As Large as Life, Part 1

Yamato Events of the Production Years

When a grass-roots campaign elevated Space Battleship Yamato from an underappreciated TV anime to a full-blown cultural phenomenon in 1977, it set the tone for public events of all kinds to become an important part of its cultural impact. Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki was so grateful for the devotion of the fans that he looked for any opportunity to personalize the experience for them. The result was a historic chain of unprecedented activity that has yet to be equaled by any other anime franchise.

Of course, Yamato events are now long over with, but enough documentation remains to provide a substantial and entertaining record of this unprecedented phenomenon. Presented here is a timeline/gallery that will hopefully expand as more artifacts are discovered. If you were enough of a fan to follow Yamato from place to place Grateful Dead style, this is what your calendar would have looked like.

1975 & 76: Humble Beginnings

Photo evidence from these early years has yet to be found, but the following is known to have happened…

February 1975: a 15-meter Yamato and 3-meter Analyzer were built at the Sapporo Snow Festival, an annual event (still held today) centering around the building of unique snow sculptures. Since these were still the “dark days” when the series was winding down with poor ratings, there was no fanfare and little if any documentation. But it was a signal of greater things to come.

Shincon was an annual summer convention for science fiction fans held in Kobe, Japan. It was here that Yamato won its first award in 1975, the Nebula Award in the category of film and television. The stakes were raised in August 1976 at Tokyo’s Tokon 6, in which artists from Studio Nue hosted ‘Yamato Hour,’ a slide presentation showcasing their design work on the series. It was primarily at these two conventions that the world of anime first earned the same prestige as novels, manga, and film.

1977: The Big Time

The English-dubbed Space Cruiser Yamato movie was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May, but it was the Japanese premiere of the Space Battleship Yamato feature film that officially kickstarted the franchise. The public at large first became aware of it thanks to the work of fans in the trenches who received “guerilla marketing” kits from Academy Studio which included a poster and instructions on how to contact local media. (Read about the campaign in detail here.) This activity tipped the scales when it convinced Toei Pictures to book the film for wide release in August. From that point on, there would be no stopping Yamato.

The movie opened on August 6, 1977, but the media actually broke the story the day before. Hearing reports on the evening news of “Yamato Fever,” Yoshinobu Nishizaki and the Office Academy staff raced into the streets to see it for themselves. Fans were lining up a full day in advance, prepared to spend the night on the sidewalk to catch the first showing. Nishizaki still remembers this as the happiest moment of his career, the reward for two long years of labor to save Yamato from obscurity. He responded by giving away leftover animation cels at select theatres.

Click here to see a photo gallery of the opening day.

August 20: Yamato began a parallel life with a week-long “Stereo Manga” radio dramatization on NHK FM. It featured none of the original voice actors or sound effects, but it opened up yet another venue that would be played out for all it was worth in subsequent years.

October 6-11: The first Yamato “Fancy Goods” exhibition took place at Hanshin Department Store in Osaka, in which many new products made their debut and kicked off a decades-long collector frenzy. See galleries of these products here and here.

November 15: Yoshinobu Nishizaki threw a success party at the Imperial Hotel in Hibiya, Tokyo to express his gratitude to all those who helped make 1977 such a great year. He announced the formation of the Yamato fan club and his plan to make a sequel for 1978. Toei Pictures had already signed on as the production partner for Yamato Part II, and the writing staff immediately got to work in the second half of November. Making their debut at the party were a pair of very impressive models: a 2-meter long “Precision Cut Model” of Yamato and a 2-meter tall Analyzer. Both would get plenty of mileage over the next year.

December 2: Yamato returned to radio on the popular All Night Nippon overnight program. A four-hour radio drama of the movie was produced by Yoshinobu Nishizaki, this time with genuine voices and sound elements. The program was essentially narrated by Kodai’s recorded letters to his dead parents, and the soundtrack was filled with Hiroshi Miyagawa’s exquisitely beautiful Symphonic Suite Yamato. It was the first time anyone had heard it, and the LP flew off the shelves when it was released later in the month. The radio drama itself was never commercially released, which is one of the reasons it is not well-known outside Japan.

December: Toei closed out Yamato‘s first banner year with a pair of double-feature movie festivals. Yamato could be seen back-to-back with Cyborg 009 from December 17 to 29 in Toei movie theatres. Shown here are promotional flyers from two different theaters.

1978: Yamapalooza

January: Tokyo’s Imai department store was the first commercial venue to host a Yamato exhibition that included the big models seen at the November ’77 party. Imai placed this Yamato-themed ad in newspapers to promote it along with other attractions going on that same week. It was probably the first time a major department store decided to get in on the anime boom, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

February 16: Hiroshi Miyagawa conducted the first-ever live concert featuring Yamato music. It was released on the World of Hiroshi Miyagawa LP in May and opened up yet another forum for fans to get a live experience: symphonic concerts. Read more about this concert and album here.

March 16: Another wave of Yamato “Fancy Goods” made their debut at the Seibu Department Store in Shibuya, Tokyo. A second exhibit was held later in the month at the Kesei Department Store in Ueno, Tokyo.

April: The truncated English version of the first movie, titled Space Cruiser Yamato, was still alive on the other side of the world, making its way through various movie theatres before it was relegated to off-peak television and then retired forever. Shown here are extremely rare movie ads featuring uniquely non-Japanese artwork. The theatres were based in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the real Yamato movie was enjoying a comeback at various Japanese theatres that would last throughout the summer as a warmup for the sequel.

Golden Week is an annual nationwide event in Japan that stretches between closely-packed holidays in late April and early May. The Omon movie theatre in Nagoya hosted a multi-day anime festival during this week that started with Yamato and continued with such fare as Lupin III and Star of the Giants. An ad for this is shown at right.

May 24: Saraba [Farewell], Space Battleship Yamato was announced as the title of the new film at a press conference at the Imperial Hotel. In the lineup were (from left) singer Isao Sasaki, composer Hiroshi Miyagawa, director Toshio Masuda, Yoshinobu Nishizaki, a Toei representative, Leiji Matsumoto, costume designer Yukiko Hanai, and art director Tomonori Katsumata. In addition to the sumptuous artwork, the “Cut Model” and full-size Analyzer were also on display. Nishizaki promised the film would bring Yamato to a conclusive end, but pre-production of the Yamato 2 TV series began that very day.

Click here for a photo gallery of the press conference.

Read about what was discussed at the press conference here.

The next day, Nishizaki took the show on the road for the first series of Yamato Fan Club meetings that began in Kanto on May 25 and continued sporadically throughout the summer, coinciding with the hugely popular Symphonic Concert Tour.

July: the Space Battleship Yamato Symphonic Concerts packed in the fans on a six-city tour that ran from July 5th to the 30th, finishing in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It featured many personal appearances and back-to-back performances of symphonic suites from both Yamato and Farewell. Read about the tour in detail here.

Another summer tour that is now practically forgotten was a traveling Space Battleship Yamato exhibit that began in July at an Osaka department store, then went to similar venues in Tokyo, Nagoya, and Shizuoka, concluding its run in October. The “Cut Model” and the full-scale Analyzer were there, along with animation cels, production documents, closed-circuit screenings of TV episodes, plastic model dioramas, and the centerpiece shown above: a 4×5 meter bridge panorama featuring mannequins of Kodai [Wildstar], Yuki [Nova], and Shima [Venture]. Admission and product sales brought in 1.5 million yen over the course of the tour.

August 4: on the eve of Farewell‘s release, fans who had thought to bring transistor radios along to the all-night vigil would get to hear the movie before they saw it when All Night Nippon broadcast the Farewell to Yamato radio drama from 1am to 5am. This would have been a comfort to those who had resisted the urge to stay home for the debut of the Yamato movie on TV that same night. The flyer for that broadcast on Fuji Television is shown below.

August 5: The opening of Farewell to Yamato was like nothing else seen in Japanese movie history. Fans had begun to line up several days in advance, stopping traffic wherever they turned up. Naturally, theatres that offered free animation cels to early arrivers were mobbed. By the opening morning, major theatres struggled to keep the crowds under control, even renting out neighboring theatres as holding areas for the enormous audiences. Once again, Yoshinobu Nishizaki and some of his staff members mingled with their appreciative fans on the big day. Read a personal account of the experience here and read a selection of news articles here

The film ran through October 27, smashing all box office records in Japan with a take of 4.3 billion yen and another 2.12 billion yen in distribution fees.

