Leiji Matsumoto 1999 Interview

From The Space Battleship Yamato Legacy

by Leo Anzai/Footwork Publications (July, 1999)

A handful of analysis books had been written about Yamato in previous years, but this was the first to be produced under the new Leiji Matsumoto/Tohokushinsa/Bandai Visual copyright umbrella, and it had excellent production values to show for it. Largely text with supporting visuals, it covered several aspects of the original TV series in great detail, including a colorfuly candid interview with Matsumoto.

Despite his rise a year earlier to the position of copyright holder (which would hold up until a court order restored it to Yoshinobu Nishizaki in 2002), Matsumoto seemed unusually strident in this interview about the nature of his role on the first TV series and makes several claims not seen in print elsewhere. Though the copyright is now jointly owned with all parties receiving their due, this interview captures an interesting snapshot-in-time when the situation was probably still in contention.

As a matter of interest, Yamato Legacy also contained a lively interview with vocalist Isao Sasaki, which can be read here.

Special thanks to Tsuneo Tateno for translation assistance.

Living to Create Characters

Yamato continues to navigate the Sea of Stars

The world of Leiji Matsumoto, balanced by beautiful women and hardcore mecha, has swept over Japan and his current work links us to the 21st century. I asked him to share his recollections of Space Battleship Yamato…

Interviewer: Under the name Akira Matsumoto, you made your debut drawing girls’ manga. Were you influenced by Disney or Osamu Tezuka?

Matsumoto: Disney, Tezuka, foreign cartoons, the faces of film actresses, and novels. At the time I was in the midst of the occupation troops [after World War II] and my refuge was in 10-cent American comics like Superman. That was around 1945.

I was also affected by artists such as Shigeru Komatsuzaki, Tetsuji Fukushima, and Fukujiro Yokoi. Yokoi’s shading technique in his children’s illustrations was a great influence. I thought I could combine all those influences into a realistic manga style.

Interviewer: Did you think you would one day become an excellent cartoonist?

Matsumoto: This was not the case, and that was a good thing. I showed my work to my friends and they said it was good. But Japan is a big place. I had to be honest with myself that I didn’t know much about cartooning, and was resigned that it might be impossible. Because of conditions in Japan then, I feel grounded today. Then there are those friends who knew me before I became famous.

I wanted to draw for girls’ manga magazines after I watched a movie called Marianne of My Youth. The face of the actress named Marianne Hold stayed with me. Maetel and Yuki look like her. I’d struggled to draw feminine faces and hands and when this woman appeared I thought that’s exactly how I wanted them to look. I was able to model my female characters on actresses like Marianne Hold, Eleanor Parker, Danielle Darrieux, and Kaoru Yachigusa.

In fact, I copied Kaoru’s face and hands from pictures in magazines and carried them around as a lucky charm for a long time. But I’m ashamed to say I modified them to suit my own taste. (laughter)

Interviewer: Was she the model for your girl’s manga, Maria of the Silver Valley?

Matsumoto: That’s right.

Left to right: Maria of the Silver Valley, An Adventure Record, Mars Daughter

The Completed Character Prototype

Interviewer: You recently [1998] had an early manga reprinted, An Adventure Record.

Matsumoto: I drew that when I was 14 years old, a junior high student. I bound it into a book and added two more pages for the grand finale during my first year in high school. An antecedent of Captain Harlock appeared in this story. He had a skull on his flag and his chest.

My springtime came when I drew Mars Daughter during my second year in high school. Suddenly a woman appeared in my work, just as I hit puberty. My trademarks came out at this time, which hadn’t existed in An Adventure Record. I was taking a remedial English class and decided to change my name for life.

Interviewer: So that’s when Akira became Leiji.

Matsumoto: At the age of puberty with the story of Mars Daughter. There was almost no change from that point to when Yamato and Harlock appeared. There was a scene of the Martians watching a scene on a big screen monitor, which is very similar to present works.

Because I worked on An Adventure Record between January and April 1952, I feel like I was born during my third year in junior high.

The Original Space Battleship Yamato

Interviewer: What’s the relationship of Space Battleship Yamato and your manga Lightning Ozma?

Matsumoto: There’s a chapter in Lightning Ozma [1961] that features a rocket named Space Battleship Yamato. Much later, Yoshinobu Nishizaki started to plan the TV anime series with that name and hired me to supervise the art. I looked at the planning book and said “this is not Yamato, it looks terrible,” and I redesigned it.

Lightning Ozma had stone bombs dropping on Earth, so I came up with something similar [Planet Bombs] and we talked about opening the story with them. Mr. Nishizaki is credited as the original author, but a lot of things in the first two episodes resemble Ozma, which also had a prototype of Yamato.

Pages from Lightning Ozma (1961), manga cover for Lightspeed Esper (1969)

As for the wave-motion theory, my younger brother Susumu was a laboratory student at Kyushu University, and he helped develop it. Of course, the main character Susumu Kodai is named after him. By the way, the main character in Lightspeed Esper [1969] is also named Susumu Kodai. When developing Yamato, the main character’s names started out as Jyuzo Kodai and Susumu Okita. [Editor’s note: these were eventually switched.]

I looked over the wave-motion theory and a professor confirmed it for me when he said it “wasn’t necessarily false.” So it was set in stone.

Interviewer: That helped to make Yamato into an unconventional anime.

Matsumoto: There was the wave-motion gun, the wave-motion engine…also space kilometers and space knots. I put in a lot of creative expression. They weren’t in the first planning book, and there was no mysterious space woman.

You couldn’t really call the ship Yamato, either. I’d always been a mecha-maniac, so the specs of the Battleship Yamato were all in my head. I knew about the bulbous bow, the rounded prow, all of it. I demanded that we use that, even though it caused some trouble.

The story was set to go to the Magellanic Clouds, and said they were 200,000 light years or more away. But the distance, as I’d understood it as a child, was 148,000 light years. I checked it out with an observatory. An astronomer told me that in space, the difference between a mere 100,000 light years and a million light years is infinitesimal; not even worth calling an error.

Interviewer: Is that so?

Matsumoto: I created both Yuki and Starsha of Iscandar because there were no women in the original scenario. The initial plan was for 51 episodes, and Captain Harlock was going to be involved.

Interviewer: Harlock was Mamoru Kodai [Alex Wildstar]…

Matsumoto: Mamoru Kodai became Harlock. There were other episodes I thought up. The Balanodon and the Bee People came about because of my liking for comics about insects.

It’s been said that this angered the original writer, but who else could think of these things? Who did the Yamato design and thought up Starsha or the wave-motion gun or the bridge set? Who came up with the ‘bust radar?’ [The nickname for Yuki’s radar monitor.]

As I explained, the Space Battleship Yamato chapter of Lightning Ozma was published in 1961. There’s nothing else you need to know. The wave-motion theory of space travel also appeared in my manga Dafuin [1968] in the form of a Dimension Wave Ship. Yamato also used many of the character names from a manga called Shonen Plasma Squadron from the 1950s.

The reason I wanted Starsha to appear was due to my training over the years in girls’ manga. As for the story of the grand space voyage…we went into the vast sea of stars because I like such things.

All I can say is that if I hadn’t been part of the team, Yamato would have come to a sorry end. Some peoples’ memories turn over with time, but that doesn’t change what happened.

American Fans Helped Protect Yamato‘s Honor

Interviewer: It may be a coincidence, but the spaceship in Independence Day looks a lot like the Stone Disc in Lightning Ozma. Maybe Hollywood works in Matsumoto’s shadow?

Matsumoto: Well, there’s the wave-weapon system, the wave-warp navigation. If I translated it, I would expressly remove the word ‘Wave.’

In Star Blazers, the American version, the credit reads “based on Space Cruiser Yamato created in Japan by Yoshinobu Nishizaki.” My name is there, but it’s smaller and I’m listed as the director. But as I explained, I was the natural author. My lawyers sent a request to America for an apology.

In America, there is a terrible penalty for the theft of intellectual property or the unauthorized use of copyright. This has been written about in [Japanese] books and magazine articles, and there is a substantial case for the changes because of my contribution.

Interviewer: On another topic, I think it was great foresight to add symphonic music to an SF work like Yamato.

Matsumoto: I asked Mr. Miyagawa to give it a melody line like a symphonic poem; some parts fresh and lively, some like a parade march, and some solemn sounds that would echo deep in the mind. I asked him to avoid light-and-easy, up-tempo melodies like Hawaiian Sea Battle as often as possible. But then I thoughtlessly told him I would allow that for comical scenes, so we have it anyway. (Laughter)

But I’m very grateful to Mr. Miyagawa. The music copyright improved 2-3 years ago, and I want to work with him from now on.

Interviewer: Yamato added symphonic music to SF even before Star Wars.

Matsumoto: Star Wars imitated Yamato in other ways, too. It proves that we have American fans. For example, the round meters that appear in Star Wars were named ‘Leiji meters’ and this continues today. [Editor’s note: here Matsumoto is probably referring to nomenclature within the Japanese media, since no evidence of this term has surfaced in the English language.]

Everyone has influences in the beginning. I don’t think it was plagiarized. The idea that their designs could have been influenced by ours is a wonderful thing.

Inside the First Yamato Production

Interviewer: The image of a moving Yamato came out of your design in the early days…

Matsumoto: We wanted to give an impression of weight, because it’s a warship of around 100,000 tons with another 70-80,000 tons of equipment. We tried many different colors and did many tests. I really appreciate the staff from that time. Yamato was made to move by the blood of their efforts.

Come to think of it, the original background paintings for the bridge and the engine room were actually stolen. I asked the art director about them, but they were lost. Plus a painting of the red Earth. A thief must have taken it from the studio.

We used a photographic dupe from then on, but it was deplorable. It’s still missing to this day. There were also 5 or 6 original pictures of Starsha that I drew, but they’re also missing because Mr. Nishizaki loaned them out for some reason.

Interviewer: That’s too bad!

Matsumoto: They could be worth hundreds of millions of yen now! (laughter) The character of Starsha was needed to balance the brutality of battle. A beautiful, peerless woman. She was drawn by my own hand.

Interviewer: The character’s faces often changed whenever the animation supervisor changed.

Matsumoto: Yuki’s face often looked bad. So in the end, I insisted on drawing Starsha myself. I did the same on Galaxy Express 999. I would complain about the art and the response would be “then draw it yourself!” Because it was based on personal taste, it wasn’t a matter of being skilled or unskilled, so there was no other way than to do it myself. It would be the same even in CG.

Yamato‘s First Major Crisis Happened When the 2nd Episode Aired

Interviewer: There is a version of the opening theme that begins very slowly. It’s not my favorite.

Matsumoto: It sounds like a Buddhist hymn. Frankly, I think it would have been better with just the music.

Even though Yamato was supposed to be a work of entertainment, I didn’t have much self-confidence in those days, and it was oppressive. It was a heavy burden. Nearly 3,000 people were killed when the Battleship Yamato was sunk. There were many bereaved families with children.

Thus I placed Starsha at the goal point and Yamato would make the voyage through space for the sake of survival. Mr. Nishizaki didn’t understand that. At one point in the first three episodes I drew a storyboard of a scene where Yamato is being rebuilt and a deck plate is removed to reveal the remains of the dead. I was told to cut it. Mr. Nishizaki said the program was being made for a sponsor, and it was the sponsor’s order.

Interviewer: It should have been kept in.

Matsumoto: Then there was the warship march used in the flashback scene for episode 2. I yelled “who put that in,” and shouted that “young people will not go along with this!” It turned into a big fight. I had to stop this by all means and said there must be some way to remove it, replace it with different music.

Therefore, only in the first broadcast was that warship march connected to the scene. The story was fully known at the time of the reruns, but I didn’t want there to be a misunderstanding in the first airing. I didn’t want the flashback scene to turn this into a story of militarism. It was meant to be about a grand space voyage.

Mr. Tashiro, the sound director, said we should have agreed on that earlier, and he would have done what we said. It became an all-night shouting match between Mr. Nishizaki and myself. Naturally, it’s more advantageous to start a fight at midnight. (laughter)

I said if the broadcast station hears this, the program is over. So we replaced the cue and I was greatly relieved. That was our crisis. It was a requiem for those killed in action.

The Program was Discontinued, but there was Confidence in the Future

Interviewer: What was the biggest reason for Yamato being shortened to 26 episodes?

Matsumoto: It was mainly the low ratings, but there was another reason. Mr. Nishizaki did not defend our extended format. Because of this, the sponsors dropped us. There are good and bad things about making a long story, but format is important in a TV program. I think it upset the sponsors when we dropped it down to 26 episodes.

Interviewer: If it were made as 51 episodes, would the return from Iscandar have taken 27 episodes?

Matsumoto: Because the return journey was half the story, it would take us through the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, and also involve Captain Harlock. To tell the truth, the ratings were improving after the decision had been made to cut it down to 26.

It’s a habit of my work to take some time in building up the world. I was confident that our ratings would pick up as we continued on. Anyway, I think it was a good thing to cut it.

I went to Africa after that to cool off. After the fate of Yamato, I thought my hopes for Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999 were crushed. But during that time, the proposal book for the Harlock project flowed out into the world.

When we were in Hawaii [January 1978] I saw a proposal book for Star Wars and noticed that an early design for Princess Leia looked a lot like Kei Yuki from Harlock. It was slightly modified and Americanized. Therefore, there was some kind of impact on Star Wars.

[Editor’s note: here Matsumoto is referring to an early design for Luke Skywalker when George Lucas still meant for him to be female.]

