Monthly Animation: Leiji Matsumoto interview

One of the criticisms against Yamato is that the writing lacks consistency. Until now, Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki has been the one to stand in the path of the arrows. But to be fair, Yamato is supported by two pillars, Nishizaki and Leiji Matsumoto, and both men must be consulted to form a fair view.

Therefore, the Yamato questions we posed to Mr. Nishizaki were similarly thrown to Mr. Matsumoto. Between these two interviews, we hope to get the comments of both men in order to inform our critique. (The Editorial Staff)

Is a hero character one’s alter ego, or just a pawn?

Interviewer: How did you become involved with Yamato?

Matsumoto: Mr. Nishizaki created the skeleton of Asteroid Ship and developed it into the story of Yamato traveling to Iscandar to retrieve the radiation removal device. I became involved from there and took it further, establishing the characters. Therefore, I think that the mood and story of the finished product became my work.

Cover art for the early and final editions of the TV series presentation book

Interviewer: After the TV series, the next version was the compilation movie made for theatres, but you did not work on that.

Matsumoto: I was not involved. It is remarkably different; the main emphasis was changed. But I didn’t lose any sleep over that, since it was the work of an editor.

Interviewer: It seems that the ending scene of Farewell to Yamato diverged from your idea.

Matsumoto: When I create a story, I don’t want to decide at the beginning that a main character will die. In other words, there’s a difference between treating a character as one’s other self rather than a pawn.

Interviewer: Certainly some writers feel differently about that.

Matsumoto: Yes, but I feel that if my character has human blood, it is indivisible from my own. Creating sympathy becomes a question of the writer’s ability. I understand there is some popularity to be gained from provoking tears, but it would be quite disappointing for anyone who had an attachment to that character.

Interviewer: However, everything has revived for this year’s film.

Matsumoto: It’s still alive, but now there is this strange, disconnected story.

Interviewer: So should this next one be regarded as a Matsumoto concept?

Matsumoto: In general, I drew the line from the drama of Yamato‘s voyage to the meaning of the conclusion, which was not in the original draft. But my collaberation with Mr. Nishizaki this time is a bit thinner. This was our mutual intention, so I want to make that distinction.

Matsumoto (and Nishizaki) at various promotional events for Be Forever, summer 1980

Interviewer: Has the theme and the technique changed during the boom of the last five years?

Matsumoto: Clearly, we were dissatisfied in some ways with our previous work; we were well aware of our shortcomings. Therefore, the mode of expression changes from moment to moment.

Interviewer: On that basis, what will be your next work?

Matsumoto: Something original. In any established work, there is the need to make sure the foundations are understood by everyone on the production, and there is also the problem of not knowing what is still possible. You can’t always explore a character’s life or build up to a dramatic climax in a way that stays consistent.

You can either depict a hero according to your own desires or include some dramatic element just to illicit sympathy. Opinions are divided.

We take maximum care, but it’s still up to the individual viewer

Interviewer: What do you think of the criticism that Yamato is militaristic?

Matsumoto: It’s an unavoidable problem in the case of something like Yamato. I don’t think it’s a criticism if it just refers to the way ships are depicted moving and fighting. The most important part is the presentation. In the beginning I argued that we should name it Spaceship Yamato rather than Space Battleship, but so it goes.

I think the militaristic aspect is in the eye of the beholder, such as a person who places the fate of the original battleship above everything else. But if the definition of militarism is fighting, that’s another problem. A difficult one. At that point, it’s up to the individual viewer.

For example, some equate warships with methodical discipline, sometimes to the point of fascism. But those of another generation might not make that bitter connection. No matter what ship we used, we would have invited misunderstanding in some form.

Interviewer: Even if the same war is dealt with in your Battlefield manga series, there aren’t many who criticize that for being militaristic.

Various volumes from the Battlefield series; three of the stories were animated for The Cockpit (1994).

Matsumoto: The tone and the main characters are clearly different. In that case, the heroes have thoughts and concerns from the standpoint of individuals. In Yamato, the commander became the main character because of the chain of command on a spaceship. Therefore, the difference in atmosphere is decided by the characters at the forefront. The style of Yamato is fundamentally different in this case.

However, I think it’s unavoidable that a commander will come forward when thinking about Yamato as one big organism. When I think of another example, there is no charge of militarism against America’s Star Trek even though the Enterprise is named after a real aircraft carrier. The Enterprise is sort of the Yamato for America, and Americans understand its meaning. We feel intensely about Yamato, so it is unavoidable.

Interviewer: Can your attitude be simply described as anti-war even though you depict it openly and have your favorite battles?

Matsumoto: In the Battlefield manga series, I wanted to present characters whose futures were tragically lost, regardless of whether they are young or old. But there was a different opportunity in Yamato. We could show the private, personal side of war from the viewpoint of one who wants to be a good soldier. That perspective is important. Therefore, the Battlefield series is beyond nationalism since the subject is mankind and the stories of individual men.

Interviewer: How is it that two people with different thoughts could make a single work?

Matsumoto: If it lacks coherence, it’s because the two sides negotiated badly. When that negotiation goes well, it becomes very mysterious.

Interviewer: Can a writer become dissatisfied if they don’t have enough claim over the work?

Matsumoto: It was very frustrating. The reason I allowed myself to continue with the series was because Yamato was my first animation work. And my work is like my child. I will never say “I won’t do any more” or “I quit drawing,” because my work will live on as long as I do.

Interviewer: Did this work depend on the reputation of Battleship Yamato?

Matsumoto: No, it would have been the same story [if it were another ship]. The common image of Yamato passed on from generation to generation did not accompany it. With that name attached, I think people get a better understanding of the suffering. Whether a person loves or hates Space Battleship Yamato, its image is clear. No matter which way the pendulum swings, it’s an excellent, evocative image.

Interviewer: What written SF works influenced you as a boy?

Matsumoto: I was strongly affected by Jyuza Unno, Yoichiro Minami, HG Wells, and Arthur Conan-Doyle.

Interviewer: Was their influence reflected in your work?

Matsumoto: It was. But other than the use of a character name, I think Yamato is the exception. [Translator’s note: Captain Jyuzo Okita was partially named after author Jyuza Unno.]

Good or bad, my hobbies always impress themselves on my work. On Yamato, my hobby for designing machinery such as weapons and communicators can be seen in every detail. It was one part of the project I really enjoyed.

A lot of attention has been given to the controversies, my occasional hot temper. I wish more was given to things that were not publicized.

Interviewer: Speaking of your hobby, how does Mr. Matsumoto the mecha maniac feel about the “soul of machinery?” [Translator’s note: an animistic view toward man-made objects]

Matsumoto: There are many ways to say it, and I think it’s a profound thing. It’s the issue of how you instill character into a mecha. Just drawing them realistically won’t accomplish this. It is an issue of deep expression of human beings and includes the machine’s relationship to the human who operates it.

Interviewer: You have a lot to say about the relationship of machines and human beings.

Matsumoto: Yes, a machine can only exist following the birth of human beings, and becomes a companion for life. Even when the blood and sweat of a human combines with the oil and crystal of a machine, a machine would still regard the human as superior. If humans disappear, machines will no longer work.

A machine is renewable, and can move separately from the human spirit if it is passed on to another hand. But the human mind is not transmitted elsewhere at death. A machine can be destroyed, but it can then be reproduced and may work differently when another person uses it. But the heart and the will of a human won’t be inherited when they die. So I believe we can destroy machines, but not humans. That was my original intent when we made Yamato.

Interviewer: From the standpoint of a writer, the changing relationship between machines and human beings must be interesting.

Matsumoto: It is. Drawing what I want and seeing people understand it is a lot of fun and makes life worth living. But I never depict pure good or pure evil or true love. I get upset when people misunderstand me about those things. From one point of view, I sometimes write cold-heartedly.

A love someone believes is true may not be true for others. That’s the reason drama gets fatalistic. True love for everyone cannot exist. When people marry for love, some suffer from broken hearts. I think the drama comes from depicting such a relationship

We owe a great deal to maniacs, but we can’t make good works if we only pander to them.

Interviewer: What aspects distinguish Galaxy Express from Yamato, and what do they have in common?

Matsumoto: The main characters’ way of life is consistently the same. But I have a free hand with Galaxy Express and I can do anything I want with it. Every Yamato mecha, however, must go through a group of writers. Also, Galaxy Express and the Battlefield series feature individuals in everyday situations. So while the stories are scaled down, other things get scaled up.

Interviewer: What is the age group for it?

Matsumoto: I don’t know, and I don’t really worry about it. In this case, I think the age group is considerably younger. But it is not limited to them.

Interviewer: What do you think of the criticism that anime is for obsessive maniacs? [Translator’s note: this piece was published before the word ‘Otaku’ entered common use.]

Matsumoto: That’s embarrassing, because I am one! (Laughter) I can’t help but pay my respects, because a large number of them is needed to actually make anime. So whether or not they are worthy of praise, I have to take their side. Whenever we watch a movie, something in it appeals to our mania and we watch with single-minded innocence. Such aspects are in the realm of personal taste that others may not criticize. I think a mania can exist with full freedom.

People who call themselves maniacs watch so many things. It is possible that they become biased, but on a technical level they have keen appreciation and they improve their ability to judge things in their field. But we can’t make a good work if we only pander to such people. They may throw stones at me for saying this, but it’s my attitude. They are an important part of our audience and their opinions often provide me with useful information.

Interviewer: There is a pattern in the way you draw women. What is your view of women?

Matsumoto: Those who come are welcome, those who leave are not regretted. Never bring shame on a man. An angel by day and a prostitute by night. Kind-hearted and warm-hearted. And a woman who will live forever in my memory, that’s the ideal.

Interviewer: Your outlook on death?

Matsumoto: All people will die, and should live life to the fullest. Therefore, you should not take death lightly. Asking if a person would die for others is nonsense. Depending on the situation, the person can choose for themselves.

Interviewer: By the way, I recently went to see Toward the Terra and heard some laughter when a trailer for Farewell to Yamato came on.

Matsumoto: That’s not playing any more. It must have been a mistake.

Interviewer: I recognized it from the original promotion. It said no further Yamato stories would be made.

Matsumoto: Why did that happen? That’s strange. It was a mistake to say that. It was a catch-phrase for advertising. I thought it was going to be trouble.

Interviewer: It’s been said that Mr. Nishizaki is good at making money.

Matsumoto: He is gifted, no question. But I have no comment on his specialty. I always tell him not to encroach on my specialty as an author.

Interviewer: What do you think of the trend toward a “new human race?”

Matsumoto: I hate it from the bottom of my heart. I won’t blame others who use it [in their writing], but I would never make a mutant into a primary character. If we could turn a tide simply by being more evolved, everyone in the world would be free from suffering by now. I believe that humans do great things out of need. Maybe the concept is accepted as science-fiction, but I have an instinctive dislike for it.

Interviewer: What is the highlight of this new film?

Matsumoto: The biggest highlight will be the conclusion, including where they go and how they end the entire Yamato series. And what happens on the way will be another visual thrill. Honestly, my astronomy-mania is displayed here in a different way. Nevertheless, I can’t hide it in Galaxy Express.

Interviewer: Tell me about some plot twists.

Matsumoto: There is a place to which Yamato will go in the latter half which will remind you of something you saw before. After that, it’s a world no one ever saw, not even in Star Trek or The Black Hole.

Interviewer: Can you be more specific?

Matsumoto: One point is a realization that their own existence created their enemy. If they didn’t exist, their enemy wouldn’t exist. So they feel that they should never have been born. The story investigates the emptiness of that horrific fact, and brings despair over the purpose of Yamato‘s voyage.

But I’m working in cooperation with Mr. Nishizaki. I wrote my idea directly and clearly. How he twists my idea is my main worry.

Interviewer: Thank you (interview conducted on June 10, 1980).

A few days before I visited Matsumoto’s house for this interview, he slipped in a hotel bathroom and cracked three of his ribs. He is a 42-year old man, which many believe to be the age of bad luck. Based on the rush of Mr. Matsumoto’s activity of the past four or five years, he is not an average man. But sometimes the body cannot keep up. He conducted this interview while enduring the pain of a bandage being wrapped around his chest. I think just the act of breathing was painful for him.

We thank him for talking so much about Yamato and other things. Take care of yourself, Matsumoto-san.

The End

Special thanks to Tsuneo Tateno for translation assistance

Continue to the next article

Return to the Be Forever Time Machine


Matsumoto’s story treatment for the first TV series

1976 interview from Fantoche Magazine

Matsumoto’s story treatment for Farewell to Yamato

1978 interview from Kinejun Magazine

1978 essay from Maru Magazine

Matsumoto’s story treatment for Be Forever Yamato

1980 interview from OUT Magazine

1983 essay from Yamato Perfect Manual 2

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