By Tim Eldred & friends
It’s that time again. The call goes out from Great Island (Japan) and adventure seekers make their way around the world to answer.
In other words, Anton Kholodov flies in from Siberia, I fly in from Los Angeles, we join up with our friends who live there, and run around like maniacs to soak up whatever Space Battleship Yamato puts in front of us. In the past, our Yamatour episodes have taken us to movie premieres, fan gatherings, exhibits, stores, star sightings, and even the home of Mr. Leiji Matsumoto. All those experiences have been preserved right here on this website and can be relived any time:
It’s always a “killer app” that inspires this madness. A movie release is as “killer” as it gets, and this time it’s the Yamato Resurrection Director’s Cut that draws us together. But that’s only a starting point; 2012 will bring us the debut of Yamato 2199, another Yamato Party, and any number of things in between.
Technically, this Yamatour began in 2011 when Anton teamed up with Gwyn Campbell for the “Leiji Future 2011” one-day mini-con. You can read all about it here, then continue the journey with us…
January 14: The Yamato Resurrection Director’s Cut Special Screening
Everyone who has become a regular reader of this website should stand up right now and render a Star Force salute to Mr. Sword Takeda. It is because of this website that he and I became acquainted, and I have yet to meet anyone in Japan who is more enthusiastic or generous with his time and energy. He first contacted starblazers.com by email (and in fluent English) in April 2010 to offer some corrections and updates to one of our articles, and we hit it off right away. His first personal greeting to me went as follows:
Your Star Blazers Rebirth webcomic is truly splendid. I was a major in art at my university and love splendid artists such as Leiji Matsumoto, Yuki Hijiri, Naoyuki Kato, and Kazutaka Miyatake. Your Rebirth comic unifies all the Yamato characters originally drawn by various different artists, and that is the highlight of your work!
I was the co-author of Star Wars Chronicles (1995) and Star Wars Action Figure Archives (1997). You can find many otaku here in Japan, but most don’t speak English at all. That is a real shame, don’t you think? I can be a big help to you. I can assist you with my Yamato knowledge and English ability. Next time you visit Japan for Yamatour 2010, I can arrange a meeting with Leiji Matsumoto in person and be a companion translator.
From Yamatour 2010: Sword and I interview Yuki Hijiri and his lovely wife, Sword with Gwyn Campbell and Anton Kholodov in conversation with Leiji Matsumoto, and our parting at the end of the trip–knowing full well it was only the beginning.
Little did poor Sword know what he was getting himself into with that offer. Hardly an update has been posted to this website since then without his fingerprints on it somewhere. He has been consulting and translating for us since that first greeting, digging deep for buried treasure like the lost Series 1 manga, and making good on his promise to arrange the interview with not only Leiji Matsumoto, but everyone else I asked to meet. Had cruel fate not intervened precisely when it did, I’m sure he would have gotten me into a room with Yoshinobu Nishizaki himself.
Once in a while, I get a chance to reward him for these labors. Such a chance arose last November. One year earlier, I received my copy of the massive Yamato Resurrection Complete Box. Tucked inside was a letter stating that everyone who bought it would receive a free ticket to a special preview screening of the Director’s Cut when it was finally ready. In November 2011 that finally paid off when the official word went out to all of us via the Yamato Crew website. Previews had been set up for mid-January, and all we had to do was choose one.
By this time I’d already purchased my flight for late January, so I had my free movie ticket re-routed to Sword. He used it to see the first screening of the Director’s Cut on the first day, and here’s his report…
On January 14 the first special screenings were held at the UDX theater in Akihabara, Tokyo, which has a digital project system. At the entrance, the ticket-checkers were two cute girls wearing Yuki Mori-style crew uniforms. [Editor’s note: these two particular Yukis were previously sighted back in September at the Tokyo Game Show, promoting an internet provider named Biglobe. See photographic proof here. There have been plenty of “live Yukis” sighted over the last decade, but these are the first known repeaters.]
The ticket arrived in the sleeve shown above. Although I registered my desired showtime (10:00am) one day before the deadline, the ticket gave me some worry since my serial number was 0001! So, naturally, I wondered how many would come. The theater was almost full since one extra person per ticket could come for an additional fee of 2000 yen [about $26.00].
This was the line for the next screening at 1:30pm.
Many posters were hung along the entrance wall. The look the same, but all four are slightly different; two official theatrical posters and two original posters without logos. They were available as a set along with a clear file and a movie program book. [The ship painting by Makoto Kobayashi is the official image for the Director’s Cut and will appear on both the DVD and Blu-ray packaging in these variants.]
The show was good and everybody seemed satisfied since some applause was heard at the end. Before we left, it was time for shopping! In addition to the poster set, the 2012 Resurrection Art Calendar was sold. [It had been officially released four days earlier; shown here are the six images painted by Makoto Kobayashi.]
