As Large as Life, Part 2

Events of the Legacy Years, 1984-2007

Back up to Part 1

As of 1984, the Yamato saga was now in the past tense (though Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki would toy with plenty of revival concepts throughout the 80s), but the sheer momentum of the production years guaranteed a healthy future of public events that kept the passion fed…

May 5 1984: Grand Symphony Yamato

The first concert of the legacy years (or the last of the production years, depending on your preference) was composer Kentaro Haneda’s personal love letter to Yamato, in which he rearranged Hiroshi Miyagawa’s best themes and motifs into a cohesive 4-movement symphony in the best classical tradition. It was performed live by the NHK Symphony Orchestra and released later in the year. It was also recorded for broadcast on NHK (Japan’s PBS) and became the only live Yamato event ever to be released to home video.

Read a more detailed description here

Read about the home video releases and find the concert on YouTube here

May 10, 1984: the Cannes Film Festival

For the first time, the entire Yamato movie lineup went on the road to Cannes. The previous visit had been in 1976 when all Nishizaki had to offer was the dubbed Space Cruiser Yamato…but now there was much more in the catalog, including the freshly-minted 70mm version of Final Yamato.

August 5, 1984: Yamato Party begins!

This was the first event run by fans for fans, for the express purpose of bringing them together in one place to specifically focus on their mutual passion. The chief commodity was (and still is) fanzines, but fellowshipping with kindred spirits outweighed everything else. Yamato Party continues today, still in the hands of its original organizers.

The photos above were taken at the 1990 Yamato Party. Read a firsthand report of the 2009 party here.

August 27, 1984: Official fan club meeting

The Yamato fan club was still going strong as the legacy years began, and twice-yearly meetings gave everyone a chance to continue their association with the home office. Film screenings, karaoke, cosplay and special presentations were a staple of these meetings, with Yoshinobu Nishizaki often conducting a lecture and Q&A session. The meetings continued throughout the 80s and were reported on regularly in the pages of the fan club magazine.

Read more about them here.

1985: Final Yamato Laserdisc Arcade Game

A new form of arcade game appeared in the mid-80s that combined fledgling computer graphics with the then-revolutionary video capacity of the CAV laserdisc, and for a time they dazzled players with the most life-like special effects imaginable. Industry giant Taito produced a Yamato LD game in this period based on Final Yamato, which unfortunately never migrated to a home platform. Thus, it faded into history along with all other games in this category.

Read a detailed description of the game here.

August 10, 1985: Odin release

Odin, Voyage of Photon Space Sailor Starlight opened in movie theatres on this date, an attempt by West Cape Corporation to ignite a new SF franchise. Nishizaki originally conceived it as a 12-episode miniseries for NHK television with one hour-long episode per month, but when this proved too ambitious the first three episodes were edited into a feature film that unfortunately didn’t get to the meat of the story and left viewers dissatisfied. On the other hand, the production values were top-notch and gave the world another breathtaking Miyagawa score that picked up exactly where Final Yamato left off.

August 3-7, 1987: Summer Vacation Anime Theatre

This event was a nostalgia-filled return to the glory days with Yamato artifacts brought out for public display as they had been in the traveling exhibits of the production years. This one was held at the Tokyo Electric Energy Building in the Shibuya Ward. The four feature films were screened (one per day) and both of the “Precision Cut Models” were included in the exhibit.

Click here to find out where the models are today.

May, 1988: Cannes Film Festival

Four years after his previous appearance in the international film community, Nishizaki brought Yamato back to Cannes. By this time he had established his own video distribution company (JAVN) and had a much larger anime catalog in addition to his own productions. The Yamato movies were dressed up for the occasion with newly rendered English titles (this is where the name Arrivederci Yamato was retired in favor of Farewell to Yamato) and English-language flyers to promote them.

See all five flyers in a PDF gallery here.

Nishizaki also delivered a lecture at Cannes’ special SF program called ‘Departure from Earth,’ which kicked off a mini-tour that landed him at Japan’s ‘Mig Con’ SF convention in August and the Milan Film Festival in October.

Livin’ in the Nineties

While the Yamato saga entered a period of reprints and reissues on home video and books, Yamato the ship returned to action-in a manner of speaking. In 1991, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries designed Yamato-1, the world’s first marine vessel with a prototype Magnetohydrodynamic drive (MHD). Propelled by a liquid helium-cooled superconductor, it was built by Japan’s Ship & Ocean Foundation and successful trials were conducted in June 1992. Its unique propulsion system had no moving parts, using seawater as a jet engine uses air and applying a magnetic field with superconducting magnets.

Commemorative phone cards

The Yamato fan club magazine reported on this, asking the ‘Japan Foundation for Shipbuilding Advancement’ (now known as the Ocean Policy Research Foundation) about the choice of name. The response was that it carried several meanings for different generations. The young associated it with the Space Battleship. For older people it evoked the World War II battleship. And for some it brought back the image of Yamato-damashii (Yamato Spirits) and the historical Yamato Court. They also cited the parallel between the anime Yamato and Yamato-1 as ships that embodied hopes and dreams of romantic adventure.

