Leiji Matsumoto 2002 Essay

From The Far Place Where the Ring of Time is Linked

by Leiji Matsumoto/Tokyo Shoseki, 2002

This book is noteworthy not only for its unwieldy title, but also for being an actual autobiography by Matsumoto himself. This modestly-sized hardcover stretches across most of his career with occasional illustrations lifted from various manga. The book culminates with a fifth chapter devoted to Space Battleship Yamato and his second most famous production, Galaxy Express 999.

The Yamato portion of this chapter is presented here, which just so happens to contain the explanation for the book’s unusual title.

Yamato Departure

After I made Sexaroid and the Fourth Dimension World Series (1968-1970) then moved on to Oidon Man (1971), they consequently became my two core creations; the technical world of SF and the lyrical world of reality. They became the wheels of my car and this has not changed even now.

When I was drawing girls’ comics, it was often said that the bottom usually dropped out. In other words, I would be midway through a romantic story and it would get muddled. I didn’t set out with a particular aim, so when something new came into my mind my pen would run with it.

I had no hesitation when I drew Oidon Man. Because of a sense of duty and purpose, and because the character was mostly based on my own experience, I could draw a down-to-Earth story with a feeling of calm and composure. When the serialization of Oidon Man ended, I started on Space Battleship Yamato.

Yoshinobu Nishizaki pushed forward the plan for Space Battleship Yamato as anime, and it was decided to put it on TV. I was asked by Akita Shoten to draw the manga version, to begin serialization in Adventure King magazine in November 1974.

When I looked through his proposal book, I knew the manga was going to be quite different, though it was impolite of me to say so. I asked if it was all right to rework the concept from the beginning, and I was encouraged to do whatever I liked. Thus, I completely rewrote it.

My long-cherished dream of making anime had been fulfilled, but my mind was heavy with the weight of Battleship Yamato. I didn’t want to create an account of the war, but a science-fantasy like Galaxy Express 999. Because we were expressly using the name Yamato, it was clear that a resolution was necessary.

Needless to say, strict attention would have to be paid to history, and the attitude and personality of the author would be front and center. I felt that it was going to place great demands on my sensibilities. If you examine the context of world history, Yamato represented the influence of the Japanese military on other countries, which was not pleasant. Its story was relevant to my own family history, since my father was a former commander in the naval air forces.

Yamato‘s story is not one of immortal heroes. Instead, it is the shadow of death, a familiar theme. It was a heavy burden on me to draw a story dealing with death.

I didn’t think I understood the pain of death as well as someone who had lost a blood relative or somebody else close to them. I didn’t experience the feeling of a person’s death even when my younger sister died in an accident. I was 23 at the time, and she was one year younger. I was in Tokyo when I heard about it and though I rushed to Kyushu when I got the news, I was too late to witness her final moments. I saw her face after she died, but it was no different than when she was alive.

But she would never wake up again, never speak through her smile. There was a body, but my younger sister was not there any more. I understood the facts, but that was all. I went out of the hospital and looked up at the stars twinkling in the night sky.

“Where has she gone? Where on Earth am I?”

Although I regarded myself as a scientific thinker, I was looking for my sister in the night sky. At the time, I thought I wanted to give her a flower, but there were no flower shops open in the middle of the night. I found some that were decorating the hospital, and asked the night nurse if I could buy them. At first she said they were not for sale, but then she looked up at me sympathetically and said to take them.

Later in Galaxy Express 999 I drew a story about a mother who miscarries, so a younger sister is unable to be born. Tetsuro says, “if I am here, no matter who I am, as long as I was born it doesn’t matter how much I have to suffer.”

It was my feeling for my younger sister that allowed me to write that line.

The accident that killed my sister was one that resulted from poverty. Such an accident would not have happened to an affluent family. In those days, I was destitute and powerless when I drew Galaxy Express. That’s when I came to think, “if I am here…”

It was no longer possible to laugh away someone’s death, since their relatives were still faced with it. Before that time, many people had died and we had all just gone on with our lives, laughing. To the bereaved, it becomes painful to eat, let alone to laugh.

Thinking of this, my chest hurt to imagine the thoughts of a bereaved family seeing a new story being written about Battleship Yamato. So I decided this should not just be a drama about war. I wanted it to be about a grand space voyage, overflowing with lyrical feelings. When I began to work on Yamato, I felt that it would be informed by my knowledge and experiences.

I made the most of my familiarity with scientific terminology such as warp theory and the wave-motion gun, and tried to enhance the anime. But the person in charge complained that he didn’t understand all this, although he knew about the logic of “warp theory” as a wave in time.

I explained it by illustrating it. I said that warp theory is something like teleportation. Teleportation means moving through time instantaneously, and a warp is like jumping across time. Space travel is actually time travel, and when we look at a star we are seeing ancient light. We can take pictures of them, but we don’t actually know if they are still there. We call this a time machine, but human intelligence has not yet expanded enough to take in the great structure of the universe.

I described the warp in terms of SF films that were current at the time, but I later made a film called The Mirror of Arei for the Tsukuba Technology Exhibition held in 1985. In it we used a computer for the first time to depict a warp in space that opened up as a ripple. Though warp theory is common in movies now, one can take secret pride in being the first to show it on-screen.

By the way, the wave-motion gun emerged from the space wave-motion theory that I developed prior to Yamato. I read about the concept of a long space journey as a sixth-grader and thought about it deeply.

I tried to picture space as a balloon. The inside of the balloon is closed space. If I were to poke at one specific point, would a wave spread out to all points? While working on the Yamato anime, I asked my younger brother to verify this for me on a computer. He was at the graduate school of Mechanical Engineering at Kyushu University, and could investigate it.

“Is there anything wrong with this theory,” I asked.

The answer came back, “it is not necessarily false, but note that while it is possible to move forward in time, it is not possible to move backward.”

I thought about it further. In closed space, the most distant past and the far future exist together. In other words, if you reach the place to touch the ring of time, you could go either to the past or the future.

Later, when I placed a copy of Captain Harlock on the grave of my beloved cat Mi-kun, I said, “I pray that we will meet again in the meeting place of the ring of time.” It was derived from my theory. It also came from an experience on Yamato.

This is not my own experience, but that of my father who lost a subordinate in the war. There is a scene in episode 1 where Kodai demands to know why Captain Okita did not return bring back his brother Mamoru, and Okita can only say “I’m sorry.” That was precisely the experience of my father.

Even the character’s appearance is quite similar to my father. The responsibility of an officer lasts as long as his family does. Therefore, I became my father when I wrote that.

During the making of Yamato, an old photo of my father surfaced. He was perhaps in his thirties, during his days as a pilot. He wore a moustache and had sharp eyes. He looked considerably older than someone in his thirties today. It was the face of a samurai. Unfortunately, my face looks lazy in comparison. I hear that various relatives watched Yamato and shouted “that’s father!” Captain Okita and my father were exactly alike.

My father would say, “a person is born to live, and I was not born to die.” This became the main theme of Yamato.

Speaking of photographs, here is an interesting story. Though I didn’t know it at the time, there was a living model for Starsha.

She was Takako Mise, the granddaughter of Philipp Franz Von Siebold, a Dutch doctor who was the first European to teach Western medicine in Japan during the Edo period [the 1800s]. She was the wife of a man who was a colleague of my maternal ancestor.

The one who found the photograph is the younger brother of my former classmate. He became the director of natural history at a temple next to my parent’s house. He found the negative, and because it was undamaged he could develop it.

When I first saw the photograph of Takako, I understood a great truth. I had worked hard since childhood to draw a face like hers, and all the women I drew actually seemed to be her. It’s not just about beauty, it was her entire framework; eyes that seem both gentle and severe, and a nature that seems strong. Everything was there.

Even my ancestor must have thought she was a great beauty. Could my ancestor’s longing for her have been inherited by me, five generations later?

The photograph was of a married couple, and Takako’s husband was holding a sword. As it happens, I own that very sword now. When the photo was enlarged, the sword was revealed to have white European-style decorations, something rarely seen. Several years ago I took it to a curio shop that was recommended to me. The master of the shop said it was a good sword and offered to purchase it, but the price was next to nothing so I didn’t go for it. Takako’s face would have once been reflected on this sword. It is a wonder that the descendant of an old comrade now holds it. I couldn’t make this up.

Of course, Takako’s face was not the only one I pursued.

I also fell in love with the actress Marianne Hold, who I saw in a movie called Marianne of My Youth during my schooldays. She made a great impression on my adolescent mind. Her beauty matched my strong hopes and seems to have had some major input. The women I drew, Maetel and Starsha, were certainly influenced by both Marianne Hold and Takako Mise.

A character named Mori Yuki is the heroine of Yamato. Her face has not been seen in real life, but there is a model for her nonetheless. Her name is Miyuki Moriki. I wrote letters to her during the time Oidon Man was serialized. She was a student at the Music College of Okayama, and her letters were always written in third-person form. It was like a diary that read “today Moriki did this…”

Though we did not meet in person, her impression on me was strong and I decided to shorten her name to Yuki Mori for the character.

