Monthly Animation: Yoshinobu Nishizaki interview

The Militaristic Critique is an Adult Viewpoint

In the world of anime, there aren’t many people willing to talk about certain things like Yoshinobu Nishizaki. It takes skill to make a big hit like Space Battleship Yamato. But with moneymaking comes criticism, such as the charge that Yamato is militaristic. Thus, I wanted to hear Mr. Nishizaki’s true intentions for myself and undertook this interview. I spoke with him at Office Academy…

It is Nationalism, but not Militarism

Interviewer: How is Be Forever Yamato different from its two predecessors?

Nishizaki: Mr. Matsumoto’s original idea was to place it 200 years in the future with Earth in a civil war. I was uncertain about this, since it would undercut the meaning of our original collaberation. Namely, it would place the concept entirely in the hands of one person. There were two themes he wanted to have this time, one about manned machines and another about unmanned machines.

Interviewer: What do you mean, “unmanned?”

Nishizaki: In other words, the theme would be about how the world had progressed to being run by unmanned machines. We had already dealt with the idea that machines didn’t control people, not even Yamato itself. The idea that the future Earth would get into a civil war over that seemed like it had been prevented. Finding a way to connect that with the story of Yamato was most difficult.

Interviewer: This is old news, but after the first movie was edited together from the TV series, Mr. Matsumoto was reluctant to make a Part 2.

Nishizaki: It was my idea to make the second movie. Because Mr. Matsumoto didn’t like the death of Kodai and Yuki, Yamato 2 was made for TV. After that, it was my idea to make The New Voyage. So this new movie is our sixth work.

Interviewer: It will be necessary to do something quite different this time, since you’ve already shown Kodai and Yuki being killed with Yamato.

Nishizaki: To conclude what I was saying before, the previous five works have been basically treated as my concept. Mr. Matsumoto and I agreed that would both create new stories based on that. I asked him to contribute his ideas in writing rather than word of mouth. While writing the script based on them, I imbued it with Yamato elements, such as the melodrama.

That part is my creation, so the difference this time was in our style of collaberation. Previous stories were created by many people working together from my original plans. This time, Mr. Matsumoto did his writing near the end of last year and the hardest part of my job was how to make it “Yamato-ish.”

Interviewer: How would you describe a Yamato story?

Nishizaki: There are a lot of elements, but Yamato has consistently been a drama about youth and love. It is in the realm of science-fiction, but its main goal is to explore love. If I had to narrow it down, that would be it.

Interviewer: What about the problem of Yamato being a machine? I think this will lead to the criticism of being militaristic, but Yamato is a warship. Please talk about that.

Nishizaki: I’m at a loss when I hear it said that Yamato is just a ship. I’ve said this many times, but the real point is that it flies. I originally thought of it as an aircraft carrier, but I couldn’t write a drama about a ship that stays behind while the planes fly off. Thus I decided to make it a battleship and then made it the Yamato. That’s the simplest way to say it.

Interviewer: Because that battleship was the symbol of Japan?

Nishizaki: Isn’t that a generational issue? For me, the war ended when I was in my 5th year of elementary school. That’s why I chose that title. I think there is a difference between nationalism and militarism.

Interviewer: Please go on.

Nishizaki: There are often strong misconceptions about race. For example, when the US aircraft carrier Nimitz recently came to Nagasaki, all the kids said it looked cool. We felt the same way when we were kids. There was pride in the fact that this was the entire world’s strongest warship. It is a simple matter for a child to admire strength; I think the problem is in how that strength is used. The word Yamato is not just the name of a battleship, it refers reverentially to the venerable history of Japan itself.

Judge me as someone who used SF to talk about love for the first time

Interviewer: You said it was a generational issue. What kinds of things were important to you as a child? I mean, the generation before yours had Shonen [Boy] Club magazine.

Nishizaki: There were some war-propoganda manga, but I didn’t read Shonen Club. And I don’t remember which books were popular. But when I was growing up as a junior high student I read novels by Jyuza Unno, Youichiro Minami, and Hitomi Takagaki. [Editor’s note: Takagaki was commissioned by Nishizaki to write the Space Battleship Yamato “Hot Blood” novelization, which was published a year before this interview.]

I also read Tatsukawa Bunko [Translator’s note: historical tales of battles, warriors, and rogues; a popular literary genre since the 17th century]. I think the only mangas I read were Tako no Hachan, Bouken Dankichi, and Norakuro.

From left to right: manga covers for Tako no Hachan (about an Octopus),
Bouken Dankichi (“Lucky Dan Adventure”) and Norakuro (about a black cat).

Interviewer: They were from before the war.

Nishizaki: That’s right. It was from 1953 to 1955 that American culture was established here. I went through junior high school before that, and we had no notion of forming our own spirit. By the time I went to University, music was coming in from around the world. The days of my youth were filled with rumba, mambo, and rock. You might say I was baptized in the early modern culture.

I put the things I liked about it into Yamato, but you know it has only been 35 years since the end of World War II. The nature of Japanese people won’t change very quickly because our race has at least 1300 years of history since the 7th century.

[Translator’s note: Japan is thought to have began as a unified nation in the 7th century. Taking into account the birth-myth of the nation, Emperor Jinmu founded Japan in 660 BC, but remains of civilized culture go back beyond 2800 BC.]

Interviewer: But you have both [ancient and modern sensibilities].

Nishizaki: Yes, they both mixed well in me. Therefore I take great care with the old tradition and bring in the new with music and other aspects. I think I was born at a good time to understand both. When I talk to those who didn’t go to college until the 60s or 70s under the US/Japan Security Treaty, I feel a little sorry for them.

Interviewer: Why is that?

Nishizaki: In that period, all of Japanese history was denied, especially that which took place after the Meiji Era [1868 onward]. Kids were taught to believe that all of Japanese culture was evil, so they concluded that Japan was responsible for the war and took on the opposing ideology. It may have been a natural conclusion for them, but I think they didn’t have the opportunity to cultivate their own sense of identity, the kind that is accrued by understanding the history of Japan. I mean, I feel pity for those who spent their youth in such a miserable period.

Today’s teenagers still have the opportunity to look back over the past. I know it may sound impertinent, but I believe the Japanese people of the future will do this.

[Translator’s note: it was amazing that Nishizaki would say such a thing in 1980; statements such as this were taboo even then and could have made him a target for Japan’s radical communists.]

Interviewer: What is it in this generation that you want Yamato to appeal to?

Nishizaki: There is a love theme that flows consistently through Yamato. If I am to be judged, I want it to be for making an SF anime about love. It’s consistently a story about young love.

Interviewer: I think it’s hard to please everyone, but isn’t it natural for adults to criticize a story for boys and girls that simplifies the point of love?

Nishizaki: It is also about the love of men and women, more than just the assumption of a physical bond. I want boys and girls to understand that there are different forms of love. I make Yamato for boys and girls who dream about the future, otherwise it could not be made at all. I think the criticism comes from those who consider 12 to 14 year-olds as the target audience and see it as militaristic. Therefore, I don’t worry too much about what adults think.

Interviewer: You mean, the important thing is to tell boys to believe in love, and Yamato and the war story is just a backdrop for that?

Nishizaki: Everyone has a combative side, because it’s the deepest fundamental instinct of human beings. Action movies include many genres, from war stories to police stories. I wonder why certain people always level criticism only at war stories? I truly believe that the main thing to be observed is what the characters do in a story. Criticizing us for using war as a backdrop is total nonsense that I cannot understand.

Interviewer: What do you think about war itself?

Nishizaki: I never thought it was a good thing. It has never been my intention to use war as a means of telling a story. But you know, nobody would watch if it wasn’t an action drama. I did play soldier when I was a kid, it became kind of a sport. Among boys, the spirit of rivalry grows as they grow up. That is to say, every human has a natural combative instinct to survive, and nobody can deny it.

The New Criticism that Maniacs Spoil Animation

[Editor’s note: in 1980, “maniacs” was used in the same way “otaku” is employed today. Essentially, it means “fanatic.”]

Interviewer: Can love survive after a fight?

Nishizaki: In Farewell to Yamato and The New Voyage, the basic spirit is of self-sacrifice. A lot of characters died to express this in a clear way. I came pretty close to it myself (laugh).

Since the telefeature was much shorter than the TV series, however, we were not able to have a detailed expression of love and self-sacrifice. Therefore, I give my unqualified approval to Mr. Matsumoto when he says young people will do everything they can to survive. But how could we explore this theme for 26 episodes without the death of a hero? That was my feeling.

