1998: Yamato in the Dark

The long stretch between the end of the Space Battleship Yamato production years (1983) and the Resurrection (2009) seems like an empty gap, but in fact there was no shortage of activity, particularly in ‘93/’94 when the first attempt was made to bring the saga back to anime. Unfortunately, it was an attempt that failed.

A dark period followed, in which the empire built by Exec Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki began to seriously crumble and pushed him into bankruptcy. Understandably, very little hard information is available to those wishing to know more – which makes this 1998 article from Comicbox magazine extremely valuable. It goes without saying that this is the least pleasant chapter of Yamato history, but examining it serves the dual purpose of dispelling rumors and making the bright chapters just a little brighter.

Will Yamato Ever Fly Again?

by Masaharu Koike (Freelancer)

Space Battleship Yamato is said to have sparked the anime boom. West Cape Corporation, managed by Yamato‘s creator and producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki, went bankrupt. Adding insult to injury, Producer Nishizaki was arrested on drug charges. Battleship Yamato ran aground. What sort of ground was it? A once-failed TV series found success in Japan through tenacity to create a big boom, and the theater version was also a big hit. From this whirlpool of riches, what would lead Yoshinobu Nishizaki to ruin? From Yamato production to his arrest for drug possession, we follow the trail of the producer who said, “I carry this risk on my own back.”

On September 16, 1997, West Cape Corporation, the anime production company run by Space Battleship Yamato‘s original creator Yoshinobu Nishizaki, declared bankruptcy. From subsequent reports, such as one in Focus magazine (October 8 issue), I learned how much benefit Mr. Nishizaki received from Yamato, but there were some mysterious points around the edges about the movement of copyright, so I tried to investigate them.

Yamato‘s broadcast and feature film

I was surprised by what I found out. Space Battleship Yamato had continuously planted crops. In one interview, I obtained a promotional flyer from Yomuiri TV. I wanted to hear from Yomiuri TV what it was like at the beginning of the broadcast, but the people involved had already retired, and only flyers were left.

In YTV 10 News (No. 390, September 10, 1974), it was described as follows:

Program name: Space Battleship Yamato
Broadcast start date: October 6, 1974
Airdate: Every Sunday, 7:30-8:00pm
Number of episodes: More than 26
Classification: SF action adventure
Format: Color Animation
Planning: Yoshinobu Nishizaki
Screenplay: Keisuke Fujikawa
Production: Toshio Masuda, Leiji Matsumoto, Eiichi Yamamoto
Art: Leiji Matsumoto
Music: Hiroshi Miyagawa
Production: First broadcast on Yomiuri TV, Producer Juhichi Sano

[Concept]

“A ship flying in the sky.” This work was born from that amazing idea. A seagoing ship flies in the sky, the iron battleship Yamato. In order to save Earth from a crisis on the verge of extinction, Space Battleship Yamato battles through 40,000 light years of space in this SF action adventure. Japan Sinks became a hit and caused an occult boom in this modern age with whispers of the end. Reflecting this modern age, Space Battleship Yamato intends to depict trust in the human crew with Yamato as a messenger of peace to save the Earth from downfall.

In short, all the subsequent Yamato productions began with this TV series. Yoshinobu Nishizaki was the planner at the time, and he was unquestionably the owner of the rights.

The TV series started on October 6, 1974, but since the viewer rating averaged only 6%, the intended 39 episodes were reduced to 26 (2 arcs over half a year) and finished on March 20, 1975.

Yamato is famous as a production in which its popularity took off in the second run after not catching on the first time.” (Nippon TV copyright personnel)

When reruns began in 1976, they caught fire and became popular. According to documentation, it sold 1.2 million publications, 50,000 LP records, and 40 million singles. It is said that Yamato fan clubs swelled to 20,000 people. The feature film compilation of the TV series hit theaters on August 6, 1977 and inspired people to camp out overnight. It was shown through October 8, and attendance reached 2.3 million people.

After the first TV series and feature film, the trends went as follows:

• TV series rerun (July 21 to August 25, 1978) achieves average rating of 13.8%
• TV broadcast of Yamato feature film (August 4, 1978)
• Second feature film Farewell to Yamato (premiere August 5, 1978) attracts 4 million viewers and earns 4.3 billion yen at the box office
• TV series Yamato 2 (October 14, 1978 to April 7, 1979) achieves average rating of 22.9%
• Self-contained feature-length TV production The New Voyage (July 1979)
• Third feature film Be Forever Yamato (premiere August 2, 1980) attracts 2.3 million viewers
• TV series Yamato III (October 11, 1980 to April 4, 1981) achieves average rating of 15.4%
• Fourth feature film Final Yamato (1983)

Indeed, all these successive hits should have earned Mr. Nishizaki more money than he could have spent in even an extravagant lifetime. Anyway, over the approximate ten years between the start in 1974 and the conclusion in 1983, it seems there was a variety of feelings among the fans.

“My own passion for Yamato began to gradually cool down from around 1979. Although the series was supposed to end with Farewell, The New Voyage was made a few months later and further sequels were already in the works.” (from Godzilla, Yamato, and Our Democracy by Kenji Sato.)

Although this opinion was not uncommon among fans, a “Three-year Yamato Revival Plan” to make sequels was envisioned after Final Yamato. This was because after Yamato Mr. Nishizaki tried various business enterprises such as film production, but most of them did not work. This is why revival measures became necessary. However, a rapid descent in popularity had eroded confidence at the box office, and the mothership itself had been lost in the meantime.

[Translator’s note: the “revival plan” mentioned above involved a live-action version, an animated revival movie, and a remake of the first series. We all know how that eventually worked out, but it’s also interesting to read about it in Nishizaki’s own words here.]

The age of Yamato, the creator of Yamato

About why Yamato stalled, the view is that it blossomed with the first oil shock [1973] and made a big comeback in the second oil shock [1979] because it was a story that hit the mark at the time by relieving stress and blocking a sense of stagnation. The subsequent bubble era and the collapse of socialist countries lead to a complex economic situation that made the passion and justice of stories like Yamato seem corny and out of date. In that sense, Yamato appeared when the time was right, and then disappeared.

As mentioned above, many fans said they “did not want them to make any more sequels” because although Yamato‘s continued cultivation was beautiful, they strongly felt their “memories” might be broken. Still, what kind of person is Yoshinobu Nishizaki, who could only succeed with Yamato?

According to documents, he was born in 1934. After graduating from university, he was a jazz commentator and an emcee at nightclubs. He became a music producer, and before long he came to work for Mushi Pro [The studio of Osamu Tezuka.] in the area of contracts and anime production. He handled Triton of the Sea and Wansa-kun, which resulted in the planning of Yamato (at Mr. Nishizaki’s own company, Office Academy).

A person involved with feature film production said:

“There is a sense to marketing. The kind of planning necessary to put something out has a unique aroma of its own. There’s a certain showmanship to it, including bluffing. A hard worker can read a script or a storyboard even if they can’t draw, so some want to get involved with the earlier part. They may not understand it at first, but when they grasp the technical parts they learn how to critique the art. I realized that Yamato being my only success was due to my not being a creator. When you realize that, you see the value of your own brain. There was also somewhat of an air of vulgar prosperity that I had. And so, when I stalled out, I came to see that.”

Then there are stories from those who know Mr. Nishizaki through his work. Some gave their impressions the Focus article on Mr. Nishizaki, titled The extravagance of Space Battleship Yamato‘s Bankrupt Producer:

“Mr. Nishizaki is unusual, but he resembles a Western producer. The type who will carry the risk on his back with his own money. You can expect a big return if it becomes a hit. For example, with respect to the original video Yamato 2520 (released in 1994, described later), because ten years had passed since the original, I think success was a fantasy. If a hit work appears, it’s a mistake to center the achievement on one person who takes the spotlight. If hits were carried out that way, they would all be alike. One person can’t make an anime, and furthermore a producer doesn’t necessarily do the drawing. I can appreciate passion. But if you intervene after saying that you trust your young staff, that young staff will disappear after finishing one volume.”

Caught in the midst of the bankruptcy process (in October 1997), he seemed considerably worn out:

“This is probably the first time such a photograph has appeared in Japan…anyway, I’m exhausted. I want to rest now. However, I’m probably the only one who can deliver that sense of Yamato. So if somebody lets me produce it again, I want to do it.”

Bankruptcy due to business failure

Still, there is the bankruptcy. Surely,Mr. Nishizaki’s usage of money at the peak of his power seemed to be awesome. However, I don’t intend to criticize how he used the money that he earned.

“He owned a luxury apartment in Akasaka [an upscale district of Tokyo] and two sports cars, the fastest in Japan. There were 25 motorcycles, such as Harley-Davidsons. After a certain party finished in Atami, he boarded a cruiser and took off to another party in Yokosuka, and a guest car was waiting for him when he arrived. Also, the main staff at the Akasaka apartments said he would order $100 lunches from restaurants.” (Someone involved with feature film production.)

It is said that at the time, Toei productions would hold flattering “Yoshinobu Nishizaki support meetings.” However, after Yamato, Mr. Nishizaki founded various companies that collapsed every time. His organizations were like private stores that weren’t able to make modern products.

“At one point it stumbled because they tried to make a movie. It was a live-action film by Toei with [pop star] Minako Honda in the lead, but it didn’t work. [Translator’s note: this was a coming-of-age film about motorcycle racing titled A Passenger, released in October 1987.] Additionally, Mr. Nishizaki funded JAVN (Japan Audio Visual Network), a company to buy foreign films for video sales and rental, but it didn’t work out and collapsed. As for Yamato 2520, it is said that the plan ended in the middle because Bandai Visual backed out, but no such thing occurred.” (An official from Bandai Visual)

By the way, when I asked about Mr. Nishizaki’s bankruptcy, some points were clarified. The claim points were as follows:

• Mitsui Bank was his flagship, but his connections were lost when it merged with Sakura Bank, and he could no longer borrow money.

• He applied to Mitsui Finance, a nonbank subsidiary of the former Mitsui Bank, to adjudicate the bankruptcy.

It usually dealt with other city banks. It lead to a trial (bankruptcy case) and because he never once attended, he became personally bankrupt.

• Instead of leaving the copyright in trust with the former president of Bandai in 1995, he promised to pay 100 million yen [US $1 million] per year for a total of 1 billion yen [US $10 million] in ten years. The first exchange was made in person in February 1996, but it was suddenly opposed by Bandai Visual’s lawyer. In these circumstances, because Yamato 2520 would require a large amount of money, it was said that if Nishizaki could not perform a prepayment of the trust expenses, he should instead transfer the copyright as collateral. As the company was on the verge of bankruptcy, although he affixed his seal to the deal, it was invalid (due to the trust agreement).

Nishizaki brought an action against Bandai Visual over copyright, and Bandai Visual made an immediate counter-claim. The situation showed signs of becoming a quagmire. Bandai Visual’s grounds for defense was: “you were lent money, and because you did not return it we get the copyright as security.” That was the view they expressed.

Whether or not Mr. Nishizaki’s extravagance was the cause of bankruptcy or it arose from his affiliated company, the common view is that he was careless. In other words, the way of Mr. Nishizaki, who was like an American producer, did not work in Japan.

Derailing of the revival video Yamato 2520

In the years leading up to this situation, Nishizaki was developing Yamato Resurrection, a new movie in which Susumu Kodai would become the captain. There were “incidents” such as the death of Kodai’s voice actor during the process, and since it became impossible to expect support from the fans of the old days, it did not happen. On the other hand, Mr. Nishizaki was shrewd one, and his team was also attempting the challenge of planning a whole new Yamato. It was Yamato 2520, an original video series that was mentioned a few times above. It was released by West Cape Corporation and sold by Bandai Visual. [Read all about it here.]

The story, characters, timeframe, and form of Yamato itself differed from tradition, and 6 volumes were initially planned. As the story advanced, it increased to 9 and then 12, and eventually a prologue was added. In all, four volumes were sold (0: August ’96, 1: December ’94, 2: December ’95, 3: August ’96) but no more were produced afterward.

“Videos and Laserdiscs of Yamato were first sold by Columbia Japan, but the rights have expired, so at the time it was decided to buy the product directly from Mr. Nishizaki. Our business association with him began there. We produced laserdiscs for the movies and TV programs, and volumes 1 and 2 [of 2520]. Finally, West Cape Corporation performed the release for 2520 and we were responsible only for sales. In the background, Nishizaki’s way of thinking was, ‘I don’t want to part with the rights.’ Rights are the life of business. As for money, a minimum guarantee for the goods was paid. The shape of the deal was to only pay per volume.”

(Minoru Takanashi, section manager, Bandai Visual general management planning division)

Although Yamato 2520 was cancelled after three volumes, the content was ambitious. Chihiro Maeda, a graduate of Tokyo University of Art and Design who was responsible for monster design in Gamera, gathered the staff and production began. Also, Syd Mead of America, who did art design for Blade Runner, was appointed. It was said that Mr. Nishizaki left everything up to the young people at first, but then he intervened and everyone walked away. One of the causes might something like this:

“Anyway, music was at the center. I heard that on Yamato once, director Toshio Masuda was told to lengthen a scene. There was no need for it, other than to take advantage of the music. Since Mr. Nishizaki was in charge, they catered to his demand. When the rushes were seen, it seemed only one person was moved to tears by it.” (Industry insider)

Conversely, Mr. Nishizaki said the following:

“As for me, I’d only made TV series and feature films up ’til then, but for 2520, while I was thinking about doing nine 1-hour episodes, in my heart it wasn’t how I did things. In relation to the series concept, I told them, ‘I want to do it this way’.”

Mysterious movement of copyright

Even so, it is now said that the copyright for Yamato has shifted to Leiji Matsumoto. The article in Focus could not help but inspire complex thoughts. As described above, it is a fact that certain portions of the copyright were proffered by Mr. Nishizaki to Bandai Visual. If so, we must assume that some kind of exchange occurred between Bandai Visual and Matsumoto.

Then, when Leiji Matsumoto was asked to confirm the Focus article’s authenticity about the holding of the majority of copyright, the answer given was, “That’s correct.” Also, when I checked with Bandai Visual, they confirmed it by saying:

“The view of our legal department is ‘there is a difference of opinion with Mr. Matsumoto about the copyright’ and his statement may not be wrong. Since the details are presently under dispute, we cannot answer at the present time.” (Mr. Jun Takei, Bandai Visual general affairs department)

On the other hand, where it was previously confirmed that Nishizaki had presented a case to the court over copyright, as you might expect, the answer was, “That isn’t correct.”

In other words, the opinions differ concerning the rights. It seems to be a complex situation there, and also something sad. Mr. Matsumoto and Mr. Nishizaki are both celebrities in this world, and I want their conflict to end as soon as possible. A copyright is granted to the creatives, and it should not pass into the hands of others in the form of a debt. Legal issues aside, what remains is emotionally unsatisfying.

When we look over these circumstances, I can’t help but feel deep sadness about Yamato being “laid to rest.”

(Of all things, during the research of this article, Mr. Nishizaki was arrested after cannabis and heroin were discovered hidden in his car on December 1, 1997, in front of Miyashita Park near Shibuya Station. [January 17, 1998])

The End

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

POSTSCRIPT: A BRIEF TIMELINE OF RELEVANT EVENTS

1993: Yamato 2520 and Yamato Resurrection begin preproduction

February 21, 1994: Video documentary The Quickening profiles 2520 and Resurrection


A newspaper published January 18, 1998. Red text on
the right side reads “ARREST” and “Large narcotics
possession.” Nishizaki is labeled a “perpetrator.”

December 1994 – August 1996: Yamato 2520 volumes 0-3 released

August 16, 1997: West Cape Corporation files for bankruptcy

December 2, 1997: Nishizaki’s first arrest

May 1998: This article published in Comicbox vol. 107
(Publisher: Fusion Product)

February 1, 1999: Nishizaki’s second arrest

1998: Leiji Matsumoto takes possession of the Yamato copyright and new merchandising appears

February 2000: Matsumoto’s Great Yamato manga debuts

October 25, 2000: Nishizaki incarcerated

March 2002: Leiji Matsumoto loses the Yamato copyright, full ownership is reclaimed by Tohokushinsha Film Co. Matsumoto converts Great Yamato into Dai Yamato Zero-Go.

February-May 2004: During his incarceration, Nishizaki works with Group Tac to develop New Space Battleship Yamato.

May 2004: Tohokushinsha awards partial rights. Matsumoto is given limited visual rights and manga reprint rights. Nishizaki is named as creator and is restored the story rights.

August, 2008: Following his parole, Nishizaki resumes preproduction of Yamato Resurrection

December 2008: Tohokushinsa wins copyright lawsuits against Dai Yamato licensors and the property is discontinued.

December 2009: Yamato Resurrection premieres

2 thoughts on “1998: Yamato in the Dark

  1. I would add at the end the info about Nishizaki becoming a virtual gun freak and drugged out arms smuggler. None of which detracts from my respect for his genius, by the way, but he was definitely doing a “pre Iron Man Robert Downey Jr.” act near the end. And then he drowned after falling off a boat named the “Yamato”. Almost Shakespearean….

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