Some time ago, I was watching TV and saw a pianist by the name of Miyuki XX. I wasn’t sure it was the same one who wrote the letters, but she was about the right age and her name would have changed if she married, so I thought, “that must surely be her.” And I bowed very low in thanks.

The Yamato TV anime that started simultaneously with the manga serialization was great fun after all, though there was still a heavy feeling. 13 years ago [1989] I held delusions of grandeur about starting up a large production company that would rival Disney, and I was about to buy a stock of film and animation cels with the last of my income. But I realized that if it turned out to be impossible, I would end up utterly alone.

The economic responsibility overcame the dream. I should be glad.

The process for producing anime went like this: I started with character design, then mecha, then scenery, and wrote a basic plot for the scriptwriter. When the script came back to me, I examined it all again. The last step was to draw a storyboard myself. Because there was an animation director who took over from there, others made decisions about the composition of scenes.

What made my storyboards unusual is that I did them all myself. Usually a single person only storyboards part of an episode. I got especially excited about drawing Starsha and her sister.

I also wanted to make realistic space images like those in books that had fascinated me as a child. I wanted the children watching the series to get an impression of an outer space that was alive, overflowing with matter, light, and energy. I even designated the colors that would be used to paint the cels.

I directed the use of Sakura matte dark blue, a watercolor paint used by school children. I had to assure the staff that I wasn’t an idiot, and this wasn’t a mistake. It would respond well to the lighting when being filmed. When they experimented with this, it worked well and they learned from the experience.

In earlier productions, they would use poster paints which would appear too bright on a TV screen because they contain white particles. Therefore, I only wanted Sakura blue for the space scenes. The result was that beautiful blue starry sky in the first Yamato series. It became troublesome later, but it always looked great.

I was also particular about how to paint the stars. I used to draw them by using a tool that could be found wrapped around a plumbing pipe, meant to tighten hoses. Its length could be freely adjusted. I would wrap it around a brush with white paint, then attach a small bellows. This was the method I always used to paint stars in manga. [Editor’s note: Matsumoto is describing a homemade spattering tool that would work like an airbrush.]

Because I had used it for so long [in black & white manga], I didn’t really think about it any more, but though it was good at depicting scattered stars it unified the colors. In real space, stars glow in many colors such as pink and red rather than just an artificial white. I was able to compromise this somewhat by blurring the edges.

These days such a thing could be easily achieved with CG, but back then it was entirely manual labor. It took time and trouble, but I liked the warmth of a picture touched by a human hand.

I did such things starting with the first episode, and also wrote lines of dialogue for the script. This obligated me to stay up all night, during which time I was also drawing the manga version. Because I used up so much time writing and drawing storyboards for the TV series, I had to give up sleep for the manga, and I was always tired. I had to drive myself back and forth from the animation studio and when I look back on that now, I was very lucky I didn’t wake up to find myself in an accident.

I also had a hand in the music. I was once invited to the year-end party of a manga publisher, and listened to the music that was playing there. It was the second movement of Beethoven’s Third Symphony. It lead to the Yamato theme song. When I talked with the composer Hiroshi Miyagawa about the theme, I suggested Beethoven’s Third as an example. A former hobby remarkably turned out to be suddenly useful again.

There was no respite for me when the series started its broadcast. I was still losing sleep. There were differences between the TV version and the manga, and the TV story quickly outpaced it. Because the magazine was monthly, it had to become a TV digest.

I was too busy. Too busy to pay attention to my surroundings. And I have cause to regret that.

I was always together with my cat Mi-kun in those days. When I noticed she was suffering from cancer I promised to take her to the hospital the next day, but I was still working all-nighters. Just a day and a half later, the cancer grew too big and she died.

It was just before the broadcast of Yamato episode 10, and by coincidence it contained the line, “goodbye, Mi-kun.” I had no idea my cat was suffering from cancer when that story was being written. It was just too painful.

When broadcast time came, I turned the TV toward the garden where she was buried and cranked up the volume when Dr. Sado shouted, “goodbye, Mi-kun!”

She was the cat I had kept with me for many years. On the road to and from the office of Kodansha publishing, there is a billboard with a big cat named Sammi, which has been abandoned. It’s still there, and always seems to say “welcome back.”

Now there is a third-generation Mi-kun in my home.

The End

Illustration by Koizumi Kazuaki

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