February 27/28: Getting There
As past travelogues have proven, there’s no such thing as an ordinary Yamatour. No matter how much careful planning is done in advance to ensure that nothing goes flooby, something will ALWAYS go flooby.
Case in point: the premiere of the Yamato Resurrection Director’s Cut was announced back in mid-November 2011. I’d been waiting months for that news, since production wrapped in the summer. Within an hour of hearing it, I’d booked a flight on my beloved Singapore Airlines (really, I can’t say enough good things about them) to arrive in Tokyo January 28. That was the premiere day, and the film would be shown in a single late show at an arthouse theater in the Shinjuku district called Cinemart.
Missing from this announcement was the actual showtime, but I assumed “late show” in Japan was the same as “late show” in the US. I bet you can see where this is going already.
Three days before departure, Cinemart finally got its act together and put the showtime online: 8:45 pm. By that reckoning, I was scheduled to get into Tokyo around the time Yamato was busting out of the Aquarius ice. Unlike Yamato, that crap would not fly. So with great reluctance, I had to abandon my Singapore flight for an earlier one on United.
For those who haven’t made this trip yet, there are two major stages: you fly into Narita airport, then take a train called the Narita Express into the city, a 90-minute ride. It conveniently delivers you right into the belly of the beast. The only desireable plane/train combo available to me would get me there with one hour to spare before showtime. By the standards of international travel, it doesn’t get much tighter.
So imagine my delight when my United flight got off the ground an hour late from LAX. Imagine my state of mind for the subsequent 10. 5 hours as I slow-burned my way over the Pacific. If things went as intended, I would have had a leisurely 90 minutes at the airport to get through customs, collect luggage, change money (oh MAN that exchange rate hurts; you lose a quarter on every dollar now), buy train tickets and hopefully cycle some fluids before Narita-Expressing it to Earth Defense HQ.
United’s seatback video screens helpfully provide you with a countdown clock to arrival, but it wasn’t reassuring. By my best estimate, I would have under an hour to make the train once we touched down.
I was able to forget this only for about two and a half hours while watching the original Yamato Resurrection–the movie I’d made this same trip for two years earlier–right there at my seat. I didn’t know exactly what changes would be made to the film, but I figured a refresher would help me to spot them.
By the time we all stepped off the plane, my 90-minute window on the ground had shrunk to 45. If I couldn’t make the train I wanted, I’d have to take the next one. This was the worst-case scenario. It would get me into Shinjuku just half an hour before showtime, which at best would be a half hour of running, sweating, and probably screwing the pooch altogether. After all the waiting and careful planning–and catching every premiere for two years running, losing this hat-trick was unacceptable.
Fortunately, Narita airport agreed with me. This was my sixth trip to Japan, and I have never had a smoother, faster entry. From stepping off the plane to stepping on the train, 44 minutes total. If just one thing had gone wrong, I wouldn’t have made it. It was one of those extremely rare times when I got to skate around the inside of the probability curve. When it happens, we owe it to ourselves to take stock.
This alone made me want to pin a medal on every Narita employee I met, but the Narita Express went way over and above the call by providing–I can’t help smiling at the memory –a heated toilet seat. So I gotta say it: Japan wins.
Regardless, lesson learned: ALWAYS fly in a day early.
The Resurrection Director’s Cut Premiere
Anton Kholodov had joined the queue at Cinemart early Saturday morning (while I was in the air) to buy tickets for us. They’re only sold on a same-day basis, so this was mission-critical. There were only a few people in front of him, each of whom bought upward of a dozen seats. We still had a great view from the third row, but the place was absolutely packed, as seen in these shots from the slim lobby (basically just a dressed-up corridor).
I was delighted to see the same stuff on sale here that Sword photographed two weeks earlier and forced myself to wait until after the film to purchase anything. It violated every core principle of my collector’s instinct to walk past limited-edition Yamato swag without snapping it up. This short list did indeed include a program book, which was quite frankly the last thing I expected to see for such a short theatrical run. Click here to see it from cover to cover.
The number one reason not to miss this show was the live introduction by staff members Makoto Kobayashi (above center) and Nobuyishi Habara (above right). They were both credited for mecha design on the original release. Kobayashi had the additional title of Assistant Director and Habara was responsible for about half the storyboard (with the other half done by veteran director Takeshi Shirato). They were essentially the co-directors of the Director’s Cut.
After joking that they had only five minutes to talk and these people had come all this way for the movie (yeah, tell me about it), they said a few words.
Habara boasted that he’d always been a big fan of Yamato. As such, when piecing the Director’s Cut together, he kept in mind the time he spent and discussions he had with Yoshinobu Nishizaki so he could put it together as Nishizaki would have wanted. He explained that some very detailed changes were made to certain scenes, as well as the way they were ordered, not because there was necessarily anything wrong with them, but rather because they’d had limited time to make the original. He hoped the audience would compare the two and enjoy contrasting the changes.
The more I thought about where we were at the moment, the more it evoked two interesting points of Yamato history. First, the fact that we were seeing this in a single evening show at an arthouse. That’s exactly the plan Nishizaki had made for the first (1977) Yamato movie if he couldn’t get a major distributor to back it. (Fortunately for the franchise, he did.)
Second, the production path for Resurrection was now very similar to that of Final Yamato, which went back into the shop for a major tuneup after its debut. In fact, the only real difference was the time lag; the revised version of Final took eight months to appear; Resurrection DC took 25.
Makoto Kobayashi explained that one of the biggest changes and challenges was the music. The original cut used classical music which felt epic and worked fine, but it was decided they should try to replace it with something that felt more Yamato. It actually proved to be a very difficult task but both men agreed that the new score would be well-received.
Left to right: Adrian Loranzo (Gattai Hobby), Gwyn Campbell, Anton [Wildstar] Kholodov. Far right: Me. Dammit.
And boy howdy were they right. I didn’t quite know what to expect musically; it was stated early in the process that the score would be retooled, but as the last few months ticked away that particular point was no longer emphasized in promotion, as if someone had quietly changed their mind about it.
It was openly advertised in the trailers that the entire sound effects track would be re-engineered to use the vintage library, and this was indeed the case. For my money, it sounded a bit thin on the big screen (since it was originally created for low-fi mono TV broadcast) but hearing it in action was like having a fondly-remembered character rewritten into the film. The real standout was the six-consecutive shot sequence from the Wave-Motion Gun, which was bigger and louder than I’d ever heard it before, even in 2009.
But oh man, that music! Far from just pulling from the existing archive, large chunks of score were completely new. And by that, I mean rearranged and newly-recorded by an orchestra under the supervision of music editor Tomohiro Yoshida. There was a hint of this in the 2009 version, but the work done for the DC went far beyond everyone’s expectations. The classical music had been almost entirely deleted; the only remaining piece was that chosen to represent Planet Amare (Slav March/Tchaikovsky) and it was heard twice.
Long story short: Yamato music collectors now have something else to live for.
Then, of course, there were the new and altered scenes. The new ones were brief and dialogue-driven; the characters trading their impressions of unfolding events. My language skills weren’t up to the task, but once home video access opens up, that will change. Since I’d just watched the 2009 version a few hours before the DC, I could identify a few spots where scenes had been tightened up, but there were no major deletions anywhere…until the end.
As some of you will recall, there was a special preview for fans about a month before the 2009 premiere. Yoshinobu Nishizaki hosted (in what later turned out to be his final public appearance), and after the film was screened he showed everyone an alternate ending.
SPOILER WARNING: MAJOR PLOT POINTS REVEALED HERE.
The movie released in 2009 has the “defy fate” ending; the Cascade Black Hole is bearing down on Earth and Yamato dives into it to find its Achilles Heel. Then a massive, 6-fold blast from the Wave-Motion Gun destroys the beast and Earth is saved. Roll credits. The alternate ending was called “accept fate,” and it went the other way; after Kodai’s soliloquy about mankind’s hubris, Earth is swallowed up before our eyes and Yamato is left alone in space. The end.
It sounds like a downer, and the preview audience agreed. They were asked to vote on their preferred ending, and “defy fate” won by a landslide. We were promised a look at it when the movie came to home video, but it was mysteriously absent. And now we know why; it was intentionally held back for the Director’s Cut.
This is where the biggest time cut came from, shortening the movie down to an even two hours. After hearing the Wave-Motion Gun’s thunderous roar earlier, I was completely psyched up to hear that 6-fold blast shake the theater, but the knockout punch never happened. Earth just quietly sinks into oblivion and vanishes. Then comes an interesting twist: the rest of the EDF fleet arrives. A radio voice explains that they’d come together after being scattered across the galaxy (presumably by the earlier SUS attacks) and returned in time to see Earth’s fate.
Among them is a very Yamato-looking ship called the Musashi (there you go, everyone–Space Battleship Musashi!), a duplicate of the Blue Noah called Blue Earth, an upgrade of the Andromeda called Andromeda A12, and a beefier version of Yamato III‘s Arizona named Pennsylvania. All were lovingly designed by Makoto Kobayashi, all were previewed in the Hyperweapon 2011 art magazine, and the instant you see them you’ll be ready for a whole new movie. Incidentally, it was explained to me later that Musashi was built before Yamato was resurrected, and all of Yamato‘s upgrades were field-tested with her. (See shots of all these ships in the program book photos indicated earlier in this report.)
There’s just one downer at this point: still no sign of Yuki. On the other hand, the movie closes with the same title card: “End of Part 1.”
END OF SPOILERS.
Director’s Cut DVDs and Blu-rays are coming up fast; they release on March 23 and will be covered in our April 1 update. They were actually promoted for pre-order in the program book. That sounds like it should be a first, but the 1983 Final Yamato program still holds that record.
If there’s any doubt remaining in your mind about the effort, stress, and money it took to get me there for this premiere, I’ll lay it to rest now: this was totally worth it.