See a photo gallery of opening day here.

October 14: Yamato 2 premiered on TV. Though this wasn’t a communal event, a promotional flyer for the series (shown above) had been distributed to movie theatres to increase the visibility of the program. It garnered very respectable ratings all the way through its final episode on April 7, 1979. It turned out to be a monumental day in anime history, since it also saw the premiere of the first Mobile Suit Gundam series on a different network.

November 15: On the anniversary of the first success party, Nishizaki threw another one at the Imperial Hotel. Over a thousand people were invited, including select fan club members, who got to enjoy a mini-concert conducted by Hiroshi Miyagawa. The event served double-duty as a thank you to the hard-working animation staff that was currently toiling away on Yamato 2.

December: Farewell was re-released in theatres for a “Christmas Roadshow” from December 23rd through January 15. Few fans remember it, since it was not heavily promoted, but it was well-received by audiences since it was now known that Academy was not planning another Yamato feature film for the following year. For reasons lost to history, the screenings at Sunshine City in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, were promoted on the business cards of the Japan Travel Network (above right).

1979: Onward and Upward

February: a gigantic Yamato snow sculpture was built at the Sapporo Snow Festival in the heart of Makomanai City in Hokkaido, a suburban garrison town of the Japan Self-Defense Force. The event was supported by local businesses and the TV bureau, and about ten large snow statues were made. Special emphasis was placed on film and television characters, and Yamato was second only to Star Wars as childrens’ most requested image.

The image of Yamato rising from the sea had an overall length of 24 meters and a height of about 14 meters. It was created by the Sapporo Fire Department under the guidance of SDF personnel, taking about 21 days and 350 trucks of snow. It was rigged with a red light for the Wave-Motion Gun, the bridge, and the rear engine nozzle. Because they used the Bandai Image Model as reference, the bow was extremely large and gave a great impression of scale.

A nearby stage had 4-meter snow sculptures of Kodai, Yuki and Captain Okita, which were prepared for a TV broadcast in which Isao Sasaki sang the Yamato theme. Afterward, anime-related statues at the Festival became extremely popular.

See more photos here.

May 5: A dedicated anime shop opened in the north Kyushu district of Japan, named Anime Shop Yamato (though it was actually an offshoot of the Animec chain). It specialized in Yamato goods, which could easily have filled an entire store by this time, and offered discounts to members of the official Yamato fan club. Shown at right is a closeup of the store’s wrapping paper, courtesy of Dave Merrill.

June 10: Leiji Matsumoto had achieved superstar status by this time and earned his own special event titled Launch! Space Battleship. (Brochure shown above.) It was a summer attraction at Osaka’s Misaki Park, a combination theme park and zoo. It included several art-based attractions and a film program that commemorated Yamato, Galaxy Express 999, Starzinger, Danguard Ace, and Captain Harlock. If that wasn’t enough for you, there was also a “dolphin jump show” to fill out the day.

June also saw a revival of the traveling Yamato exhibit from 1978 when it reappeared in full at Izu Safari Park (left), filling the Great Globe Gallery from June 16 through November 30. It was then mothballed for a few months before coming back to the public eye in the summer of 1980.

July: a summer of exquisite timing. The Yamato Big Summer Roadshow opened in theatres on July 14th, showing both of the movies ostensibly for the last time. It made the rounds of ten theatres in the Toei chain, closing on August 3rd and warming up audiences for the August 4th premiere of the Galaxy Express 999 movie. It was actually a triple feature owing to the presence of a compilation movie for the first half of the Triton of the Sea TV series. A compilation of the second half was also made, but was never shown theatrically–it surfaced many years later on a DVD box set.

There was a new theatrical program book for the event (seen here), and also the much rarer publication shown above, an 8-page press kit distributed to the media for promotion.

