Yamato in 1977: how history was made

The story behind the unprecedented success of the first Space Battleship Yamato movie is a story for all time. It is not an exaggeration to say that it serves as a pivot point for the entire anime art form, a point of historical convergence that may never come again. Fortunately, someone wrote it all down before it could be lost.

Morihiko Saito (1961-2017) has been described as Japan’s best film journalist, writing for movie magazines ranging from Kinejun to Japan’s edition of Starlog. Since becoming a press reporter in 1987, he broadened his focus beyond the content of films to examine the related topics of distribution, promotion, box office, and everything else both upstream and downstream. He wrote ten books on the Japanese movie industry, which can be seen here.

On November 2, 2012, Knowledge Four published a book collection titled The Law of Anime Hit Movies that collected many of Saito’s articles from 2004 to 2011 that analyzed the performance of such anime films as Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Evangelion. A lover of all movie genres, Saito was there to see the 1977 Yamato movie as a teenager, and the first chapter of his book was entirely devoted to the film. He attacked as both a journalist and an OG fan, digging deep for interviews found nowhere else and writing with a passion that only a devotee could bring to the table.

Here is the entire chapter, originally published in May, 2009.

Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki, 1977

The screening of Space Battleship Yamato was independently decided by the entertainment company

“I want to borrow the Tokyu Masterpiece for one week,” said Producer Nishizaki

Space Battleship Yamato, the starting point of “cool anime,” premiered in theaters in the summer of 1977. There were a number of moments in the background that led up to the screening. After the Yamato TV series ended with low ratings, Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki planned to show an edited version in theaters. His offer to Tokyu Recreation was “I want to borrow the Tokyu Masterpiece for one week.” [Tokyu Masterpiece was a theater in Shibuya, Tokyo.] After seeing a preview, the Tokyu side said in effect, “We’d like to screen it in four Tokyo theaters as a summer program.”

This is one of the moments I want to examine based on the testimony of those who were involved at the time; the movement of box office officials who ran movie theaters and on-the-spot promotional development.

The screening of Yamato, enabled by the “agility” of Tokyu Recreation

It is said that Nishizaki made his Yamato offer after giving a preview to Tokyu Recreation after Golden Week [a national holiday] in May 1977. The preview was attended by Directors Suzuo Horie (entertainment department) and Chuichi Musha (organization department), who were both very interested in the project and evaluated it highly, hoping to show it to their in-house camp.

Before digging deeper into this moment and the entertainment company called Tokyu Recreation, it will be necessary to explain positioning in the movie market at the time. In 1977, Tokyu Rec owned the Shibuya Pantheon and the Shinjuku Milano, large Tokyo theaters with more than 1,000 seats. They had four facilities in Shibuya: Shibuya Pantheon, Shibuya Tokyo, Tokyu Rex, and the Tokyu Masterpiece. They had three more in Shinjuku: Shinjuku Milano, Tokyu Shinjuku, and Masterpiece Milano. In addition, they had roadshow theaters in districts along the Yamanote train line such as Ginza Tokyu, Ikebukuro Tokyu, and Ueno Tokyu.

Tokyu Milano in Shinjuku, Shibuya Pantheon in Shibuya (districts in Tokyo)

It often generally seems that owners and managers choose all the works shown in movie theaters, but this was different. I don’t know about independent theaters, but in companies like Shochiku, Toho, Toei, and Tokyu Rec with multiple sales offices, the decisions are generally made by the head of programming. Usually, the trading partner of the entertainment company is a distributor that supplies films, making it possible to debut a film in a movie theater.

It was often assumed that new films shown in large theaters such as Tokyu Rec’s Pantheon and Milano would get nationwide releases, and since they didn’t operate any theaters outside Tokyo, they partnered with Shochiku in the Shochiku/Tokyu Committee for deployment in other areas.

