Final Yamato: Behind the Scenes

It is typical in any manner of film or TV production, animated or otherwise, for the staff to fit into two categories: visible and invisible. Invariably, the visible ones comprise the smaller of the two groups. They are the ones who tend to provide interviews, accept awards, bring name-value, and walk home with the biggest paychecks. But anyone who has been involved in this sort of work knows that the vast bulk of the nitty-gritty, the actual stuff that you see and enjoy, comes from the hands of the invisible group, that vast army that usually goes unsung. The visible staff members rely on the invisible ones to bring their vision to life, and they make no secret of the fact that they could accomplish very little if not for that invisible army.

In that spirit, we now present this essay by a member of Final Yamato‘s invisible army, Assistant Producer Yasuhito Yamaki. The invisible staff often has the best stories to tell, and Yamaki is no exception.

Original text published in the Final Yamato Roman Album (Tokuma Shoten, 1983).

Early rough sketches for Final Yamato poster art

The Start of Production

In April 1981, the main staff gathered at Producer Nishizaki’s office in Akasaka to begin brainstorming ideas for Final Yamato. This was a month after the end of the Yamato III TV series. During the production of Be Forever Yamato, Producer Nishizaki did not consider that movie to be the final film. Writers Eiichi Yamamoto, Aritsune Toyota, Hideaki Yamamoto, and others began to throw many interesting ideas around, since they all wanted to make sure Final Yamato would be the greatest production.

After three or four meetings, ideas began taking shape, such as: “What if our Milky Way galaxy collided with another galaxy?” or “What if we were enveloped into the Dark Nebula?” or “What if Captain Okita was revived?” These were some of the ideas that were brought forth. Mr. Toyota thought up the idea about Planet Aquarius around this time, putting the water world theme into place.

In July, Leiji Matsumoto, Kazuo Kasahara, and others joined the group to offer their input. However, with four Yamato movies and 77 TV episodes behind them, it was determined that the audience would not be satisfied with the typical storyline of having Yamato save the day once again by defeating the enemy and sailing away. Nishizaki postponed further meetings for the next five months as a result.

The five-month break was good for the staff to refresh their thoughts. Nishizaki restarted the meetings in December after he named the new enemy the Dinguil Forces. Up until that time, the enemy was known as Vulcans, from the Greek god of Fire. The meetings then proceeded with fevered intensity on what exactly Yamato was from a societal, anime, love and life’s perspectives.

At the end of January 1982, a meeting was held at the Shirakabeso in Izu for 3 days and 4 nights. We had these crazy meetings that ran from 10 AM until the late hours of the night. They had a great impact on the development of Final Yamato. There were long discussions on weapon ideas, societal issues regarding the youth, and many other topics. The Hyper Beam Missile was also created at this time. SF author Aritsune Toyota based the idea on current anti-ballistic missiles.

Afterward, Hideaki Yamamoto brought the ideas together. For the next month and a half, the staff wrote memos to add or delete from the various ideas that were already gathered. We began writing the basic scenario around March, and the first draft wasn’t completed until May. This first draft was long’well over 500 pages. Nishizaki and the rest of the staff realized at this time that even for Final Yamato there were far too many themes and threads in the story. Many more meetings were held to resolve these outstanding issues. By the end of this process, poor Hideaki Yamamoto nearly suffered a nervous breakdown from being hermited away for such a long time trying to get everything resolved.

Creating Visuals that would surpass the movie Tron.

Early concept for Space Fortress Uruk
by designer Tsuji Tadanao

Takeshi Shirato began writing the script around the end of June. Although we regretted having spent so much time getting to this point, it was too late to worry about it. The script proved to be a nightmare to write, however. Mr. Shirato ended up hotel-hopping around Tokyo in July, and even after spending four months on it, he still couldn’t complete the script. Mr. Endo offered his assistance, and the two finally finished the script in January of 1983, an entire year after development began. Everybody on the staff was shocked and dismayed, however, because Nishizaki would still not give us his blessing to begin production. My own job was to focus on the conceptual art. This took a long time to complete, from May until November (1982) for a total of seven months. Although the ideas for things like the Dinguil’s Pre-Noah were already in place, none of them were finalized during this time. Over 100 concept drawings were done for Uruku, so this made it difficult to decide which would be used.

As parts of the script were finalized, production on those scenes could begin. Since we wanted to make the visuals spectacular, progress was slow at best, even during the camerawork. The movie Tron had pushed the envelope on what animation could achieve, and we realized that if we merely continued with the standard animation techniques we had used up to that point, the audience would hardly be impressed. So Nishizaki had us do many scenes over and over, sometimes more than three or four times to satisfy his criteria. Everybody really worked hard on this project.

Even a simple scene involving the planet Aquarius, for example, would take an entire day to complete. We must have averaged three to four days per scene, showing the lengths the production crew went to get the shots done right. Individual cels were shot with special filters, with shots of actual water or oil effects, which led to numerous time-consuming scenes. For the more difficult scenes, Scanimate was used, creating composites that were combined to form particular shots.

