by Tim Eldred
SPOILER WARNING: This synopsis describes the story in full. Continue reading at your own discretion.
See the latest trailer for the film (December 16, 2014) here.
This synopsis is based on material in the film’s program book and multiple viewings in person. Details are subject to change pending an in-depth translation.
By the wall
I will say a word to you,
Take my word,
Give ear to my instructions
(Text from ancient Sumerian clay tablet)
Prologue: Earth’s moon, February 2199.
A unit of Space Cavalry [Marines] recovers from a battle that has cost them dearly. Sergeant Hajime Saito stands vigil over his dying commander, Colonel Kiryu. Outside, a previously-unknown ship is seen sailing away from Earth. Not Garmillas, could it be one of their own? This is confirmed when another ship is spotted on approach to pick them up: UNCF battleship Kirishima. But it has arrived too late to save the commanding officer.
Saito barges on the bridge, berating the man he assumes to be the captain for the delay. The real captain, Yamanami, introduces him as Admiral Hijikata. Hijikata explains that they were preoccupied with the launch of Yamato, commanded by his friend…the last hope of the human race.
Seven months later, a rogue fleet of Garmillas warships prowls through space, escorting the red-tinted Zoellugut II, former flagship of the deposed Admiral Zoellik. Now commanded by two of his former subordinates (both modeled after officers originally seen in Yamato 2), they talk about the recent fall of Dessler but are interrupted by a fast-moving fleet of Gatlantis “barbarians” on a bold incursion.
The two forces seem evenly matched until a massive blast of flame consumes the Zoellugut as if it were made of plastic. This devastating weapon is the Flame Strike Gun, mounted on the Gatlantis battleship Megaluda of the Gatlantis Gutaba Expeditionary Force, commanded by the fearsome Governor-General Goram “Thunderclap” Dagam. With the Garmillas fleet scattered and disorganized, the Large Magellanic Cloud is ripe for conquest.
(See the movie up to this point on Youtube here.)
We hear the voice of Mikage Kiryu, a young girl in Space Battleship Yamato‘s tech division. Having begun the long journey back to Earth with the live-saving Cosmo Reverse System acquired on Iscandar, Yamato is in a rare state of quiet after months of hardship. The Wave-Motion Gun has been sealed in a gesture of treaty with Garmillas.
We see that Kiryu is a girl with diverse interests, including Norse mythology, the art of Henri Rousseau, and the Imperial Japanese Navy of World War II. Family photos show us her military father and her globetrotting archeologist mother. Kiryu’s narration is interrupted when she is called to her station. Late for her shift (as usual), she careens headlong into Cosmo Falcon pilot Sho Sawamura. As she runs off, his fellow pilots remark that she’s pretty cute, but Sho will have none of it.
Kodai speaks with Okita in the captain’s quarters about past losses, but both have made their peace with it. (Okita is revealed to be a fan of German folk music as he plays a vintage LP.) The mood is light, especially later when Shima catches Kodai together with a nervous Akira Yamamoto. Recognizing the need for encouragement, he suggests a photo session.
Kiryu is at her work station with Kaoru Niimi, and is revealed to be a xenolinguist. She pours over comparative language data acquired on their journey: Garmillas, Gatlantis, and Jirel. (Rendered in English as “Zirel.”)
Elsewhere in space, we catch up to the Garmillas multi-deck carrier Lambea, limping along after surviving the Battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster. Unable to salvage the drill-missile carrier Gallunt, they allow it to drift away into space, weeping manly tears. Captain Fomto Berger, staring at holos of a young woman from his past named Melia, is interrupted by a call to the bridge. Battle carrier Mirangal is on approach to rescue them.
Mirangal‘s commander, the beautiful Neredia Rikke, takes a drink with Berger, and it is evident that the two share a history. She catches him up on what has transpired since the battle. The empire has undergone radical change, and Space Battleship Yamato is no longer considered an enemy. Berger is outraged, citing the deaths of so many top officers at Yamato‘s hands, especially General Domel. But Neredia says they need to clear this sector, where ships have been known to go missing – lured by a legendary space siren. Then, seemingly from nowhere, a singing voice enters Berger’s head. Neredia hears nothing.
Back on Yamato, Shima puts the “romantic triangle” to the test, coaxing Kodai into photos with both Yamamoto and Yuki. It’s clear that the triangle is in full play when Yuki gives Kodai’s hand a pinch just as Shima snaps their picture. Suddenly, the scene is interrupted when the ship shakes – Yamato is under attack!
With Okita confined to his bed, Kodai takes the bridge to find out that a Gatlantis fleet is approaching; the time has come for “first contact.” Goran Dagam hails them from the Megaluda, and linguistic software converts his words to Earth language. He demands that Yamato be handed over to him unconditionally. Kodai refuses and orders evasive action rather than engaging in a useless battle. (Sanada arrives on the bridge to take command, but holds back as he sees how efficient Kodai has become.)
A running battle ensues as Dagam orders pursuit. Yamato‘s Wave-Motion Shield stands up to a huge blast from the Flame Strike Gun, but loses almost 60% capacity – not enough to survive a second hit. A drifting planet (named Kappadogia) is located and the ship dives for cover, followed by the smaller Gatlantis ships. The battle attracts the interest of squid-like creatures (named Medula) that reside in the bonelike structure of the planet. They quickly swarm the ships and begin to drain their energy. Yamato‘s power drops and Kodai orders an emergency warp with what they’ve got left. Sanada concurs and the ship slams forward.
It works; the Medula are shredded by the passage…but when Yamato comes out of warp again, the crew wakes up to find themselves in a grey, misty region of space never seen before. There are no fixed stars in sight, but a strange, multi-ringed planet lies ahead. Yamato begins to move on its own, drawn toward the object on auto-pilot, and Kodai has a sudden memory flash to his previous encounter with a certain mind-witch.
Yamato descends into a sea of clouds and approaches a massive floating structure that looks like the work of an ancient civilization. The rocket anchor is fired into it and the ship drifts to a stop.
Meeting with Captain Okita, Kodai and Niimi simultaneously volunteer to go on a recon mission. Their team will include Aihara, Mikage Kiryu, and Analyzer. Sho Sawamura will pilot the prototype landing craft Ki-8. As soon as Sho and Mikage bump into each other (for the second time) their earlier friction is instantly reignited.
The landing craft drops to the surface of the planet and dives into its ocean. Mikage hears a haunting voice, singing from nowhere. Communication with Yamato is abruptly cut off and the crew watches helplessly from the bridge as the atmosphere of the planet hardens into a shell.
The landing craft suddenly bursts out of the ocean, having gone through a layer of water to an “inner planet” covered in dense forest with a towering world tree on its horizon. It stirs Kiryu’s knowledge of Norse mythology. The craft lands, rolls onto solid ground, and becomes stuck.
Since the air is breathable, everyone continues on foot, leaving Analyzer behind with the Ki-8. As they proceed, Mikage is overcome with deja vu. It looks exactly like a part of the Amazon she once visited with her mother. Kodai has another memory flash to their encounter with the whispering witch of Jirel.
Aihara picks up a signal he recognizes as a Garmillas beacon. They push through to its source, which is the most shocking discovery of all: the intact hull of the ancient IJN Battleship Yamato rising from the jungle.
Things go from mystifying to inexplicable when they enter the ship to find instead the interior of the famed Yamato Hotel. Sho shrieks and the others turn to see that the door has vanished, replaced now by a painted mural on a solid wall. Aihara is unable to raise Analyzer. They are trapped. No one answers the bell. The elevator is frozen. A painting of a sinister woman seems to study their every move.
Piano music drifts into the hotel lobby and the group follows it to the lounge. There, we see four Garmillas faces. Neredia Rikke plays the music. With her are Berger, his twitchy pilot Krim Melhi, and the war veteran Vance Baren. All are dressed in period clothing of Earth. Berger lays eyes on the Yamato crew, but to him they appear to wear the uniform of Zalts. However, this doesn’t last long; in no time, everyone is mysteriously in “normal” clothing.
Bound together by their common fate, Berger introduces his group, and when it becomes obvious to Kodai that this is a former foe, he makes no mention of Yamato. Interestingly, Berger notices that Kiryu is a dead ringer for Melia, the girl from his past.
Neredia escorts Kiryu to her luxurious hotel room, where Rousseau paintings cover the walls. A book on the life of Helen Keller is found. Neredia, however, sees a different book in its place, a children’s story she remembers titled The Lonely Witch. She recounts the story of Kiryu, of a little girl with telepathic abilities that incites hatred and paranoia for others in “the blue land.” Despairing that she will never find friendship, the girl boards a “ship left to her by God” and flies away.
Days go by and the two groups share their food as they look for a way to escape. Sho discovers a subterranean level and they start digging, but to little avail. Melhi is frustrated, but Kodai offers the philosophy of his captain in response: “never give up, keep fighting until the very end.” Berger is impressed. As their mutual trust grows, friendship grows with it.
Melhi goes off on his own and encounters Neredia. Her eyes glow malevolently. She is not what she seems.
Kiryu’s appearance continually reminds Berger of his former lover Melia, and we learn that he helplessly watched her die in a past battle. Baren reveals that she was Neredia’s younger sister.
Wondering if their circumstances could have something to do with the fallen race of Jirel, Kiryu learns from Berger that Jirellians were capable of reading minds, and were therefore shunned, despised as witches.
Elsewhere, Goran Dagam is furious over his fleet’s inability to find Yamato. Gatlantis Prime Minister Sabera contacts him and orders him to continue searching for the treasure planet “Tranquility” – the great emperor wants its powerful cloaking technology for himself.
Seven days have passed in the hotel. Taking a cue from Helen Keller, Kiryu tries to communicate with the Jirellians through the medium of water and discovers an inscription on the floor: Truth in the darkness, swallowed by silence, mutual suspicion destroys itself. To find the true world, rise to the eleventh level.
The elevator miraculously comes to life for Kiryu. She rises past the four known floors to the 11th, the bridge of Battleship Yamato. Astonished by this sudden breakthrough, the others follow. Kiryu finds Melhi on the outer deck, holding a bag of food. Driven to paranoia, he points a gun at her.
Beyond the planet, Dagam’s Gatlantis fleet breaks through into the grey, misty “otherworld” region. Neredia (the real one) and her Garmillas ships are there to face them.
Melhi grips Kiryu threateningly as the others gather. Sho breaks Kiryu free, and Melhi’s bag of food falls to the deck. Everyone is shocked when a skull rolls out. Neredia appears and turns everything over when she reveals the “Zalts” people as the crew of Yamato. Suddenly, their weapons belts appear. “Take revenge for Domel, Berger!” she demands.
Kodai and Berger immediately point their guns at each other. But Kodai defuses the situation by lowering his pistol and stating his respect for Domel’s final actions. When he invokes his own lost brother Mamoru, they understand each other. Berger points his gun instead at Neredia, having suspected her as the mastermind of all this. She made two critical errors – mentioning nothing about Kiryu’s resemblance to her younger sister, and not knowing that the real Neredia would only say the name Fomto.
Suddenly, a huge gout of flame explodes downward into the jungle, slashing open the sky. Water thunders down from the gaping wound. At this, all veils are lifted. Everyone’s clothing reverts to their true uniforms (Yamato and Garmillas). The veneer of Battleship Yamato is wiped away to reveal a wirey, alien structure.
The mask of “Neredia” also dissolves away, changing into a Jirellian woman. She calmly introduces herself as Lerelai, the shaman of Jirel. The planet is named Shambleau, a sacred place for the Jirellians, their sanctuary from the hatred of others. Those who come here for their own greedy purposes are inevitably driven to fight and destroy each other (nearby are the skeletal bodies of Gatlanteans who invaded long ago and killed each other). This should also have been the fate of Kodai and Berger, but they found another way. Their seven days together created sympathy and understanding.
Kiryu notices that an inscription carved into the ruins is of the ancient Akerian language. She deciphers it: races with the same genes as the Akerians will gather on this ground to join hands after seven days and wake the sleeping Ark of the Stars. Kodai, Berger, and Lerelai join hands and are surrounded by spiraling light. Shambleau begins to transform. Suddenly, the Ki-8 rises into view, Analyzer at the helm.
Dagam continues blasting away at the planet with the Flame Strike Gun. More water pours down onto the inner surface and the world tree begins to disintegrate.
The explorers return to their ships, where we learn that their seven days on the “planet” transpired in less than one day of outside time. Berger takes command of Mirangal while Kodai’s group returns to Yamato, which is now surrounded by Dagam’s fleet. Sanada gives command to Kodai, and all the ships rise up out of the clouds to face their common enemy. (Neredia takes the rear in command of Lambea.) Fighters launch and battle erupts in Shambleau’s ice ring.
Another blast from the Flame Strike Gun allows Yamato to pinpoint Megaluda‘s location. But Sanada and Nimii have analyzed previous data to spot the warp effect preceding a blast and get clear of the flames. The continued pounding to Shambleau begins to reveal a complex latticework beneath its surface.
Dagam communicates again with Sabera. This planet is “Tranquility,” the treasure she wanted. He is not to damage it. Enraged, he cuts her off and orders his fleet forward, directly at the enemy.
(The battle that follows is absolutely spectacular – better seen than described.)
Afterward, Kodai and Berger watch as Shambleau finishes transforming into its true form, a gigantic interstellar ark – an ancient Akerian artifact meant to spread life across space. And with that, it quietly vanishes into the distance.
Calm retuns, not only for the people of Earth and Garmillas, but for the Jirellians as well. Each race has found its way forward. They say their goodbyes and part for their respective homelands. Captain Okita fills the decks of Yamato with his beloved German folk song. The lyrics describe the parting of friends who will meet again one day.
Epilogue: Earth, UNCF headquarters. December, 2199.
With 41 days left, Earth is in turmoil. Marines are tasked with putting down riots, a job that disgusts them. In the command center, Hijikata chuckles as he hears the familiar strains of Saito’s protesting voice. But even now, Hijikata’s faith in his friend Okita is unshakeable.
A radar operator picks up the signal of an incoming ship. “It’s – it’s Yamato!”
Two pieces of music from elsewhere in the Yamato saga were invoked in Ark of the Stars: Teresa’s theme from Yamato 2 and the climactic “New Galaxy” theme from the end of Be Forever. The Comet Empire dirge is also heavily referenced with several variations.
The German folk music played by Captain Okita (on an antique turntable, no less) is a song titled Muss i Den. Akira Miyagawa is credited as the conductor on the LP seen in the film. Listen to Muss i denn here.
“Jirel” and “Shambleau” are both names derived from the works of fantasy author C.L. Moore. It is also possible that “Shambleau” itself was derived from Shambhala, the mythical utopia of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Gatlantean ranks are patterned after those of ancient China, around the age of the Three Kingdoms. Goran Dagam has the rank of Dai-totaku (Governor-General, or supreme commander). Sabera has the rank of Joushou, equivalent to a prime minister and second only to the Emperor.
The opening Sumerian quote is part of a much longer passage described as the Sumerian Flood Story, which in this context is undoubtedly a reference to the coming of Aquarius as per Final Yamato. Read the entire passage here.
Special thanks to Tsuneo Tateno for research assistance.