The Big Summer Roadshow got an additional boost by a rerun of the original Yamato radio drama by Nippon Broadcasting the night before the festival began. Two weeks later, The New Voyage premiered on Fuji Television and achieved a 31.9% rating. This set the stage for Be Forever‘s premiere in the summer of 1980.

See a poster gallery for the Big Summer Roadshow here.

October: Academy productions hit the airwaves again, as indicated by this promo flyer from Fuji Television. The Yamato 2 compilation movie premiered on the 6th (which happened to be the 5-year anniversary of the first TV series) and a brand new SF anime series called Space Carrier Blue Noah began on the 13th. The show was accompanied by an ambitious merchandising rollout and there was an attempt to capture some of the Yamato magic with a live voice-actor festival on December 8 (shown at right) but the series never quite caught on and concluded with only marginal ratings in March 1980. By that time, it was only a footnote in the Academy roster, which was already into overdrive for the next Yamato film.

1980: Be Forever, Summer of Love

This was absolutely Yamato‘s biggest year in the public eye, and thus it was by far the best-documented. The promotional campaign for Be Forever Yamato was bigger than all the previous campaigns put together, making 1980 the very best year to be a Yamato fan. There was so much going on that it requires an article of its own, which can be read here.

1981/82: Prelude to the Finale

After Yamato III‘s climax on TV March 14, The New Voyage and Be Forever were re-released as a double feature. The “Space Roadshow” began April 3rd and ran for three weeks at 20 theatres across the country. Cels from Yamato III were given to first-comers on the 14th and 15th. Unfortunately, the “Space Roadshow” had no major advertising and suffered from some bad timing since it overlapped with the release of the first Mobile Suit Gundam movie and had a running time of four hours, which naturally limited its daily rotation. The turnout was roughly 50,000 people with a revenue of 50 million yen against Gundam‘s phenomenal 930 million.

The traveling exhibition from 1978/79 made its final comeback during this time. A Space Battleship Yamato fair was held in Matsuyama City from March 20 through May 10 to commemorate the 105th anniversary of the Ehime Newspaper. A Yamato Pavilion was part of the Ehime Children’s Expo, which now included production art from Be Forever along with the life-size Analyzer, the Yamato “Cut Model” and the bridge panorama. Highlight scenes from the Yamato saga were screened in the “Yamato Multi Theatre.” (Stills shown above are from a 1980 TV special.)

In his signoff at the tail end of Yamato III‘s final episode, Nishizaki announced the coming of the last Yamato movie in the summer of 1982. His writers immediately went into brainstorming mode and stayed there until August when the plan shifted. Toei Pictures released Adieu Galaxy Express 999 that month, and the next Leiji Matsumoto production, My Youth in Arcadia, was set for the summer of 1982. Everyone agreed that the resources to animate and release Final Yamato in the same timeframe would have caused both productions to suffer, so it was decided instead to push it back to the spring of 1983.

But this was not the last anyone would see of Yamato in ’81. In order to boost the audience for Adieu Galaxy Express, the first Yamato movie was broadcast August 12 on Nippon TV’s Wednesday Roadshow, which was extended by 30 minutes and gained a 19% rating. Three days later, The New Voyage was rerun on NTV’s Saturday Special in a 2-hour block and got a rating of 15.5%. Another four days later, the first Broadcast of Be Forever aired on the Wednesday Roadshow in a three-hour block and got a rating of 20.6%. NTV later aired Farewell on December 30 as their Year-End Party Movie and got a rating of 15.2%.

The writing of Final Yamato restarted in January 1982, and shortly after he approved the story Nishizaki convened a press conference on April 27 at the Akasaka Prince Hotel in Tokyo. Rather than announcing the content of the film (which was still almost a year away from release) he declared his intention to include the fans in the production. A series of fan club gatherings would be held throughout the month of August. A short “message film” would be shown and opinions would be gathered to find out what everyone wanted from the last voyage of Yamato. This took Nishizaki and other staff members on an ambitious 20-city tour over 22 days where some story ideas were divulged (including the comeback of Captain Okita) and fans made their desires known.

See a gallery of photos from the fan gatherings here.

Another event took place in October 22, when a party was thrown at the Okura Hotel at Akasaka, Tokyo. It was now 10 years since Nishizaki had convened a group of writers to begin the process of making Space Battleship Yamato, and it was time to commemorate that anniversary. Songs were sung, memories were shared, and Final Yamato was just about to go into serious production mode. The writers had each taken their turn at the script throughout the summer and the release date had been set for March 12, 1983.

Above: Nishizaki and Matsumoto at the microphone. Below: Isao Sasaki attempts to shatter the ice-sculpture Yamato with the power of his manly voice.

1983: End of an Era

January: The Final Yamato campaign began with the broadcast of one last 4-hour radio drama on All Night Nippon which aired early in the morning of the 16th. Nishizaki appeared at one more press conference two days later at the Tokyu Hotel in Akasaka along with singers Isao Sasaki and Junko Yagami to make various official announcements about the film. Plenty of merchandising rolled out during this month; a lot of pre-production artwork had been prepared the year before, and the first half of the story had already been novelized.

The production itself was running late, however, so it was decided to adjust the premiere back a week from March 12 to 19.

A Yamato Festival was held February 12 at Osaka Welfare Hall, but thus far no documentation of the event has surfaced.

March 15: The Space Battleship Yamato Grand Festival, last in the line of the famous concerts, convened at Kosei Nenkin Hall in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Voice actors and singers filled the stage to bid a fond farewell to the phenomenon, and fans scooped up the latest Final Yamato merchandising. Click here for a full report of the event.

March 19: The big day! The decision to push back the release had narrowly avoided a collision with the March 12 premiere of Kadokawa’s Harmagedon, but even now Final Yamato was not quite final. Numerous production delays resulted in many scenes being cut or unfinished and a last-minute epilogue was only seen on the first day before Nishizaki decided to scrap it. Many scenes were missing special effects that were to be created with video processing, and video scan lines were clearly visible when projected onto the big screen. Nevertheless, the film attracted 2.5 million people and grossed just under 950 million yen. This brought it in slightly behind Harmagedon‘s earnings of 1.1 billion and a Doraemon movie from the same month that grossed 995 million.

On that same day, a new Yamato exhibit was part of the Big Space Project, a pavilion dedicated to science fact and fiction at Family Land, a theme park in Takarazuka (near Osaka). It was likely that the display included objects from the previous touring exhibit, but evidence of this is elusive. All that remains of this today is the flyer shown above and a plastic badge worn by attendees. The exhibit ran through June 5th, eclipsing a Yamato product fair at a Tokyu department store in Tokyo.

March 29: Next came an event that received little to no publicity: The Space Battleship Yamato Final Cruise. The only documentation that has surfaced for this one is a pair of promotional flyers with very slight differences (version A above, version B below). They actually announce a series of three tours taking place between March 29 and April 4th, all of which duplicated the route taken in 1980 by the now-famous Be Forever cruise. Other than the chance to hobnob with other fans, film screenings were the only confirmed programming. Unlike the Be Forever cruise, there was no lottery contest for this one; all passengers had to pay their own way.

Final Yamato had been reluctantly released by Nishizaki in March, and under his supervision West Cape Corporation immediately applied 100 million yen to a renewal effort after its initial run. Incomplete or deleted scenes were restored, and the video scanimation process was used to convert the 35mm version into a 70mm film with multi-channel stereo sound.

The new version of the film premiered seven months later at the Pantheon Theatre in Shibuya, Tokyo on November 5 and played through the 13th. There was no major advertising or radio broadcasts, but a full page ad did run in the October 24 Yomiuri Shimbun Evening Newspaper. 50,000 people turned out for the film, and learned about a charity auction organized by West Cape. The Yamato “Cut Model” was offered for a starting bid of 8 million yen (about $80,000) along with many other products. According to West Cape documents, 100 people participated to raise 50 million yen, but the bid price for the model was not reached.

Final Yamato in 70mm played in just one more theatre, February 1984 in Osaka. This brought the production years to an end, but events went on well into the Legacy Years.

Continue to Part 2

Special thanks to Tsuneo Tateno and Michiko Ito for translation assistance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *