Interview by Shuichi Oguro, published by Animate Times, October 12, 2017. See the original article here
Tokusatsu and Yamato crossover!? We asked Hideki Oka, director of the Ultraman series, what is Space Battleship Yamato 2202, Soldiers of Love?
Chapter 3, Pure Love Chapter, finally premieres in theaters October 14. The staff and cast members represent the best in Japan. Did you know that Hideki Oka, who is involved with the Ultraman series, writes the scripts?
As a genuine Yamato fan, it’s a great feeling to participate. Here, we interviewed him about that feeling! We discussed various topics, from his first encounter with Yamato to his own personal worldview. He talked with an earnest expression even while being funny. Of course, this is must-read content for both Yamato fans and tokusatsu fans![Translator’s note: tokusatsu = live action special effects programs]
A sudden route to open Yamato
Interviewer: First of all, you’ve been mainly involved in live-action works such as the Ultraman series so far. Please tell us how you came to be involved in 2202.
Oka: The trigger for that was a single email from the director, Nobuyoshi Habara. The wording was quite simple. “We will produce the sequel to Yamato 2199 at Xebec. It’s a remake of the White Comet story. Please write a proposal.” (Laughs)
Interviewer: That was quite a straight invitation, wasn’t it?
Oka: Yes. However, at the time he sent me that email, Director Habara didn’t know that Harutoshi Fukui would also participate, and he was actually already on standby. It was a “fateful mistake.” (Laughs) Anyway, I received the offer while I was working in Indonesia.
Interviewer: Meaning that you were still in the middle of making the Garudo Warrior Bima series, right?
Oka: That’s right. I’d finished shooting everything and ordering the CG, and was just waiting for completion. By chance, there was one month left, and it was a gaping hole in the schedule. Even looking back on it now, it was exquisite timing. Was God around there somewhere? That’s what it felt like. (Laughs)
Weird things like that have happened several times in my life. When I was entrusted to direct Ultraman, it felt like a punch came flying in from beyond my imagination. Since it was specifically an anime work this time, I thought, “did I really just get this email?” (Laughs)
Of course, I like Yamato very much, and I already knew Director Habara well. I watched the Resurrection Director’s Cut with him, and I enjoyed his one-man commentary as the animation director. Isn’t that great? I was very fortunate to have him as my friend.
However, I was also confused. Why would an anime work be assigned to a guy in the live-action film field? But I thought, “I can be useful for something.” I happily and freely wrote up a story for a proposal book and sent it to Japan.
Interviewer: Your main career has been as a director, but did you write scripts for the first time on Bima?
Oka: That’s what it says in the credits. But as a director, there are many things I’m deeply involved in while in the process of writing a screenplay. I did various things like practicing screenwriting from before Bima.
Interviewer: So how did you make use of that experience?
Oka: Well, I think I gained some valuable experience, but “I’m no Harutoshi Fukui.” (Laughs) When I returned to Japan, he was there, and I was asked to assist in various places. And then I thought, “Why do you think I’m fit to be Harutoshi Fukui’s assistant?” Isn’t that natural? So I wasn’t immediately able to strut my stuff on the spot.
Then Mr. Fukui and Mr. Habara said, “Let’s go for a drink” and we talked about it for four or five hours. During that time, I was able to get Mr. Fukui thinking, “This person may be useful in some way.” That was the flow in which my participation was finally settled.
The great impact of a first encounter with Yamato
Interviewer: I’d like to hear about your original experience with Space Battleship Yamato. Did you see the first 1974 broadcast as part of the real-time generation?
Oka: I did have that experience. But whether or not I could say that I “saw” it…to be honest, as a result of hesitation, I chose to watch Monkey Army, which was on at the same time! I certainly saw the opening of Yamato and then just a little at the start, around a minute and a half. If I changed the channel quickly after listening to the theme song of Yamato, I was in time for the middle of the theme song for Monkey Army. (Laughs)[Note: Monkey Army was a 26-episode live action series from Tsubaraya productions, broadcast in 1974, inspired by Planet of the Apes. It was an authentic SF work with an emphasis on science, but it fought a tough ratings battle against Yamato and Girl of the Alps Heidi.]
During the commercials, I flipped back and forth between Monkey and Yamato. Anyway, I wanted to see both. But as a result, it was 90% Monkey and 10% Yamato.
Interviewer: In a way, that choice set you up for the Ultraman series later. (Laughs)
Oka: Since Monkey Army was never given the opportunity for reruns, that might be the right answer. I watched that on a small TV in my grandmother’s room. My parents all watched Yamato together on the big TV. They were in their mid-30s at the time. What kind of work was Yamato to get adults watching like that? I was always curious about that after the broadcast was over. So I was really happy when reruns started up after a while.
Interviewer: Back in those days, there was a lot of content that got popular in reruns, wasn’t there?
Oka: In my class, there was a very small group that watched Yamato in reruns. One guy watched while he studied. He had a slightly peculiar sensibility for it. As third graders, I wonder if our impression was “this is slightly too good for us.” But every time it was rerun, Yamato became the central topic in class more and more.
Interviewer: Yamato became a big movement as a feature film afterward. How did you see Farewell to Yamato, which is the basis for Yamato 2202?
Oka: I saw Farewell during the summer before seventh grade. Star Wars had already been released in Japan at the time, and I became aware that “I like Sci-fi movies!” and I was attacked with the fever of, “I’m definitely going to become a movie director in the future!” (Laughs) It was in that state that I went to see Farewell.
I couldn’t see it on the premiere day, but I did the story in an anime magazine about how the white comet gets peeled off in front of the heroes to reveal a city empire, and I heard a rumor from those who saw it before me that “Yamato performs a suicide attack.” So I watched it calmly with the sense that I was tracing information I’d gotten in advance. However, when it got to the end of Yamato flew toward the giant battleship with only Kodai and Yuki on board, the TV theme song was sung by a male chorus, and it got very serious. The moment I heard that, my blood boiled at once.
Farewell, Earth, the ship we’re traveling in is Space Battleship Yamato…
“This is the true meaning of that song!”
From there, I shed tears non-stop as I watched it to the end. You could say it was a sense of “despair” along with farewell.
Interviewer: If you had a deep fondness for the movie version, were your thoughts about Yamato 2 complicated by the different ending?
Oka: Yamato 2? My feeling was, “Yamato 2? 2?? What is THIS?!” And even as I was thinking that, I also thought about somehow skipping cram school, which I was going to at the time, in order to see it. I stopped my own development to see Yamato 2. That was reckless. But it was a feeling of, “I can’t not see it.”
But even to my junior high school student eyes it seemed like, “Somehow the picture is rougher this time, and doesn’t it seem diluted?” On the other hand, there were a lot of exciting situations in Yamato 2. As a result, my entire commitment to Yamato deepened.
Interviewer: As for deep digging, I think there were things in it they couldn’t do in Farewell.
Oka: Yes, exactly! I think there are many fans who like Zordar, but don’t the Zordars of Farewell and Yamato 2 mix together in your mind? It’s not just me. I’m thinking there’s still a secret love for the great emperor.
Interviewer: If you only watch Farewell, Zordar is purely a villain. His image is almost always laughing, right?
Oka: That’s right. I think about half his popularity comes from the nuance of being “a man who knows the wisdom of a warrior.” That character was obviously spun out of Yamato 2, wasn’t it? Of course, his logic was crystal clear when he said, “I own every drop of blood in one whose life belongs to me.” If such a thing was said to me, I couldn’t help but think, “I want you to squeeze me dry.”
Then at the end, what a miserable scream he made. I think a lot of people didn’t find the end of Zordar to be convincing, but as for me both characters seem “regrettable” in my mind.
Interviewer: Aside from that ending, there were many unforgettable lines.
Oka: And they weren’t limited to Zordar. “Every drop of blood is mine” and “your chest, your heart, and your soul.” There were phrases that pierced your body like a needle. I think that’s one of the factors that makes Yamato unforgettable. Yamato wears the trappings of SF but isn’t stiff at all. It shows a story with an earnest power that isn’t at all embarrassing. So I continue to find it fascinating.
Interviewer: Did Yamato have an influence on you even when you made it to the production side?
Oka: Oh, yes, of course it had an influence. For example, when it comes to how to depict an enemy, I want that enemy to be overwhelming. I digress a little, but there are the White Comet Empire, the Emperor of Darkness and the Seven Legions from Great Mazinger, and the Tiger’s Hole in Tiger Mask. For me, these are “the three most absolutely evil and unbeatable organizations.” (Laughs) In addition to attacking the main character with an infinite amount of resources, they have a firm logic behind their invasion. That’s what makes them overwhelming. So when I was entrusted to direct the Ultraman series, there was the feeling of following in the shadow of such enemies.
Interviewer: When I hear that, there is certainly a place in Ultraman Saga where I understand how a convincing enemy is depicted.
Oka: I blurred it a bit at the time, but the line and laugh of the Bat aliens in that were a perfect Zordar. (Laughs) Like Zordar, I wanted it to have the feeling of “a barrier so powerful that even the will to resist it crumbles.” In our generation, you can’t escape being influenced by Yamato, and I went with longtime Ultraman director Abeuichi to see 2199 together all the time. I didn’t hear this directly, but if you look at his work there are certainly a lot of shots that look like they came out of Yamato. (Laughs) The imprinting from Yamato is strong.
Being a member of the 2202 “crew”
Interviewer: That reminds me, the term White Comet appears for the first time in Chapter 3, doesn’t it? This may sound harsh, but since it doesn’t meet the astronomical definition of a comet, I wondered if it would be unified with “Imperial Star Gatlantis” this time.
Oka: No, no…isn’t the sound of “White Comet” still important? It’s familiar to everyone’s ears. Wouldn’t everyone be upset if it was thrown out? There are many ways to refer to the green-skinned people. Their most common name in books related to Farewell at the time was “White Comet Empire Gatlantis,” but that wasn’t actually used in the movie. There were five proper names used in the story: White Comet, Comet Empire, Comet Empire Gatlantis, Imperial Star Gatlantis, and City Empire.
Mr. Fukui suggested that in 2202 we focus on White Comet and Imperial Star Gatlantis. A new name will come out in the end, so there will be three kinds. In 2202, the form is that the comet and Yamato confront each other on the route from Earth to Telezart, and as the comet approaches the actual situation will gradually become known. There might be a reason that the term “White Comet” is heard for the first time in Chapter 3.
Interviewer: I see. Well then, since the flow of the script becomes the form, I’d like to ask specifically about your role in 2202.
Oka: First of all, there was a document called a constitution memo that Mr. Fukui wrote, and after reading it carefully I broke the long plot down into half-hour story segments. At that time there was also something like a “novel,” and though each story was divided up, their lengths varied. Mr. Fukui said, “I wrote a lot with the presumption that some of it would be cut.” But in order to understand the characters’ feelings and the background circumstances, a lot of information was put into it.
In other words, it’s not the sort of thing where “it’s all in the script.” It’s difficult to sift through it and choose where to pick up and go. I had a hard time until I grasped his sense of intuition. (Laughs)
I submit the written plot to Mr. Fukui and Director Habara, and if the OK is given we have a general meeting. I get various opinions there and the next step is to write a script. First, I make what is called the “zero draft.” This is the one I write, which becomes a springboard for the “first draft” to be written by Mr. Fukui.
Of course, the “zero draft” also includes various opinions given by Mr. Fukui and Mr. Habara, and it’s rewritten several times. When I get the OK on that, we have a general meeting again and get opinions on each part, then Mr. Fukui takes it home and rewrites it thoroughly. When his work is finally approved in a general meeting, it finally becomes the “first draft.” If necessary, he will go on to write a second draft. Meanwhile, I’ll start on the next long plot and it repeats from there.
Interviewer: There are also a lot of homage-like elements to Farewell and Yamato 2, which are the basis for 2202. These are highlights for the fans who say, “I wanted to see this!” Is that also a reflection of the opinions of various people?
Oka: One big policy that Mr. Fukui decided on at the beginning was, “Things referred to as ‘cameos’ will appear as much as possible.” That’s why Yamato has to launch by breaking through the sea, and the crew must be forced into a state of rebellion to reach that point. Because that policy is a premise, there are naturally a lot of homage elements.