Hollywood creators have a brilliant talent for taking in outside influences and turning them into something original.

Interviewer: If the second half of Yamato had been made, it would have taken a year to broadcast.

Matsumoto: Yes. It was like they sabotaged a racing car just before it entered the track. That aroused bitterness. We exchanged a lot of strong words.

Interviewer: What did you think about the popularity when Farewell to Yamato was produced?

Matsumoto: Everyone was killed in the end. In terms of box office performance, a tearjerker does well. But I thought the story could continue for a long time if the characters hadn’t died. That was going to make things difficult.

I hated that ending. I didn’t participate in the voice recording or sound dubbing. I told them, if you insist on doing this, do it at your own risk. And as I expected, they got into trouble. That’s why they resorted to cheap tricks like the resurrection of Captain Okita.

Interviewer: What do you think of Be Forever and Final Yamato?

Matsumoto: Little by little, I stopped participating. I got spiritless and abandoned them. Of course, I looked after important points, such as the story and the art. But Mr. Nishizaki and I have a different approach, and our outlook on the subject of death is different, too. We couldn’t agree on how to fill the ditch [i.e. build the bridge].

And he destroyed and sank Yamato in the end? Maybe he wanted to erase the battleship of my design.

Interviewer: A Character can die and revive again.

Matsumoto: But that’s a strange condition. A story should maintain consistent principles throughout. Mr. Nishizaki does not think that way because he isn’t a writer. Who can enjoy being told to create an impossible story?

Yamato in the Future

Interviewer: About the new work in 2001, it takes place after Farewell to Yamato?

Matsumoto: It is a new story of Yamato, the challenge of a later generation.

Interviewer: Will the lead role still go to Space Battleship Yamato?

Matsumoto: Yes. The names that naturally follow are Yuki Mori and Susumu Kodai. It is entirely about their descendants. Concerning a second Yamato, I thought about changing the name to Mahoroba. It is a similar warship.

[Editor’s note: Super Dimension Battleship Mahoroba was the name of a 1993 Matsumoto manga. See more notes below.]

Interviewer: Harlock, Emeraldas, and Galaxy Express all have a common outlook on the world.

Matsumoto: There is a missing link; Queen Millennia enters into it, too.

Interviewer: The Arcadia might equal Yamato.

Matsumoto: Yes, and the Queen Emeraldas, too. Perhaps the Deathshadow as well.

Interviewer: That would be the Toei TV version of the Arcadia.

Matsumoto: Yes, that and the Deathshadow will appear. The Arcadia is longer now, considerably so. Yamato‘s silhouette will change slightly as well. I will return Yamato to the concept of a grand space voyage, so it will be flashier. But I cannot forget the 3,000 people who were killed in action. They remain heavy on my chest.

Interviewer: It will also take on foreign crewmembers, too…

Matsumoto: That will make it a multinational crew. The Earth originally separated into factions and fought until they eventually became two large camps. But all who board Yamato are referred to as Terrans, and in their resolution to protect Earth, the racial barrier disappears.

Leo Anzai and Matsumoto pose with Liberty Planet’s meter-long Yamato model. The connection? Anzai works for Liberty Planet.

I want to do more with that concept. The country of a race or an ethnic group does not matter. The prototype is in Yamato. The ship carries a tragic fate on its back, but this version of Yamato will expand in both design and story. As for Mahoroba, it is mentioned in Waka [a 31-syllable Japanese poem], so it is in keeping with the story.

Interviewer: But as for Yamato, the crew does not come out of your present manga?

Matsumoto: The crew has not yet been drawn. They are still being considered.

Interviewer: It will be a pleasure to watch it unfold in the future. Thank you very much for your work!

The End

Translator’s note: Mahoroba is an archaic word meaning “Place of Splendor,” similar to the concepts of Avalon or Arcadia in Western lore. Legend has it that the poem Waka was sung by Yamato Takeru, the ancient hero of Japanese folklore from whose name the word Yamato originates. It also means “great peace/harmony,” which is why it was chosen for the flagship of the Japanese navy.

Mahoroba was also an apocryphal battleship of World War II in the Super-Yamato class which was never built. Thus in many ways it is the successor to the original Yamato. A poem in Matsumoto’s Mahoroba manga links the two by stating that Yamato is the future of the world and Earth is the future of the Universe. In this context, Mahoroba can also mean “Vision of the Future.”

Continue to the next Matsumoto article: 1999 interview from This is Manga!

This was just a taste of things to come. Click here to see what became of Matsumoto’s New Yamato concept

Click here to see Leiji Matsumoto’s Super Dimension Battleship Mahoroba in a video mash-up

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