Shochiku and Tokyu responded to the demands of distribution companies by creating “tuned” theaters. Advertising often included the phrase “Opening nationwide through the Shochiku and Tokyu system,” an entity made up of “tuned” movie theaters managed by both companies. Among “tuned” theaters, a single theater played a key role as the “tunemaster.” The entertainment company that ran the theater decided what they would screen. For example, the Marunouchi Piccadilly theater is a “tunemaster” for the Shochiku/Tokyu system. Shochiku manages it and decides on the programming. The Marunouchi Toei is a “tunemaster” because it is directly managed by Toei. In the case of the Pantheons, Tokyu Rec “set the tune” by deciding the programming for the Shibuya Pantheon, and the Shochiku/Tokyu Committee made necessary adjustments.

Nishizaki initially hoped to show Yamato at the Tokyu Masterpiece in one-week event for fans. (In accordance with its name, the Masterpiece showed older films, and was occasionally used when film releases were expanded to incorporate more screens.) However, Tokyu’s Director Horie suggested screening it in four Ginza Tokyu theaters.

The tuned theaters in the Ginza Tokyu system consisted of the Shibuya Tokyu Rex, Ikebukuro Tokyu, and Shinjuku Toei Palace, with Ginza Tokyu as the “tunemaster.” However, in the case of this “tune,” most of the annual programming was B-movies rather than the masterpieces shown at the Pantheon or Milano theaters. In the year before Yamato, they had gotten good results from B-grade SF movies such as The Land That Time Forgot and At the Earth’s Core, and the distribution revenue was around the 1.3 to 1.5 million yen level ($13,000 – $15,000). In other words, when considering a Yamato screening, Tokyu Rec judged that to be its box office value.

Still, it may be said that a “tune” screening during summer vacation could be a wise decision. The income from these theaters could have a great impact on the managers at Tokyu Rec, which directly managed theaters in Tokyo. The failure of a film choice could lead to an equal decline.

However, if you consider the alternative, it also holds that “an agile viewpoint doesn’t need to assume performance on a nationwide scale.” In those days, grade-A films that were booked into Toho’s Hibiya theater, or which were handled by the Shochiku/Tokyu partnership, were founded upon the premise of nationwide-scaled releases. In the case of Yamato, Tokyu Rec’s unique decision-making was a result of their agility.

Regarding this, we have the comment of a box-office official who was involved in the screening of Yamato at the time:

“Back then, in terms of “tuned” films, Shochiku/Tokyu’s Pantheon system was at the top. Below that were the Marunouchi Piccadilly system and the Ginza Tokyu system. They were lower in terms of programming, but that made it easier to do new projects.”

In addition, Nishizaki also had a connection at the Min-on Concert Association, a music society founded in 1963 to organize performances and handle ticket sales. Advance tickets released by Min-on created a box office guarantee, indicating that a film could be shown in multiple theaters during summer vacation.

“I think the [Tokyu] company got on board because there was also that. Otherwise, there would be nothing on which to base the summer vacation box office. Min-on’s ticket sales force was amazing at the time. They sold tens of thousands, and hundreds of thousands of tickets. That became a plus because of the advance tickets sold for theaters.”

In other words, the advance tickets Nishizaki sold through Min-on gave Tokyu Rec a performance guarantee. But when we lift the lid, we find the audience was so large that no guarantees were necessary.

Tokyu Rec’s understanding of anime movies had come from screenings of Walt Disney’s 101 Dalmations and Sleeping Beauty in the 60s, in addition to Mushi Pro’s films 1001 Nights and Cleopatra, released through Japan Herald Distribution. These were anime films that had a good track record for targeting adults. The company had been paying attention for some time to the possibilities of the anime movie business.

Why Yamato was enthusiastically supported by those in their forties

It’s worth pointing something out with regard to this “wise decision.” According to one of those who was involved at the time, “If I’m not mistaken, Mr. Horie was in his forties in those days, and since he would have had some experience with the war, he would surely have a special feeling about the Battleship Yamato flying through the sky.

Now we see that this seemed to be in the background when Horie and Musha evaluated Yamato in the preview. After Yamato became a big hit, an interview with Nishizaki was published in Kinejun magazine, by then-editor in chief Kazuo Kuroi.

In it, Kuroi said, “Strangely, when I gather the impressions of those who saw the film, those in their twenties are ambivalent, but by contrast those in their teens and their forties give it overwhelming support. It brings out the difference in the generations…I get it because I’m the same age [both Kuroi and Nishizaki were 42 at the time], but the concept of this movie comes from our generation.”

I think this makes the point that Yamato’s theatrical release was made possible by the feelings of people who experienced war.

[Read the entire Kinejun article here.]

One of the fateful drawbacks of a box office company is the tendency toward taking a passive stance, simply waiting for works to be lined up by a distributor. There’s no law that says a movie theater and a box office company can’t make a deal directly with a producer without the distributor’s involvement (though it is shunned as a business practice).

Tokyu Recreation broke that custom in 1977 by accepting Yamato independently, assessing its box office value, and working with the producer to make it a hit. It was extremely unusual at the time.

Proposal package created by Nishizaki’s West Cape Corporation

A nationwide grassroots strategy for 50,000 fans

Beyond releasing a work in a commercial theater, publicity is necessary. Tokyu Rec’s Director Horie introduced Nishizaki to Masaya Tokuyama, who belonged to the publicity department of Major Enterprise (currently called Major), and advised that he be put in charge of publicity.

“I hadn’t seen much anime before then, and had never been involved with it,” Tokuyama said. Prior to that, he had been in charge of publicity for foreign films such as Taxi Driver. When asked “Why did you take on publicity for Yamato?” he answered flatly, “Because it was a job. But at the time Major was only a publicity agency for movies. (Laugh)” At any rate, Nishizaki accepted Horie’s advice, and Tokuyama would do the promotion for his first anime movie through Major.

What did Tokuyama do first?

“We did advertising not for the general audience, but to target Yamato fans nationwide. We couldn’t afford to advertise in newspapers, so we put notices in sports newspapers (dedicated to entertainment) like Sports Nippon, and they went out in June.”

Early newspaper coverage, June and July 1977

I was able to find an ad on microfilm in the National Library; in Sports Nippon dated June 16, 1977, it included the big catchphrase, “All Yamato fans in Japan! We will establish an office for a Yamato fan club. Please tell us about your activities by letter or phone. (We are thinking of providing cels and other materials.)”

Below that was the address and telephone number of Academy Co. Ltd, Nishizaki’s office at the time. It was definitely an ad that targeted fans.

I was 16 at the time, and formed a fan club with friends in my hometown of Hamamatsu called Space Battleship Yamato Fan Club Arcadia, and we published doujinshis [fanzines]. One night, a friend at the center of the club called me and said in an excited voice, “I just got a phone call from Nishizaki’s company!” We were obsessed with this work, and it was a phone call from the company of the producer. For local high school students, this had the impact of heaven and earth being overturned.

“What happened?”

“They’re sending Yamato cels…”

To be exact, there were conditions for being sent cels as presents, so what was the purpose of Tokuyama making phone calls to local high school students?

Tokuyama answers, “We wanted them to post something in their magazines like, ‘This Yamato movie will be released’ or to request theme songs and insert songs on radio programs. We wrote thousands of letters to ask fans nationwide.”

Grass roots marketing promo kit with free ticket

It was said that there were 50,000 Yamato fans across the nation at the time, and Nishizaki tried to develop a grassroots strategy.

To support Tokuyama’s testimony that “Nishizaki cherished his fans back then,” there was no notation of a distribution company in the ads for fans. The only credit was for “Academy Co. Ltd.” Which was rare in those days. Now it is commonplace to release cels and anime production materials to fans, but it was unprecedented at the time to announce it with advertising.

The aim of Nishizaki and Tokuyama was successful. As soon as the ads appeared, advance ticket sales exploded.

Foldout press kit, side A

A press conference “to recognize the word Anime”

If the first step was to advertise by expanding a grassroots movement of fans, what was the next one? A press conference. Why was that? First, Tokuyama explains it this way:

“The word anime is commonly used now, but at the time it was ‘manga.’ It was only recognized as something children watch.”

This was understood. When I was a junior high student, my parents said, “You’re growing up, so graduate from manga,” and I remember them forcing me to “graduate.” Tokuyama continued:

Yamato was obviously different. The target of this work was not children. We thought it was the so-called teenagers in junior high and high school. Therefore it wasn’t ‘manga,’ it was ‘anime.’ From now on, it was the ‘age of anime movies!!’ Starting with the Kudan Grand Palace in Tokyo, we held press conferences in five major cities where Mr. Nishizaki talked a lot.”

Foldout press kit, side B

It’s unbelievable now, but that was the level of public recognition in 1977. When junior high and high school students became enthusiastic about anime, they were labeled as “children who can’t yet graduate from ‘manga’.” I was one of them.

According to Tokuyama’s memory, press conferences were held in several cities including Tokyo in June 1977, but unfortunately I haven’t found any trace of them.

He said something like, “At the meeting place of the press conference, a veteran reporter of Daily Sports asked me, ‘Hey, Toku, what is this anime?” (I searched the microfilm from Daily Sports, but unfortunately I couldn’t find such an article.)

In the “entertainment” column in the evening edition of Yomiuri Shimbun dated June 27, all I found was a small (so called “beta”) article containing only facts: “A movie version of the popular TV anime Space Battleship Yamato will be released in August.” The headline of the article indicated that the turnout for Jaws had been surpassed by two hit works: Mount Hakkoda in Japan and Great Planetary War in the United States, both of which were treated with a lot of photos. Great Planetary War was the temporary name for Director George Lucas’ Star Wars.

America saw the release of Star Wars in the summer of 1977, and it was delayed by one year to come out in Japan in 1978. At this point, there was no reason to know that it would create a favorable wind for Yamato.

After that, an ad was placed in the Yomiuri Shimbun evening edition dated July 18, about a month after the first ads for the fans. As for the absence of a distributor, which concerned the upper management of Tokyu Recreation, it was taken over by the film distribution department of Toei, an affiliate of Tokyu. Nishizaki’s Academy would handle it in Tokyo, and Toei would handle it in other cities.

August 6 was decided as the premiere day, and Tokuyama’s publicity campaign entered its final stage.

From Fantoche magazine. Headline:
America, Europe, and Japan –
bold simultaneous distribution!

Focused on the increasing buzz, a newspaper headline says “Space Battleship Yamato excites the young”

Ahead of the premiere, Masaya Tokuyama and Major were hard at work. Originally, the work of film promotion was to show a preview to concerned parties and release reviews to the media.

“In the case of a Yamato, I did a preview for the media, but I didn’t expect much of an outcome.”

Rather than the content of Yamato, it can be said that expectations for the screenings turned on the upsurge of momentum from the teens, and by spreading that buzz further, the aim was to penetrate and expand on the work’s name recognition

The premiere was set for August 6, but as a result of this approach things began to appear in newspapers and magazines in the middle of July. An article with the headline “Space Battleship Yamato excites the young” appeared in the Yomiuri Shimbun evening edition on July 19, talking about trends such as the Yamato fan club, the movie opening, and sales of the TV soundtrack.

On August 5, the day before the premiere, the Asahi Shimbun evening edition carried the headline “Space Battleship Yamato’s unusual popularity.” Like Yomiuri, it reported on the movie release, record sales, and the popularity of TV reruns.

I remember being in the middle of a real “SF boom” at the time. Star Wars became a big hit when it opened on May 25 in America, but the Japanese release wouldn’t happen until the next summer, in 1978. This was due to circumstances in movie theater organization. As Fox distributed Star Wars over the course of the year, it somehow livened up the topic and created a sense of expectation. The advertising department of Fox’s branch office in Japan grouped Star Wars with other American SF films that hadn’t yet been released in Japan, and took a media approach that said, “A global SF boom is coming!”

But the media couldn’t see American SF movies in Japan, including Star Wars, so when they wondered, “Is there anything else near at hand?” Yamato was right there for them. In other words, the sudden SF boom that was seeded by Star Wars became reality with the appearance of Yamato. My feeling as someone who experienced this was that it became a full-fledged boom by the hand of the media.

I have always wondered about the choice of August 6 as opening day. Schools usually went on summer vacation around July 20. Yamato had already been completed by Golden Week [early May], and Min-on had already given a guarantee for mobilization, so wouldn’t a mid-July premiere have been suitable? When I asked the box-office officials who were involved, the answer came back that this was a courtesy extended to viewers who would come from long distances.

“On the premiere day of August 6, there was a good balance with other programs. We wanted to release the works that would be most successful at the beginning of the season. In the case of summer vacation 1977, it was A Bridge Too Far. This masterpiece came out on July 2 with an advertising budget of 800 million yen (about $8 million), and it even had eight different posters.”

From that I understood that the concept of a “tentpole picture” was already formed on the box office side by this time. Infusing the market with high-value works would revitalize the entire market. Subsequent works were dropped into the market to continue momentum.

On the other hand, a distribution company would refrain from releasing their films on the same day as a competitor. Deciding on the schedule to release a work was discussed between a distributor and the box office and the battle over setting premieres was quite intense, so it was necessary for everyone to adjust their plans. Since Yamato wasn’t a known quantity, it would have been removed from that battle as part of the “balance with other programs.”

Carrying out a cel giveaway for the first time, which is now commonplace at a premiere

Yamato was the prototype for events that are now common, such as giveaways at anime movie premieres. This was never considered with previous “manga movies” (they were not yet called anime movies).

The first fans who were waiting on Yamato’s premiere day had lined up in front of downtown movie theaters such as Ginza Tokyu a few days earlier. They didn’t hesitate to stay up for all-night vigils while waiting for the screening to start. Among the fans who lined up, high school and college students wrote down their names and addresses as they waited, which could be considered the beginning of self-governing among fans. This was a spectacle that hadn’t been seen in traditional movie entertainment, and it goes without saying that Tokuyama didn’t waste a second to promote it to media. However, this was not welcomed by the movie theater side.

A knowledgeable person said back then, “An all-night group vigil appeared a few years earlier when The Exorcist was released, and there was an incident where glass was broken during an uproar at the Shinjuku Piccadilly, and police intervened. I was happy that an all-night sitting group appeared, but I didn’t know how to respond.”

One of the reasons such an all-night group appeared was the announcement that original production cels would be given to the first 70 people on the first three days.

“At the time,” Tokuyama said, “cels were just thrown away, weren’t they?”

In other cases, early visitors received soundtrack records. The initiator of this strategy was Director Horie of Tokyu Recreation.

When it came to Farewell to Yamato, stage greetings by popular voice actors were added, which heated up the opening day even further.

The blocks-long line at Shibuya, opening day

The discovery of selling spinoff products at movie theater concession shops

“I remember that time well. There were two open theaters in the Tokyu center of Shibuya, but the line grew all the way up to Masuzaka Shrine. I thought it was going to be great.” This was the view of Ikuo Aida, who served as the assistant manager at the Shibuya Masterpiece theater.

In fact, the theater that screened Yamato was flooded and made a profit. Usually about half of the ticket sales are designated as theater income (the box office side). In the case of Yamato, souvenir shop sales were added to this.

“Character goods and other products were sold at a stand,” Aida said. “I’d never dealt with such a thing back then. Sales of handkerchiefs were especially good, and we needed to get more and more. Why did they sell so much? There were 20 pieces in one package, and they were sold one at a time, so I had to pull them out of the bag properly and sell them one by one. (Laugh) I wasn’t used to that.”

Although it’s a given that popcorn and cola are seen as part of the viewing experience in modern cinema, products sold at the stands in 1977 weren’t much more than program books, and they didn’t provide a theater with much income. But the sales of Yamato character goods were terrific. “I think about 40% of the box office take came from the souvenir stand,” Aida said.

Anime movies for teens sounded delicious. For theaters, that was the moment when a new source of revenue other than ticket sales was developed.

“The main things sold were character goods, pencases, shopping bags, and stationery. We didn’t originally put out very expensive items. They were 500 yen at most. [About $5.] Since the customers were junior high and high school students, they usually had about 1000 yen to spend. When it came to the Harry Potter era, the customers who came in on the first day were collectors, weren’t they?” This was said with a wry smile by someone who was involved with the screening of Yamato in those days.

Ad for stationery goods from Tokyu Recreation, November 1978.
The headline at the top is the first instance anywhere of the
words “Be Forever Yamato.”

A decision to add screenings in two more Tokyo theaters in the first week adds 900 million yen ($9 million dollars)

The custom in the movie industry is to evaluate a movie’s box-office performance after its first weekend in release. The performance of Space Battleship Yamato, which opened on Saturday August 6, greatly overturned everyone’s expectations. According to the late September ’77 issue of Kinejun magazine, Yamato drew 45,336 people to six Tokyo theaters over its opening weekend with revenue of 46,153,435 yen (over $460,000). It set a new box office record in comparison with the summer’s foreign films by drawing the largest number of people to those six theaters.

Let’s compare that incredible result with recent works. For example, Eureka Seven: a Pocket Full of Rainbows was released in Golden Week 2009 in the same six theaters as Yamato. It drew 6,484 people in its opening weekend with revenue of 10,499,200 yen (about $105,000). At the same time, the Gurren Lagann movie opened in 20 theaters and drew 18,000 people for revenue of just 27,840,000 yen (about $278,000). There was a difference in ticket price, but compared with Eureka, Yamato fully booked the same six screens for both days. Yamato had more than seven times the number of viewers, and more than four times the revenue. Compared to the performance of today’s anime movies, it had tremendous momentum.

This momentum caused two more theaters to be added in Tokyo, the Shinjuku Tokyu and the Marunouchi Toei Palace, which was transitioning from a theater for foreign adult films (starring such actors as Dyanne Thorne) to one for general audiences. These two screens were added to the battle lines on August 13 for the second week, expanding it to eight theaters. It was also screened at two more from the 27th, the Yokohama Piccadilly and the Kawasaki Grand.

Bookings in other areas also gradually expanded. Since publicity about Star Wars was increasing with the film still a year away, theater development went in a favorable direction for Yamato.

Lineup outside a theater in Ueno, Tokyo. See more photos and artifacts from opening day here.

The American film Black Sunday, which was originally to be released on July 30, was cancelled as Yamato’s screens expanded. This may have been due to a threatening letter sent to the distributor saying “If this film is shown I will blow up the theater.” After consideration, both the distributor and box office sides decided to cancel the film. In terms of summer vacation movies, there has been no further example of a big American movie being canceled. Black Sunday had been shown at metropolitan theaters from the end of June along with the Italian horror film Susperia, and since the latter had outperformed expectations it was held over into August. Susperia had not been shown in smaller theaters until then.

Congratulatory plaque issued to Yoshinobu Nishizaki in spring
1978 by the president of Tokyu Recreation, thanking him for his
tremendous efforts.

At the Hamamatsu theater where I saw Yamato, a poster for Black Sunday had gone up as the “next film” to open, and when I asked, “Was the showing of Yamato decided in a hurry after Black Sunday was cancelled?” someone who knew about the situation back then answered, “That’s right. That happened at a few local theaters.”

Yamato continued to run after summer vacation, and as screenings went on, more box-office officials consulted with Nishizaki. One official who was involved said, “Customers naturally fall off after summer vacation, so I was asked to follow up with the giveaways every Saturday and Sunday. I had never done that kind of thing. Repeat viewers were coming in. That was an important thing, since I didn’t think the customers would expand so much.”

Every aspect of Yamato was lucky. Bookings finally spread nationwide, eventually attracting 2.3 million people for a box-office gross of 2.1 billion yen (about $21 million) and distributor revenue of 930 million yen (about $9.3 million). (This data was listed in Tokuma Shoten’s Roman Album #53, Space Battleship Yamato Perfect Manual 1, and is the most reliable figure since the book was published in cooperation with Mr. Nishizaki’s West Cape Corporation.)

By the end of 1977, Yamato placed 9th in the list of top-earning Japanese films behind such fare as Mount Hakkoda and Proof of the Man. At that time, it was the best-performing anime movie in history.

Deep-rooted awareness among those involved: “Yamato ends with Farewell.”

A year after Space Battleship Yamato, Farewell to Yamato premiered on August 5, 1978 to become a massive hit. It attracted 4 million viewers with a box-office gross of 4.3 billion yen (about $43 million) and distributor revenue of 2.21 billion yen (about $22 million), more than doubling the success of its predecessor. With that, major distribution companies had to get involved. Toei, which distributed Farewell, did the same for Galaxy Express 999, an original film by Leiji Matsumoto and Toei Animation, which opened August 4, 1979. A new lineup of theater affiliates formed after the closing of Ginza Tokyu: Tokyu Recreation’s Shibuya Tokyu became the “tunemaster” for Marunouchi Toei Palace, Shinjuku Tokyu, Tokyu Rex, Ikebukuro Tokyu, Shinjuku Toei Palace, and Ueno Tokyu.

To play us out: photos from a contemporary event for fans after the premiere.
Yoshinobu Nishizaki MCs for a live music performance conducted by Hiroshi Miyagawa
with vocals by Isao Sasaki. (Exact date unknown).

After that, the trio of Leiji Matsumoto, Toei Distribution, and Major Enterprise (for publicity) was established as a route for summer vacation anime movies made for teens. Galaxy Express 999 achieved the highest record for Japanese films in 1979 with a gross of 1.63 billion yen (about $16 million). After that came Be Forever Yamato (1980) with 1.37 billion ($13.7 million), Adieu Galaxy Express (1981) with 11.5 billion ($11.5 million), and My Youth in Arcadia (1982) with 650 million ($6.5 million). Other non-summer films such as Final Yamato and Queen Millennia made original Leiji Matsumoto anime movies into an annual program for the Shibuya Tokyu system. Before long, this flow of anime movies for teens led to Director Hayao Miyazaki’s works, such as Nausicaa and Laputa.

When I pointed out to Tokuyama how interesting it was that Yamato and Farewell led to original Leiji Matsumoto works, he answered, “And Yamato was supposed to end with Farewell.”

When I collected information from those who were involved, they were strongly aware that, “For us, Yamato was the first film and then there was Farewell. Then it was over.”

Certainly The New Voyage and Be Forever achieved certain box office results even if they didn’t reach the levels of the first and second films, but some doubt remains that these works were truly made because fans wanted them. It seems this dilemma was similarly felt by Tokuyama, who worked on the inside.

Major, the company he worked for, was evaluated by the industry as “an advertising agency that was good at anime” and by promoting one movie after another following Yamato, they came to be called “Animajor.” The company doesn’t currently do advertising, but they handled publicity for all of the so-called “Miyazake anime” (Studio Ghibli films) from Nausicaa to Howl’s Moving Castle (with the exception of Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies).

Suzuo Horie moved on from the battlefield to handle programming for directly-managed theaters.

Ikuo Aida, who was an assistant manager at the Tokyu Masterpiece when Yamato came out, later became the director of Tokyu Recreation’s box office department and was the first president of Go Cinema, a distributor founded jointly by five companies including Tokyu Rec and Tohokushinsha Films. In the latter half of the 90s, he learned of the existence of a certain anime film. He saw it at a distributor screening in Tokyo, and despite the assumption that it would see only a minor public release, he persuaded the sales manager of Tokyu’s distribution department that “This is an absolutely amazing movie.” A spring break release was organized by the Shibuya Tokyu system. Of course, this was based on the premise of a nationwide launch.

That movie was Neon Genesis Evangelion, which allowed Aida to take over the route of “cool anime” that was paved by Horie and Tokuyama.

When I asked Mr. Aida, “How did Mr. Horie decide to show Yamato in Tokyu theaters at that time?” he laughed. “I guess it was intuition. Deciding on a program through intuition is sort of a tradition at Tokyu Recreation!”

In these days of prosperous cinema, when we ask how people in charge decide on screening programs for movie theaters, it is said that it’s based on the amount of money distribution companies spend for advertising. But Mr. Horie chose Yamato “because there seemed to be something to it.” You don’t get that good analog feeling when screenings aren’t decided by intuition. Mr. Aida, who found possibilities in Evangelion, later brought such hit works as Shiri and The Blair Witch Project to Tokyu theaters, proving the sharpness of Horie’s intuition.

An independent producer brought a compilation of a TV series that ended with low ratings directly to an entertainment company rather than a distribution company, and it became a huge hit. In the 1970s, the presence of Space Battleship Yamato was unquestionably a light for a Japanese film industry that was groping in the dark.

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