In this next movie, there is another self-sacrifice that works very well because it advances mutually with the love theme; they support each other. That was what I always wanted to write. The drama comes out of separating Kodai and Yuki, which was my idea in contrast with Mr. Matsumoto’s SF concept.

People of the Earth believe in each other to the end, and they think about it on a scale of the universe, and that’s why the Earth is the most beautiful planet. Today is an age in which doubt begets doubt, so having faith in each other is an important theme. With this in mind, I thought it was important to keep both Kodai and Yuki alive.

Though a paradigm changes with the generations, I want this generation to get from Yamato what I got from the work of an earlier generation. So I take great care to preserve its image, to keep it alive. I think it’s a mistake to write only for a single age group. So it’s a mistake to assume that the target audience is strictly 12 to 14 year-olds.

Interviewer: When I saw Toward the Terra, a trailer for Yamato came on before it, and I heard laughter from the audience. What do you think of that?

Nishizaki: I didn’t see it. I can’t say very much about the recent trend of anime fans turning into maniacs. But I think it’s extremely important for creators not to cater to the maniacs and disregard everyone else. I wouldn’t want to make something that could only be understood by members of a fan club.

Anime is a complete work, starting from a script that leads to a picture combined with various other elements like storyboard, designs, music, etc. So if it comes out badly after all that work and attention, the reason can only be poor direction.

Interviewer: Whether you make an anime or a live-action movie, aren’t the maniacs a natural part of the culture?

Nishizaki: I don’t like that criticism because it focuses on such a small part of the process. Yamato is basically there to be enjoyed. We can get into discussions about technology and terminology and analysis and theory, but I don’t think that’s what it should be about.

Ghandi = the ideal of Love; Someday I want to write about the love of all mankind

Interviewer: Recently, there was a controversial story in Asahi Shimbun about “living machines.”

Nishizaki: The reporter who wrote that mistook me for the producer of Galaxy Express, so I won’t comment on it.

A Wave-Motion Engine from Iscandar was required to travel 148,000 light years, and we needed to add a wave-motion supercharger to travel 40 million light years. That’s a machine that contributes to the reality [of the story]. But I think more about what’s needed to drive the human story. I thought the charm of Yamato was the ease of coming and going in space. But we took time to reflect on this and intended to do it more properly.

Interviewer: What do you think about [the movie] Toward the Terra?

Nishizaki: I haven’t seen it yet, but I did read the original story a while ago. They will have to drastically reduce the number of scenes to keep it interesting.

I’ve always wanted to do a long scene without a single cut, but I think that’s very difficult. Anime doesn’t have the solidity or strength of live-action because it’s an accumulation of stills supplemented by music. This might work if it was done as farce.

Interviewer: You made a thick planning book for Yamato in 1974. How did you feel when you carried it around with you?

Nishizaki: It’s a sweet old memory. I had great enthusiasm. I firmly believed I would attract a great deal of attention from all over Japan.

Interviewer: I have yet to see a planning book more gorgeous than that one.

Nishizaki: Only one copy remains in the archives now. The four major agencies it went to have all thrown theirs away. The fact that it was simply discarded is mortifying. We all doubted our abilities back then, but we made up for it with our enthusiasm at the studio in Sakuradai.

Interviewer: You talked about the many different kinds of love. What is your ideal image for perfect love?

Nishizaki: When humans live together, even if it is only two people, there is always a clash of interests. It is impossible for people to accept each other without some kind of resistance. It is human nature and our history is built by it. So the true ideal image for perfect love is Ghandi-style humanity. To abolish war and to bring the ultimate peace to the world, every human must become like him. I want to write about that theme someday.

Interviewer: Thank you very much for your time

(interview conducted on June 10)

There is an American style of interviewing in which a person is provoked into revealing their true intentions. From that viewpoint, readers of this interview may be dissatisfied. But it wouldn’t be a true interview if I were to place limits on the dialogue between myself and Mr. Nishizaki. If you have understood his way of thinking for Yamato, then this interview was a success.

The End

Special thanks to Tsuneo Tateno for translation assistance

Continue to the next article

Return to the Be Forever Time Machine

Continue to our next Nishizaki article: 1980 essay on the making of Be Forever Yamato

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