Speaking of homages, I cautiously said, “Is it all right if we use the asteroid belt?” There was a feeling among the staff about elements that hadn’t been depicted in 2199, and everyone was excited like, “Oh, good, whew!” and “Now we can show what we can do with an old concept.” Everyone’s reaction at the time was “the practical application of old-fashioned technology,” which lead to the concept of “a souvenir from the Izumo plan.”
A script isn’t everything, and additional action and visuals come from Makoto Kobayashi, the assistant director, which are reflected in the storyboard. Some elements in the script are reorganized in that process. The scripts for 2202 were written way at the beginning and there was a general agreement among the staff that they were good. But since production choices for each episode are made at the storyboard stage, that means as many ideas as possible are put in. On top of that, if a new idea comes out, it will be incorporated in a dynamic way. That’s what you see in the completed visuals.
Because of that, Director Habara said in a previous interview that 2202 has the strong feeling of being made by many people. It gathers the wisdom of many and builds it all into 2202.
Interviewer: I see. There are a lot of elements built into fan-friendly visuals, and they feel very convincing.
Oka: For example, in Chapter 1 when we see the large battleships of the “Gaisengan Weapons Group,” for some reason it appears from the inside of a rock and we spend quite a long time on it. If it was an ordinary program you’d see that and say, “Why are you spending so much time on this?” But looking back on past experiences, that’s a Yamato way of showing it. Even if it stops the progress of the story, we emphasize the appearance of the enemy. The music and sound pound away. By daring to do that, I feel like we’re seeing the Yamato worldview after a long absence. I think that was accomplished thanks to the strong commitment of Assistant Director Kobayashi. From this point onward, I think highlights we didn’t think of will be introduced more and more as the story proceeds.
I’ve been granted the role of playing a part in the production of the script, and in a way I’m a member of the crew for the story of 2202, which is shaped by a lot of people. One of a large number of people. I’m truly happy. The basics of script work are solitary, but there are a lot of people’s ideas and hard work ahead. It becomes part of a legacy. When I see the names of so many people flowing through the end credits, it doesn’t seem such an important thing to be the person who knows the first solitary moment.
Watch Chapter 3 all the way through the end credits!
Interviewer: In closing, please talk about the highlights of Chapter 3.
Oka: What I’d like to say more than anything else to those who will see it in a theater is, “Don’t leave your seat until the end!” They’re all passionate viewers, so it may not be necessary, but please watch it all the way through the end credits. The moment I first saw the finished visuals, I couldn’t stop myself from gasping. Now I know what’s going to happen.
Oka: This ending was Mr. Fukui’s idea. When I wrote it, I wanted it to end with Makoto Kato and her son, but Mr. Fukui said, “That’s good, but if we’re going to do something at the end, let’s do this.” And I said, “That’s it!”
Interviewer: By the way, for the fans of Farewell, I’m glad Kato is depicted deeply, but on the other hand I can’t help but thinking about the so-called “death flag”…
Oka: Is it a death flag? That’s what you see? Well, what about it? Mr. Fukui said such a thing once. At the time we watched Farewell, we became adults. There are a lot of people with families, so there must be something that can resonate with them. That is “a thing we must protect.” I want to create a story people can agree with. I also sympathized very much when I heard that. It was consolidated into Kato’s family in 2202. That’s all I can say for now. (Laughs)
Interviewer: You shared your thoughts about Zordar earlier. I think that’s also a highlight that is strongly reflected in Chapter 3.
Oka: I’m no Harutoshi Fukui, but because I’m a writer, I feel that something that doesn’t find a “theme” has nowhere to go. It seems like the writer caught the scent of something in Farewell and responded to it.
About the word “love” again, we’ve created a story that takes that head on. It’s one of the big themes Mr. Fukui chose for 2202. Zordar was nominated as the embodiment of the theme. I’ve been entrusted with a new aspect of him, “a person who knows more about love than anyone.” Those who only know the original Zordar may be confused. After Chapter 3, this new Zordar will be depicted more deeply.
I’m also at the personal plot stage, in the process of returning Susumu Kodai to being the hero again. We thought that confronting Zordar was essential. So please pay close attention to Zordar from here.
Of course, the relationship of Kodai and Yuki is a big element in Chapter 3, since it’s called Pure Love Chapter. I hope you’ll watch what happens with these two on the big screen in a theater.