On the other hand, the musicians got a head start by releasing a record album in December, 1981 called Prelude to Final Yamato. This was during the time we had halted the brainstorming sessions mentioned earlier. The album was released a year before the movie premiered, and it was a great piece of work that contained many of the tunes used later in the film. Hiroshi Miyagawa and Kentaro Haneda composed 80 pieces for the soundtrack. The piece I liked the most was called ‘The Two Loves.” It provided a moment of respite in a battle suquence, and the visuals in this section were truly amazing. (Including flashbacks to earlier stories.)

On Midnight March 18th, all of the art was completed.

Developmental designs for the Queen of Aquarius

Since not all of the filming was finished on schedule, the voice and sound recordings were difficult at best. Much of it was done against a blank screen. The recordings began February 20th (1983), with the main cast that participated in the 4-hour “All Night Nippon” event that was held in January (a radio drama version of Final Yamato). After an initial recording, we found the characters’ personas were not quite right, so we redid many scenes over again a number of times. After going through this much trouble to get the animation right, we weren’t going to compromise on anything.

The biggest problem was sound recording, because the schedule had slipped so badly. We had a deadline of March 8th. The plan was to record in mono for the first five days, then remix it in stereo. However, the mono took ten days! The recording staff had only three hours of sleep per night, and the last three sessions were all-nighters. This nearly killed the staff!

Around this time, we were rushing to get the artwork completed as well, since the filming was also behind schedule. Because Nishizaki was such a perfectionist, if he didn’t like a particular scene, he’d have the staff reshoot the entire sequence over again until he was satisfied. Since we had already passed the initial deadline, the staff complained that it was impossible to finish all the retakes in time. Nishizaki merely replied that “we will have no regrets” if we kept up this pace. He was a real slave driver! The final love scene was also a real headache. Behind that beautiful imagery was nightmarish toil that went right up to the end of production.

As for me, I would go to the Toyo Kenzojo VTR Center and use Scanimate to fill in the empty scenes, or go to the Toei Studios to handle retakes. Basically, I was going someplace and doing something every day. I was getting so little sleep that I was afraid to drive anymore.

The scene of the sinking of the Yamato was completed at midnight of the 18th, the night before the film was supposed to open! Around that time, Nishizaki and various others all entered the sound studio and began work on the final reel at 9AM on the 18th. But the final reel was not finished by the deadline, and this resulted in the delay of the premiere that was so well known at the time. At one point, we wondered if the premiere was actually going to happen, which started some rumors floating around, but it was eventually finished, much our relief.

The 70mm production is another complicated affair. As of this writing (summer 1983), we are still trying to get that done. We’re not sure when this version will premiere, but Nishizaki and the entire staff are eagerly waiting to see the results. (Note: the 70mm version was completed and opened theatrically in November 1983.)

Effects lighting test for the Aquarius rings

The Staff follows the Passion
of Nishizaki-san

Looking back on it now, there are many things we wish we could have done differently, starting with the schedule. Since the script and storyboarding took so long, the production artists just didn’t have enough time to do their job. I really felt bad for them. And I’m sure Nishizaki felt the same way.

But the staff somehow managed to accomplish the near-impossible demands we placed on their shoulders, and they all did their jobs very well. Nishizaki would start by creating a long movie, then shorten it during editing – an extravagant luxury in the production world, no doubt making it very hard on the staff. But this is the reason we were able to create such high quality. Given this situation, I must praise the work of the veteran art staff since they were able to meet the demand.

Many staff members were a little frustrated with Nishizaki’s perfectionism. His passion for Yamato was unprecedented. He would attend every aspect of the production, and until everything was just right, he would not give his final OK.

I believe it was because of his passion that he was also able to hire an unprecedented number of staff members (about 1,000) to join the cause in creating a movie of this scale. Each department had the best people in their field, and they all adjusted their schedules to help complete this massive undertaking. I am very grateful for their participation.

Tomonori Katsumata’s image board for
the explosive finale

Ten years have passed since the birth of Yamato. I am interested in how the audience feels watching this history-making final production. Whether we should bring Captain Okita back or not has been an issue of great concern for the staff, and we discussed it at length in the meetings. We were concerned that longtime fans of Yamato would be upset by it.

Near the end, when Yamato was supposed to explode, Nishizaki first considered not destroying the battleship. He considered having Yamato drift slowly off the screen and disappear, as if it were headed toward a cemetery. Another idea was to return the Yamato to Bogasaki. However, it was finally decided that the image with the greatest impact would be to have Yamato destroyed, since there would be no turning back at that point. This scene was no doubt the reason many people left with tears in their eyes.

We are left just as speechless as the fans who supported us for so long. This was a particularly moving time for us all. It had taken us two years to make Final Yamato. I’m sure a number of people aged prematurely as a result of this production. At any rate, it was a time of experiences and fulfillments.

The End

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *