Interview with Scriptwriter Hideki Oka

From Yamato Fan Club Premium magazine Ship’s Log issue 18, June 2017

Photos of Mr. Oka found on his Facebook page

Hideki Oka is in charge of the scripts for Space Battleship Yamato 2202, Soldiers of Love. He has worked for many years in live-action, and is known as a man who overflows with “Yamato love.” How does he work on the scripts for 2202?

The first impression of Yamato was “fear” and “a foreign object I couldn’t understand”

Interviewer: Please tell me about how you encountered Space Battleship Yamato.

Oka: I think it was in an early childhood magazine, probably Terebi Land. I first saw Space Battleship Yamato in an announcement of a new program. My impression at the time was “what’s this?” I was puzzled by the feeling of it, which was unlike all the programs I’d watched before. My first impression of Yamato was “a foreign object I couldn’t understand.”

Interviewer: You were born in 1966 and you saw various anime and live-action tokusatsu (live-aciton special effects) programs, but how was Yamato was different?

Oka: I think those who were born in 1960 were the first generation to have a direct link to anime and tokusatsu in their growth, and I’m at the tail end of that generation. Yamato was extraordinary in my eyes. It was something I’d never seen before.

In the first place, the design of Yamato itself was scary. The lower half is clear, but the upper half is full of gun turrets and pulse lasers and prickly antennas and stabilizer wings. I hadn’t seen SF mecha that was so dense with information before, so I couldn’t help but be puzzled. Then there was the weirdness of the Wave-Motion Gun that opened up to blackness in the bow of the ship! The coldness of a machine that refused easy interpretation by a child made me feel afraid.

Doesn’t a person feel “fear” when they’re confronted by a really good, unprecedented design? I wonder if I’m just strange. At the time, there were Japanese characters like Ultraman, Kamen Rider, Android Kikaider, Mazinger Z…for me, their first impressions were all “scary.” Ultraman was already a series by the time I was a child, and the older generation that watched it from the beginning in real time said “It was really scary at first.” (Laughs) Anything that defies understanding and experience has a big impact on people who fear what they haven’t seen before. That was the case with Yamato.

Interviewer: So your first impression of Yamato as a child was “fear?” Weren’t you afraid to watch it then?

Oka: …but I was interested! Wouldn’t it be better to watch it? But the threshold was high…and just before the broadcast began I was anxious about it so I chose to watch SF Drama Ape Army in the same timeslot. But my family, including my parents and four-year-old brother, picked Yamato and I was driven to an old, small TV on the second floor. But I was still anxious about Yamato and couldn’t give up on it, so I kept switching between channels. About 80% Ape Army and 20% Yamato. Six months later, the TV was broken…

Interviewer: As a result of majority rule and your own obsession. (Laughs)

Oka: Yes. My parents were full adults then, in their thirties. Such adults were engrossed in Yamato. The newness and romance of the story got them right in the heart. Yamato and Ape Army ended their broadcasts on the same day, March 30, 1975. The finale of Ape Army was also an impressive story, and when I tried to convey that to the family downstairs, they were swelling with excitement over the ending of Yamato down there.

“It’s so good that Yuki is alive.” When you see your mother crying, you can’t tell here the story of Ape Army. (Laughs) I had no choice but to keep my mouth shut in front of a family that was excited about Yamato. I thought, “This loneliness is my punishment. I’m tasting this feeling because I didn’t properly watch Yamato.”

One year later, the reruns started. “This time I’ll get a good taste!” I kept sitting down in front of the TV with that momentum. Looking at the final episode, I saw the swelling figure of Kodai with the revived Yuki, and the figure of Dr. Sado who bit back his feelings and couldn’t say that Captain Okita had died. That was sad. “That was me a year ago!” (Laughs)

In many ways, I still can’t forget the rerun at that time. It seemed the popularity of Yamato began to rise from the Hokkaido area in those days, but since we were children we didn’t understand the situation so far. The story of it becoming a feature film didn’t reach the Hiroshima countryside. I didn’t have any money or knowledge, and it wasn’t possible to get a recording. Therefore, I watched the reruns with my eyes opened as wide as saucers. Indeed, it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. It was truly devastating to see “The end” in the TV column. It was a program with nuance that you thought you’d never see again when it was over. I’ve liked Yamato ever since. It’s been a long journey, hasn’t it?

I was really excited by the feature film version of Yamato, and experienced the same enthusiasm when it continued through Farewell, Yamato 2 and The New Voyage. I was surprised from the bottom of my heart by the music and images of Be Forever, I despaired at the truncated broadcast and the death of Domon in Yamato III, and even when none of my classmates talked about Yamato, I saw Final Yamato and said goodbye to Yamato in tears. However, when I heard there was a “complete version” made in 70mm, I lied to my parents and took an overnight train from Hiroshima to Tokyo and stood in line at the Shibuya Pantheon. I got an autograph from Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki that I’ve cherished ever since.

After that, I watched his film Odin while suffering from hunger and thirst, and I looked forward to the revival plans over the next ten years; Dessler’s War, Yamato Resurrection, and finally the OAV Yamato 2520. From there, I waited some more for Resurrection in 2009, the live-action movie, and then 2199. It was a long road for me, but none of it was “interrupted” or “disconnected.” Everything is connected. Everything is Yamato. I wanted to see things that seemed like Yamato. I just kept chasing the works named Yamato with that feeling. I think everyone reading this had the same feeling. That stance hasn’t changed even now that I’m involved in the production of 2202.

Understanding exactly what Harutoshi Fukui is aiming for is the most important part of my job

Interviewer: How did you get the opportunity to participate in 2202?

Oka: Nobuyoshi Habara spoke up for me. In May 2015 I’d been staying in Indonesia for a long time, and I was supervising the local tokusatsu broadcast of Satria Garuda BIMA-X.

One month before I returned home to Japan, I suddenly got an email from Mr. Habara. Xebec would undertake the production of a sequel to 2199, a work that would correspond to the position of Farewell to Yamato. In one short sentence, he said he wanted me to write a proposal for it. That was the beginning of my involvement.

Interviewer: As we mentioned, you’ve been mainly active in live-action tokusatsu. Had you met Director Habara before?

Oka: We met in the autumn of 2010. I was an assistant director on a certain live action movie, and Nobuyoshi Habara came on as a “storyboard supervisor.” Speaking of 2010, Habara had been deeply involved in Resurrection, and just after it came out I naturally greeted him as a big fan. It was that kind of meeting. As a result, the content of the movie and the staff were completely changed, and we did our part together. After that, Mr. Habara and I embarked on a strange friendship.

We’re both from Hiroshima, very close to the same area, and we watched the same programs even though we are different ages. We were both addicted to Tiger Mask, which was frequently rerun in Hiroshima, and I was always excited to see it. Our fields of work are divided into anime and tokusatsu, but we both encourage each other to “make a good one” and have a happy relationship.

It was from that relationship that I was told, “Think about Yamato,” and I was really surprised. In the month before I returned I thought, “I hope Mr. Habara will be able to fertilize this Yamato” and freely wrote a proposal that I sent to Japan. As soon as I got home I went to see Mr. Habara, and there was Harutoshi Fukui, who’d been hired to write the series. (Laughs) It had been formally decided that Habara would direct, too. Of course, Harutoshi Fukui is totally in charge of the writing side. I could see in an eyeblink that Mr. Habara was the new director of Yamato, but I had no such pleasure. That was it for my role. It was only for a month, but my thoughts were flooded with Yamato to the fullest.

However, that wasn’t the end of the story. I was told, “Please stay on and help Mr. Fukui.” That’s where my hell began. (Laughs)

Interviewer: Although 2202 is a new story, it’s also part-reboot of Farewell and Yamato 2. What kind of policy do you have about reconstructing those works?

Oka: First, I have to say that the reconstruction of past Yamato works in 2202 is all the work of Mr. Fukui. I don’t do anything that could be called a rebuild, and I don’t think I should. When I served as an assistant director for a long time in the world of live-action film, I started from where you stand at the point of creation, where you positively acknowldge human images and commitments, and that work theory is drummed into you. Putting it simply, I work under the direction of Mr. Fukui as the general manager of the writing on 2202. I have to understand Mr. Fukui’s goals and calculations correctly. My job is the most important part and my ideas are secondary.

It sounds important when I say that, but at first I couldn’t organize my feelings as well as Mr. Fukui. Sometimes I said, “That would be wrong” and we argued intensely. When we considered how Kodai would face the Wave-Motion Gun, regarding the Fukui plan, I’d be snapping at him and saying, “You’re still doing that?!” But as we moved forward, I noticed that what Mr. Fukui is trying to present in 2202 can be measured in terms of nuances that are appropriate for Yamato. It’s being made in that “form.”

It’s the same mode of thinking as an assistant director on a live-action movie. “The world is like this, the hero moves like that.” If the assistant director contradicts the director’s policy and says “Such a movement isn’t possible,” the story cannot proceed. In order to help the director achieve what he wants, the assistant director prepares a number of concrete paths and the director selects one. We follow the director seriously and in the end our goal is to take it to a convincing landing point for an audience. A movie production is basically group warfare.

So, even if I disapprove of something when it’s given the OK, I develop a plan for Mr. Fukui, rearranging it into something like a script. You’ll never see this procedure because it’s not even a first draft. The work I do is “zero” rather than first. He thoroughly rewrites the details in the zero version and the first draft is finally born.

Interviewer: Your work begins after grasping Mr. Fukui’s concept. How do you understand the gist of the story of 2202?

Oka: Naturally, 2202 is made according to the overall policy Mr. Fukui established. I’ll summarize it…

・We affirm the content of the previous work, 2199, and answer all the audience’s questions about the mysteries it left open.

・Keeping the “scent” of the past works at the core of development and make a hot new story. We present an authentic image of people in conflict who clash over a certain sense of values. The story is consolidated into a clash between the main character Susumu Kodai and Great Emperor Zordar.

Yamato is an SF work, the model for which was made about 40 years ago, but it must not be irrelevant to the chaotic world situation of today. We’re aiming for a drama that can bring back the many adults who turned away from Yamato. Therefore, we can’t make a story that explains the entire concept from the start.

・Scenes that are burned into many peoples’ memories must be reproduced as much as possible. Consideration should be taken not to cause distinct discrepancies with the history of the original up to Yamato Resurrection.

There are no definitive documents that lay out Mr. Fukui’s 2202 production policy, so I myself need to understand it and help to write the script.

Interviewer: In the credits, it says you both jointly write the script. How is a script specifically written?

Oka: Mr. Fukui summarizes the outline of the story in detail in what’s called a “2202 configuration memo.” This document, which went through six drafts, is the nucleus of the story. Based on the configuration memo, the script work proceeds like so:

1. Memo analysis

I read it first and say “What’s this!” every time and I’m rendered speechless. Sometimes I write it myself, understanding Mr. Fukui’s aim and theme.

2. Long plot

Based on the content of the memo, I assign scene numbers and adjust various things to get the story to flow in one episode. I study the events and the distribution of battle scenes and think about the backstory that isn’t covered in the memo, and at this stage I can add my own ideas. After reading the memo I compose lines that stay on point and try to make them part of the story flow. There’s a meeting and various opinions are gathered, and it advances to the next stage.

3. Script zero draft

This is where the content of the composition memo gets divided down to about 23 minutes per episode. I agonize as I script the interaction between the characters and add proper “Yamato things.” If it’s approved by Mr. Fukui and Director Habara, I submit it to a gernal meeting. After exchanging opinions, I hand it over to Mr. Fukui and advance to the long plot for the next story.

4. Script first draft

The script zero draft is thoroughly rewritten by Mr. Fukui, and new scenes are added to the parts I didn’t understand. Unnecessary parts are scraped off and Mr. Fukui’s blood passes through each of the lines until the “first draft” is completed. Naturally, the levels of the zero draft and the first draft are completely different. After the first draft is submitted to a meeting and comments are gathered from various sources, Mr. Fukui writes a second draft if necessary. If everyone approves it, the script is finished.

5. We do that 26 times.

Interviewer: You called this work “hell” a little while ago. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine.

Oka: When Mr. Fukui said, “We can do it with two people,” my spine froze. (Laughs) By the way, after Episode 10 the zero draft script was produced directly without the long plotting. I felt that it would take ten episodes for me to understand Mr. Fukui’s view of the 2202 world.

Oh, there was just one point that I was personally conscious of. All of the characters have happy and sad feelings, which means everyone is cool. Everyone is always considerate of someone else. War is horrible, but I want the characters in this world to be someone of whom you would think, “I could go to the battlefield with this guy.” I’m writing the people I who would want to be on board Yamato.

Interviewer: You participate in 2202 with live-action experience. How does the writing differ between tokusatsu and animation?

Oka: There are feelings you can’t express in a character’s words. In live action, this can be conveyed to the audience through the appearance and expressions of the actors. Animation is a picture, so the range of emotions will naturally differ. So at the initial stage, the director side requested, “Please make the lines as specific as possible to express it.” I write the script with words in mind, but somewhere in my head I want to believe anime has a power that goes beyond live-action. I want to believe in the beauty and strength of the emotions that pour out of an image. So there are parts where I don’t dare to write a line.

In Be Forever Yamato, there’s the situation where Kodai and Yuki are grasping each other’s hand and they get separated. What a picture like that conveys to the audience goes deeper than any line. I’d like to see that sort of thing in 2202. That’s why, in the long run, I may change nothing. In terms of chasing human emotions in both tokusatsu and anime, I don’t think it’s necessary to change something in a script.

It’s Mr. Fukui who sets the nucleus of the story in the first place. The feelings of the characters are densely penetrated. Something like, “Susumu Kodai has saved the Earth! Thank you! This is the second time! Yuki Mori was worried!” [Yuki line from Episode 2.] It’s fascinating how Mr. Fukui writes. One of the pillars that supports the entertainment is an enormous amount of information, but at the same time it becomes a huge wall. (Laughs) And it’s a story that’s limited to half an hour. You take the appropriate intervals to create a flow you can empathize with, so I think it’s quite difficult to tell the whole story. The story told in 2202 goes slightly beyond its program format. When you count it mechanically, the impression is that each episode runs over by about three minutes.

At the initial stage of production, how do you deal with a script that runs long? There was a discussion about that. At this time, I realized the difference in production between anime and live-action. The production side said, “It’s better not to forcibly cut things out, just put all the ideas in.” That means it can be adjusted at the storyboard stage. I understood the logic. I thought, “is that really possible?” and compared the screenplays of 2199 with the finished product with a stopwatch in hand.

As a result, I was surprised to learn that quite a few elements had been deleted from across the whole story. However, the important elements and nuances were conveyed neatly even if things were cut from the scripts. I realized that this is the skill of a director who thoroughly knows the exaggerated expression of anime. So our process is that Mr. Fukui and I pass a script back and forth that doesn’t have anything more than necessary cut out. That’s how we cook it.

Interviewer: It’s possible to do it because you believe in the power of the directors of each episode.

Oka: Yes. Live-action movies aren’t necessarily completed in the form they were written. Some things are born in the story at the editing stage. In animation, the majority of that work is achieved in the storyboard stage. From my viewpoint as someone in the live-action field, the directing power is really phenomenal.

Interviewer: The feeling of “I want to do good work” is the same methodology in live-action as it is with specialists in animation. This was new ground for you, too.

Oka: Since I’m a fish out of water, I can only “throw a hail Mary pass.” Everyone is a team member. The feeling is “Thanks for your hard work, please cook well in Yamato style.”

In the end, what the audience wants is a version of Farewell and Yamato 2 that is suitable for the present day, and I think this is it. The quality of 2199 was inherited, and there’s a hot story that succeeds it, the surprise of the summer that you’ve never seen before, a crush, a sense of despair…I feel that I’m looking for something that will allow me to experience all of that from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know whether it can be achieved, but I think that’s the goal of this project.

I continue to think about that while I work on the script under Mr. Fukui’s supervision. But such a thing doesn’t just come out of the power of the words. It will be there in what kind of film it finally becomes.

I’m someone who usually has the role of batting cleanup in the world of live-action film, but the reverse is true this time. There is a large number of people who breathe life into it by replacing written characters with images. Having written the script for this work, I believe people will find a “future energy not yet seen.” In the near future, many people whill struggle with Yamato, Gatlantis, and Teresa, and I have no choice but to keep writing this work with Mr. Fukui as a kind of obsession. That’s my feeling.

Interviewer: Chapter 2 will open soon. Please tell us about it and future developments.

Oka: The highlight of Chapter 2 is that “The counterattack of men betrayed by the future” begins. I think that’s it. It’s a chapter that depicts how to counterattack when you are betrayed.

In Episode 3, Kodai knows the circumstances of what the Earth Federation is embracing and chooses to launch from Earth in Yamato. This flow follows Farewell, but couldn’t have been depicted this way 40 years ago. About 40 years later, we who have become adults know the severity of military logic. The reality is that it’s become an advanced surveillance society, and everyone realizes that the escape of criminals is very difficult in this world. In the year 2202, how does the crew evade the mesh of a military net and get on board Yamato again? You could make several episodes just on that, so we had a lot of talks about it. The crew gathers once again to launch Yamato, and the drama there will be a big climax in 2202. Also, what will happen to Kodai and Yuki? I’d like you to watch closely.

There’s a scene I love with Yuki talking with Dr. Sado. It could be said that this embodies Yamato; the beauty of human relationships peculiar to the Japanese people is at the root of Yamato, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you say that we are silently considerate of each other’s feelings? Even in the midst of intense battles, I think the best part of Yamato is the richness of human relations. I’d like to make more scenes like that in 2202.

The story of Kodai and Yuki’s relationship leads up to Yamato‘s launch. For all the fans who know the flow of Farewell, I’d like you to pay attention to what happens from there in 2202. Everyone on the staff, including director Habara, is working hard for a wonderful future. I want it to be a good work. That’s really all there is to it.

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