Read the Yamato-1 Wikipedia entry here.

The early-to-mid 1990s saw a flurry of activity centered around Yamato‘s 20th anniversary in 1994. Yoshinobu Nishizaki had been developing plans to bring Yamato back to animation throughout the 80s (read about them here), which finally coalesced into two concepts: Yamato Resurrection, which would bring back the original characters, and Yamato 2520, which would be radically redesigned (mainly by Syd Mead) to take place in the far future.

The anniversary tributes unofficially got underway when Isao Sasaki turned up in a September 1993 music program to sing the Yamato theme, and a sort of “comeback tour” commenced when he began appearing on similar shows over the next few years.

The actual anniversary year was commemorated in February 1994 by The Quickening, the first video documentary of the Yamato phenomenon. It looked back across history and forward to new projects. The first episode of Yamato 2520 appeared one year later amidst a huge revival of music and video products, but failed to catch fire when later volumes ran into production delays and couldn’t keep the story moving. Episode 2 didn’t show up until the end of 1995, and by the time episode 3 came out in August 1996 the rest of the series had been cancelled. Unfortunately this also spelled the end of Yamato Resurrection, at least for the time being.

Read more about Yamato Resurrection here and Yamato 2520 here.

Yamato Party was still going strong in Tokyo during these years (Chairman Masaru Enomoto, shown above left, still manages the event today), and was joined by a sister event called Yamato World. It was held in Osaka for four years, consistently landing in the month of November from 1995-1998. As it came to end, many other things were about to begin.

December 30, 1997: Leiji Matsumoto Painting Exhibition, Osaka

A new dawn was breaking, and this event commemorated it as well as any could. Nishizaki’s West Cape Corporation had closed its doors forever in August, which effectively took him out of the running as Yamato‘s guiding hand. This left it in the custody of two companies, Bandai and Tohokushinsa Film Corporation. Through the latter half of 1997, they worked with Leiji Matsumoto to engineer a campaign that would bring Yamato back in full force with new events and products. Interestingly, Matsumoto had come into possession of one of the 2-meter “Precision Cut Models” that had made many public appearances during the production years and put it back on display in the Osaka exhibition, which was destined to become the first of many.

If You Build It…

Bandai re-released the entire Yamato catalog on home video through their Emotion label with new artwork and commentary from Leiji Matsumoto (read it all here).

1998 was also the 45th anniversary of his career as an artist, so a special concert called Grand Symphonic Poem Rail of Fantasy was held in August. The threads started by Isao Sasaki’s return to the public eye in 1993 were woven together by the full-throated return of Hiroshi Miyagawa, who conducted the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra through various Yamato scores and music from other Matsumoto anime. From that moment on, Yamato was officially back in style.

Read an interview from the concert program book here.

1999: The 25th Anniversary

Isao Sasaki hit the stage in a triumphant comeback at the April 29 Super Robot Spirits concert. The decades-long rise of anime theme songs (yet another trend that began with Yamato) made concerts like this one possible, an entire event dedicated to nothing but opening and end titles sung by their original vocalists. Sasaki blew the roof off the joint with the Yamato theme and The Scarlet Scarf, proving that 25 years had done nothing to dull their power.

Read a 1999 interview with Sasaki here.

Public events returned in the summer when the port city of Tsuruga invited the characters of Yamato and Galaxy Express 999 to become permanent residents of their commercial district. The “Leiji Matsumoto Symbol Road” consisted of 28 gorgeous bronze statues that were unveiled in a festival that ran from July 8-27. They’re all still standing, and can be seen here.

The World of Leiji Matsumoto was an art exhibition that began on July 10th in Chiba City and would go on tour through the following summer.

Rail of Fantasy II was held on September 3. The second Leiji Matsumoto tribute concert was equal in size and scope to the first, bringing back all the big names for another musical tour of the Leijiverse. Shown here is the cover of the program book and a Yamato painting from inside.

Crossing the Centuries

2000 was a momentous Yamato year for many reasons, especially the September debut of the Eternal Edition CD series from Columbia Music. The starting pair (Discs 0 and 1) featured the first new Yamato score written since 1983, the Symphonic Suite Great Yamato, and a fresh collection of music from the first series with several previously-unreleased tracks. The card shown above came from an October 8 release party that included a personal appearance by Leiji Matsumoto.

By 2001, the Yamato merchandising renaissance was in full swing, as indicated by this flyer advertising a February 2 symposium of artists and other creative types on the front and a handy list of current products on the back that included a list of the all the discs in the Eternal Edition CD series. The illustration was from Leiji Matsumoto’s new manga sequel, Great Yamato. Read all about it here.

2003’s highlight was an oddball. By 2002, Leiji Matsumoto’s claim of ownership over the Yamato copyright had weakened, so he redeveloped his Great Yamato concept into the radically-redesigned Dai Yamato Zero Go, which first rolled out in 2003 as a pachinko game and later as a short-lived anime video series. Its presence in pachinko parlors continued into 2004 (the 30th anniversary) which also saw a new Space Battleship Yamato exhibition in Tokyo. It was one of many attractions in the Sunshine City entertainment complex in the Ikebukuro Ward. The exact day of the 30th anniversary, October 6, was commemorated by a re-broadcast of TV episode 1.

April 2005 was yet another significant date in Japan’s history, the 50th anniversary of the sinking of IJN Battleship Yamato. This was commemorated in grand style by the opening of the Yamato Museum on April 23rd in the port city of Kure, on the site where the ship was originally built. The museum’s centerpiece is a massive 50-foot model of the battleship, painstakingly built with every detail. In addition to a collection of war artifacts, one room designated ‘Future Prospects’ is devoted to Leiji Matsumoto’s work, with Space Battleship Yamato front and center. Appropriately, this is the final resting place for one of the “Precision Cut Models” built for the traveling exhibits of the production years.

Read an eyewitness account of the Yamato Museum here.

Shown at left is a flyer that can’t be pinned down to a specific year, but promotes a limited-engagement return to the big screen with four of the Yamato movies in a late-night series at a theatre in Utsunomiya, the capital of Japan’s Tochigi Prefecture.

Be Forever was not part of the program, probably for reasons having to do with the technical demands of the “Warp Dimension” feature that have plagued the film ever since it first went to home video. But other events were attached to the screenings such as opportunities for cosplay and various prize offers.

There had been a brief revival of Yamato movies in Tokyo and Okayama theatres toward the end of 2005, so it’s possible that the same prints traveled to Utsunomiya afterward.

2006 added another public event to the long list: “Leiji Future 2006” was held on June 24th, a one-day mini-con with Matsumoto as the lead guest that became an annual event in later years. It was organized by Zero Goods Universe, a broker for Matsumoto’s art and other assets to museums, conventions, and publishers. Tour their line of “Leiji Character Dolls” here.

The Yamato crew returned to TV in September 2006 in a newly-animated commercial for ANA (All Nippon Airlines). Dessler calls up to threaten them only to find himself staring into an empty bridge. Kodai, Yuki, and everyone else have literally gone on vacation, leaving him speechless for the first time. See the commercial on YouTube here.

March 11, 2007 was a day of tribute and memory to a man whose work had irrevocably won the heart of millions: maestro Hiroshi Miyagawa. He died almost exactly a year earlier on March 21, 2006, and a memorial concert was held at Tokyo’s NHK Hall to pay tribute to his life in music.

His son Akira lead the orchestra through a marathon of his best-loved songs and scores, which naturally included a Yamato medley that incorporated Isao Sasaki singing the Yamato theme. The program book (shown here) included comments from such brethren as Leiji Matsumoto and Kentaro Haneda, a year-by-year chronology of his activities, and a complete list of over 300 songs he’d written in his 75 years.

This was Leiji Matsumoto’s contribution to the program:

Dedicated to the great master, Miyagawa

by Leiji Matsumoto

I longed for comics and animated movies during my childhood, and it was my dream to make them. It became a reality, and it gave me the chance to live another dream together with Mr. Miyagawa. I picked up a complete set of classical records that were tossed away at a roadside after the war, and they became a memento of my bygone youth. Listening to them on a record player acquainted me with the true meaning of the music.

When I made Space Battleship Yamato, the memory of those records was awakened in my heart. When I visited with Mr. Miyagawa to discuss the theme song and the score, I talked about the emotions they gave me, and I remembered them well.

“To regain my faith,” I said, “I return without fail to Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the life of the hero. The Second Movement brings sadness, exactly like a funeral. At one stage it is like a parade march. A tune is like a poem that overflows with emotion. I’d like the same melody line.”

It was impudent, and I remember talking shamelessly. Mr. Miyagawa understood it laughingly and gave me what I asked for. I thank him heartily.

It is music that supports the animation on a screen. Its fate is determined by music. Maestro Miyagawa supported Yamato with all his heart, and continues to support it even now.

I have a cassette tape of him composing and singing on a piano. I was 36 at the time, still in my youth. Ever since then, the music of Mr. Miyagawa has kept Yamato flying to the depths of space.

I offer him my sincere gratitude.

Click here to see a YouTube video of Miyagawa in concert and onstage with both Akira Miyagawa and Kentaro Haneda.

Yamato entered the brave new digital world when TV episodes “went live” on Japan’s Cinema Channel broadband network. From October 1, 2007 to August 30, 2008, every episode of the first series could be seen on demand. This must have been a great relief to the couple dozen people left in Japan who didn’t have them on home video.

A brand new public event happened on November 10, 2007 when the Fujishoji Company celebrated the rollout of their first Space Battleship Yamato pachinko game, yet another way to experience the voyage to Iscandar and back. Isao Sasaki and an army of Yukis was on hand to sing, demo the game, guide guests through an exhibit that included a life-size Dessler throne, and recapture just a little bit of the old magic again.

Read all about the game here.

Click here to continue to part 3

Special thanks to Tsuneo Tateno and Michiko Ito for translation assistance.

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