’d supported the war, saying “I’m ignorant, and so I don’t reflect on these things. The clever people should try try a great deal of reflection.”
Five years later, Kobayashi wrote the following: “We’d each individually experienced such sorrow that we couldn’t even talk about the war. We’d all become flesh and blood actors, performing in the grand drama that was the war.” “It wasn’t a political event that we could just deal with after it was over.”
Perhaps what Kobayashi meant was “As much as an outward political stance might change, you don’t recover from the deep wounds in your heart left by suffering defeat. The Japanese people must wager their existence and face the trauma of defeat.”
I think the first Space Battleship Yamato was one such attempt. With the freedom from ideology and taboo provided by “children’s SF anime,” a story was made starring Battleship Yamato, the symbol of trauma. By doing that, I think it naturally overflows with the creators’ real feelings about the war, unexpectedly spinning a “story of facing and trying to overcome the trauma of defeat.”
The trauma of defeat is not a problem only for the generation who experienced it. If left unattended, it can also lead to difficulties for the next generation.
I was fascinated by Yamato as a child, probably because I realized intuitively that it was a story of the attempt to overcome this life.
Although a sequel was made that dispensed with the trauma of defeat, the spirit of the first Yamato was steadily inherited by subsequent stories such as Gundam, Nausicaa, and Evangelion. But “a new Japanese story” of truly overcoming the trauma of defeat has yet to be born.
Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.