Writer & Director interviews, February 2019

When Yamato 2202 Chapter 7 arrived in theaters, it was accompanied by a final blitz of staff and cast interviews, none more eagerly devoured than those with Writer Harutoshi Fukui and Director Nobuyoshi Habara. Two such interviews were published with the premiere on March 1; one in the Chapter 7 program book and a longer one in Yamato Newspaper 4. Both covered similar material in slightly different ways, so both have been combined here.


Farewell, Soldiers of Love

Yamato finally reaches the end of its long voyage. Yamato 2202 Chapter 7, New Star Chapter, has been released. As representatives of the production side, Director Nobuyoshi Habara (55) and Writer Harutoshi Fukui (50) previously appeared in the first 2202 newspaper, published in 2017. This time, they shared stories that they are now able to tell, and gave us their thoughts on the final chapter.

It took a while, but it was worth it

Interviewer: The seventh and final chapter has finally been released. Please tell us your current feelings.

Fukui: It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? How long have you been going?

Habara: Three years, since 2017. I thought I would finish earlier.

Fukui: There were many things along the way, besides doing the work. They didn’t have a big influence on production, but they made it memorable.

Habara: Well, it was really good to be involved with Yamato.

Interviewer: When you say “long,” is it a feeling of density?

Habara: That’s it. We made it in constant consultation.

Fukui: Today’s anime is polarized in terms of “does it cost money?” Does it play on TV (for free), do you buy it (on Blu-ray), or go to see it (in a theater)? If a work that costs money isn’t of the highest quality, it’s useless. This work is currently on TV, but it was released in event screenings, so it’s obvious that theatrical quality was required.

Habara: That’s right.

Fukui: I feel like I worked on it right up to the last minute on the production side, but it was worth the long effort. I gained many skills.

Habara: It was right to the limit, really. I’m still concentrating on the last things in front of me to be finished, so there’s not actually enough room to look back yet. (Laughs) The major difference between Yamato and other works is the screening format. There were various theater events, and along with that we had a lot of opportunities to travel. During that time, I was able to talk with Mr. Fukui. That time was important for me. From talking about work to just telling silly stories, it was very important to me to have that time together. We were able to do this because of that.

On the road for Chapter 4, January 2018

Interviewer: In terms of the quality of a work, the user always seeks a high hurdle.

Fukui: If something needs to clear a high hurdle, I have no choice but to do it. Yamato 2199 is way up there. There was also the circumstance that the work went slowly and carefully, because it had to be at the same level of quality for the viewers.

Interviewer: Mr. Fukui, you have the image of someone who does a lot of coordinating.

Habara: We came up with a lot of ideas in various ways.

Fukui: I’m not one of those who begins with the [finished] screenplay, so what I’m looking for from it is completely different, I guess. Therefore, “Why do you ask?” means “I want you to sell me on it.” That was easy with Mr. Habara.

Habara: The first thing that surprised me was Mr. Fukui’s proposal book. Everything was foreseen in that plan. The endings of each chapter and the expectations for the next one. When I saw that this was already in a finished state, I thought it was amazing. I was like, “Can we get on this ship together?” and I was grateful to realize that “We should be able to go.”

On the road for Chapter 6 in November 2018, 35-theater victory achieved!

The story of 2202’s commission that can now be told

Interviewer: Farewell to Yamato and Yamato 2 have a strange relationship, in that they are similar but different. But 2202 is also different. It’s such an original thing, can you now talk about what its image was at the beginning?

Fukui: The time has finally come when I can talk about it. At the stage where it was commissioned, they actually said, “Please remake Farewell to Yamato, but don’t kill the main characters.” I asked, “Isn’t that the image of Yamato 2?” but they answered, “Please do a remake of Farewell.” It was a very clever order.


Fukui: I can finally talk about this now, that when I first got the order for this job, the request was, “I want you to remake Farewell. But please don’t kill the main characters…” I answered, “That’s Yamato 2, right?” But, “I’d like to ask for Farewell.” It was a very clever request. (Laughs) From a producer’s point of view, you could tell that it meant, “I want you to remake the passion and tears of Farewell.” I was burned by that crazy request. But if I could pull it off, that would be a big deal. (Laughs)


Interviewer: Sort of like Ikkyu-san’s world of, “Don’t cross this line.” [Referring to a historical Zen Buddhist monk.]

Fukui: From a producer’s point of view, it’s easy to understand. It means, “It’s no use remaking something that didn’t sell.” Farewell made the audience crazy with passion and all the tears that were shed. They wanted that image, but without killing people. It was that sort of a riddle.

On the other hand, it would be a big deal if I could live up to that. So I thought about a strategy. Yamato is a hero ship, so it’s safe to get on board. It’s the same with Ultraman and Kamen Rider, isn’t it? But right in front of the kids who followed Ultraman and Kamen Rider, Farewell delivered this story of the hero being torn apart. The safety zone gets more and more destroyed, and is completely stripped away at the end. It makes you ask, “What are we going to do?”

So the main character is torn to pieces at the end, and the sense of loss is taken to a level where it can never be recovered. That was the most important thing. So what was I going to do about that? Clearly, I had to say, “I can’t kill you, Sanada.” So what would I do about that scene of the power reactor blowing up? Well, Saito can be killed, but who else would bring the same sense of loss as Sanada? I had no choice but to create and develop someone who you’d hope would be on board Yamato for a long time, and then kill him.

Habara: (Laughs) That would be terrible.

Fukui: That’s Keyman. That was the strategy for arousing the emotions. But it wasn’t like we were simply remaking Farewell’s feeling of sadness and hopelessness. At the time Farewell was a hit among young people, the whole of Japanese society was evolving toward something like a bubble period, the era of change in the 1980s. We followed the global standard at the time, like reaching for the skyscrapers on top of the White Comet Empire.

“All you have to do is do what we say. The man who has money is everything in this world.” We didn’t want to take part in such a thing. The storyline of Farewell is one of people saying, “We saw important things in the last war, so we can’t just shamelessly go along with this,” and then charging in to repudiate it. The young people of those days somehow took part in that, with everyone telling them to fight the exam wars and graduate from a good university to get into a good company. That’s where Kodai spoke for them at the risk of his own life when he said NO.

For 2202, we felt that the audience would center around people in their 40s and 50s rather than just young people. They’re today’s Japanese people who have something to say NO about. I put that into the core of the story, resisting at the risk of their own lives.

Habara: Kodai has a really hard time. He suffers all the way to the finale. When that is conveyed to a viewer, the tears that are shed may be different from those of Farewell, but I think they can still flow.


Interviewer: What were the highlights for each of you?

Fukui: It was the finale, in the end. Actually, I didn’t come up with a proper plot for the last half hour. At first, I didn’t think I could convey it to the staff if it wasn’t in script form. So once I gave the necessary material to [Scriptwriter] Hideki Oka, I left it with him and said, “Please write everything you want to say!” Then he wrote Sanada’s appeal to the entire humanity of Earth. It was a very rational speech.

Interviewer: It was different from the final one, though.

Fukui: The content was very good, but actually at the last minute I decided to let Serizawa say, “I envy you.” I wasn’t certain that Sanada could only speak from logic. So in the finished version I had him stop reading from his prepared manuscript and make a turn to speak from the heart, starting with, “Let me tell you about just one man…” I just wrote it from the heart from there. To be honest, I didn’t know at first if this speech would reach the staff members. But the first reply I got from Mr. Oka was, “I cried!” When I heard that, I felt like I was back in the world.

Habara: It was a convincing ending for someone like me who loves Farewell. Moreover, I wonder if it could be seen as an ending to all the Yamato works.

Fukui: You may not remember this, but before you started on it, you said, “I think the last episode will go down in anime history.”

Habara: I remember. I trembled when I read the script. I was very convinced that we could make 2202 lead up to that.

Fukui: But it was messy if you just looked at the synopsis, right? He dies, but comes back. (Laughs) Because if I wanted to make you cry, I couldn’t do it with logic. That’s why I think that if you ask if someone remembers Sanada’s speech, it might be the thing that stays in everyone’s heart.

Interviewer: There were many sacrifices in Yamato before we got there.

Fukui: It’s a cruel way to treat the characters, but it’s also a strategy for shaking the emotions of the viewers. Originally, Yamato should have been safe in Farewell, but it’s a story where its resources get completely stripped away. It’s a story that takes you out of your safety zone and asks, “What would you do?” So in order to create a sense of loss that the audience can’t recover from, it’s necessary to leave some people behind. But with the main characters…clearly, I couldn’t kill Sanada.

Habara: Then the story became how to do that famous scene with Saito.

Fukui: So how could we get an impact that’s comparable to Sanada? Therefore I came to the conclusion that I had no choice but to create someone new. I had to create a character that everyone could empathize with and hope you’d all think, “Oh I want this guy to be on Yamato forever.”

Habara: Isn’t that terrible?

Fukui: First of all, in order to evoke a feeling comparable to Farewell, you have to strategically assemble the arrangement of story and people. But that alone isn’t enough. It’s no use just remaking that feeling of tragedy.

The reason so many young people sympathized with Farewell was because of the society they were going into. As a symbol of overwhelming power and the standard of global values, the White Comet Empire appeared with New York at the top. (Laughs) It’s a story of Kodai fighting against this overwhelming, one-sided sense of values at the risk of his own life. Young people at the time sympathized with that image.

Interviewer: That part synchronized with the times, didn’t it?

Fukui: When making 2202, I thought about the people who would watch a new Yamato, and though of course I wanted young people to see it, I thought the audience would surely center around the generation like us, who saw Farewell. Rather than just speaking for the youth, I wanted to speak for the core of all the Japanese people who want to say “NO.” Kodai’s suffering is the suffering everyone feels every day.


Kodai’s suffering speaks for everyone’s suffering

Interviewer: The Kodai of Farewell says, “Wrong! That’s absolutely wrong!” It’s a denial that can be called a “scream of the soul.” This time, he stands as a spokesman in the final episode…

Fukui: Consequently, he shoulders everything. Because he can’t say NO. We revolve around the side that pushes a global standard. He’s had a terrible experience and has suffered greatly, but it simply can’t be denied.

The thing that gave us the most trouble in the beginning as we adjusted it was the question of, “is Yamato a hero thing in the first place?” It certainly has aspects of a hero thing, but there was a shock when it was shown being torn apart before our eyes. We’re all adults this time, and we can’t look up to a hero forever. “Let’s all get on board together.” It’s a feeling like, after we have various experiences, let’s get on board and all say NO together. In the end, this time Yamato is something that we all climb aboard.

Kodai’s suffering is everyone’s suffering, every day. That’s what I feel. When I go to a theater, I want to forget my pain and suffering and feel pure. Now, there’s a contradictory thought. (Laughs) But the reason the first Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam became popular was that they were something we could all get on board. That’s why I tried to return it to the original place.


Habara: Kodai encountered some awful things, didn’t he? He was worried, worried, worried all the way to the end. But one part of it was saved because of that. If that part is conveyed to everyone, more than in Farewell, I feel like you can shed tears that are different from those of Farewell.

Fukui: The effects of fiction are broadly divided into “Something that can make you forget hard reality” and “Something that can give you food for thought on life,” and I made this based on the conviction that it falls under the latter. But I also understand the feeling of going to the movie theater to forget your daily troubles. If I were to look at why the first Yamato was popular, it wasn’t because Yamato is a hero everyone looks up to, it’s something that everyone can get on board and sympathize with.

Interviewer: On the other hand, it was impressive that Farewell develops a little differently with Kodai’s denial. “Wrong, that’s absolutely wrong!”

Fukui: As a result, Sanada now carries that part. That’s because you can no longer just say “NO!” You simply can’t deny it. Still, I chose the structure of everyone daring to say “NO!” this time.


New interpretations added and spun in 2202

Interviewer: Director Habara, how did you think about your work?

Habara: As I’ve said, I tried to use the visuals seen in Farewell as a guideline as much as possible. The story had already been made, and I was able to follow it faithfully. My first feeling about it at the outset was, “can I do it?” It was just so big. But…if I declined, I thought it would be unpleasant to see what someone else would make. If I was asked to take a chance and get on board Yamato, I thought it was best to do it even if it killed me. It’s the feeling like when Captain Okita says, “Show your resolve!”

Interviewer: The Comet Empire has changed its shape into something completely new.

Habara: At first, I intended to follow after Farewell and Yamato 2, but from the middle the feeling was bigger. “Make something new for everyone to see, I want you to experience a new Yamato.” One thing after another began to change rapidly.

Fukui: I was going to use the nostalgic part as a hook. When we got into the production there were places where the original story worked well, but as the story progressed I could see that it stopped the flow. It ended up feeling like, “maybe we shouldn’t be so obsessive about this.”

Interviewer: The first thing that perfectly followed the original story was “Hero’s Hill.”

Fukui: That went well. That was very good as an introduction. The area around Yamato’s launch. New things and old came in turn, and that worked out just fine.

Interviewer: As the story advanced, was it like the story started going its own way?

Habara: It felt like the new characters became more and more alive. The actors had great power, especially Hiroshi Kamiya (Keyman). When I first read the script I got the image of his voice and acting to some extent, and it was amazing that it came to pass.

Interviewer: Keyman was set apart from human emotions, but you could say that his human feelings were awakened along the way…

Habara: To take a character with no emotions and kill him after his emotions bloom…we did a terrible thing.

Interviewer: As a result, Yamato 2202 becomes a new interpretation.

Fukui: The idea was to make Farewell without all the deaths. That’s why I had to go “ultra C.” Things piled up for that purpose. I also had to respond to the homework of 2199. It’s no exaggeration to say that in this story, I didn’t actively go around saying let’s do this, or let’s do that, or I want to try this. I will return. I will definitely return. It feels like that.

Interviewer: When the Space Cavalry supported Yamato to fire the Wave-Motion Gun at Telezart, it was a symbolic scene of, “everyone shouldering it together.”

Habara: Like moving it by hand. It’s unique to Yamato.

Fukui: That shot with everyone in the script wasn’t my idea, doing it like mobile suits. If I did that, people would say, “You did the same thing here and here.” I didn’t think about it, but Mr. Habara said, “It’s like moving the space mines.” I remember thinking that I really like this director, because I didn’t think of it.

Settling the “Wave-Motion Gun problem”
of 2199

Interviewer: How were you able to solve the “Wave-Motion Gun problem.”

Fukui: The bottom line was, “I can’t solve something like this,” so what was the final answer? It couldn’t be settled, but it was especially important, because it’s the nuclear power plant problem. Rather than complaining from on high as if you’re not involved, if we live on the same planet, let’s carry these problems together. Because the idea struck me that carrying a burden may mean that you constantly feel it, but when we all share it, that somehow makes it seem less burdensome. That’s the “opposite” of what’s being said, and you gain no skills from it, so when something happens you won’t be able to cope with it.

There are times when these things can’t be solved. That’s not taught in formal education these days. It’s generally stated in black and white. If you decide to be contrarian and choose white, you have to crush the black side’s opinion. Either one, good thing or bad thing, has merits and demerits. Foreign people generally tend toward trying to find a balance. Like, “This has some minuses, but they’re outweighed by the good things.” That’s how you make a choice.

Space Battleship Yamato had that baked in from the start. Thinking about how the story was overlaid with the militarism that gave us the original battleship named Yamato, I thought that the “Wave-Motion Gun Problem” was a good theme.

Interviewer: I see. That’s how it is.

Fukui: Originally, it looked like the story was about a militaristic symbol going off into space, but it had an anti-war theme, and you could say that there was a surprise development at the end, right? I wanted to carry that accurately. After all, there’s also Farewell. The battleship that carried an anti-war theme had to fight because it’s a battleship, and it’s a story that could tear itself apart with self-contradiction. Such heavy things aren’t popular now, but I’ll put my back into it and carry it aggressively. When I stepped into this there was that acute feeling I got from Yamato in the old days, and I think you can feel it.

Digging deeper into a character’s past

Interviewer: Was it decided from the beginning to depict Dessler’s upbringing?

Fukui: That’s right. If it hadn’t been decided that Garmillas would fall, the story wouldn’t work in the first place. There was a planet called Garmillas and there was Earth, and both had a great war. That story came to a close, and now the White Comet is coming, so it’s, “What do you want to do with this story?” That’s the setup.

These days anime is sometimes set up without thinking about the story. There’s no way you can have a theme if the story isn’t given importance. So the story of Dessler naturally came up. Not everyone could know that the planet was doomed. I worked backward from that and attached it to 2199.


Interviewer: How about the handling of Dessler?

Fukui: I was very concerned about that. Could I state “this was his background” and get the fans to go along with it? Whenever I was worried about a problem, I decided to return to the basics of the original work.

Interviewer: Did you think about Dessler’s upbringing from the beginning?

Fukui: As in the first Yamato, we had to make Garmillas a dying planet or I didn’t think this story would be viable. Once Earth and Garmillas fought a great war, and this time the White Comet attacks. With that alone, you wouldn’t know what the story is trying to tell you. So I revived the concept of the original work with Dessler as a man who is fighting for the fate of his mother planet.


Interviewer: Did you also work out a past for Saki Todo? Since she is named “Todo” I guessed that she was the commander’s daughter.

Fukui: I actually considered something more sensational for the scene where her mother commits suicide, but it was too shocking and would have stopped the story.

Habara: All thought would have stopped there.

Interviewer: The members on the first bridge are almost the same as 2199. Aihara and Ota had a lot of opportunities for achievement.

Habara: Yamato has that ensemble drama side, but this time it fogged things up when I tried to add it, so I eliminated as much as possible instead. In that way, it’s a remake of Farewell rather than Yamato 2.

Interviewer: Episode 25 is made in the image of Farewell, and then there’s the final episode.

Fukui: The last scene [of 25] is symbolic.

The scene was in the script, but it was discarded

Interviewer: Please tell me the inside story now that you can talk about it. It seems a lot of parts were trimmed for convenience.

Fukui: It’s quite full.

Habara: I wanted to do everything, but it would have gone over the length [of one episode].

Fukui: It wasn’t completely cut out, but I changed it around and managed it somehow…

Habara: You said what you wanted to say.

Fukui: As for the “discards,” I mentioned the suicide of Saki’s mother earlier. She was in the bath and roses spread out from her wrist…that was it. There was an image of Saki at as a junior high student, frozen as she looked at that. There was a scene where Saki’s father tried to take her out of the bathroom and shield her by saying, “Mother is comfortable now, so let her be.” As I try to talk about it now, turning it into an image takes everything away from it. As talk progressed, it was overturned.

Interviewer: That was definitely too shocking.

Fukui: By the way, animation conveys chara [characters] differently from the old days. What kind of chara are you? Certain patterns exist as words, and you apply that to understand that person. Anime is the embodiment of that. You’re a “cool character,” so you act like this. You’re cool if your clothing makes you look cool. There isn’t much interest in that character’s personality, the only explanation is, “because it’s that chara.”

There is a shallow understanding of others in the world today, when you’re connected to them by Twitter or whatever, and it feels like real relationships are thinning out. Since it becomes a fantasy world like anime, they apply explanations exactly the same way. People who casually visit that world perceive someone in the style of a character and think, “Wow, they’re serious.” The moment they feel that, they should remember that people might have other things in them as well. I think some refer to fiction in order to support how they live in reality, so I’m careful with that.

Their favorite characters are surprising figures

Interviewer: I’m sure each of you has a favorite character. First, Mr. Fukui.

Fukui: While Keyman was originally made for strategic reasons, the one who seemed to suddenly speak on his own was Dessler when he appeared on the stage. I didn’t think about it, but the feeling from him talking was amazing. There’s been a Dessler circuit in me since I was a child. The same feeling as Char [from Gundam]. He speaks willfully. The personality is different, though.

Habara: I added Dessler in a storyboard and had Mr. Fukui look at it. “This line is like this.” I was able to hear it in Dessler’s voice exactly.

Fukui: It was fun to write. Just by having him appear in a scene, he began acting on his own. I was thankful.

Interviewer: How about you, Mr. Habara?

Habara: Up until now, I’ve answered that question with, “It’s Yamato.” Yamato is a character to me. Looking back through the series, I don’t really like many anime characters because they look like children. But this time, I really like Yuki. Like, “Yuki will make a really good mother.” And “The way she’s so supportive is almost too much for me to bear.” The last episode is especially good. I cried when I heard them at the voice recording. And every time I reviewed the film, I cried again.

Interviewer: If there’s a sequel, would you like to do it?

Habara: I’ve already emptied my soul.

Fukui: Has your “Yamato gauge” run out?

Habara: It feels like that.

Interviewer: But won’t your gauge build back up in a few years? Mr. Fukui, what if you’re asked to write a new series?

Fukui: Since it was decided from the beginning that they would survive, it will go on as a franchise. Of course, I was naturally thinking that a sequel could be done, so from the beginning I thought my approach would be to fulfill the promise for them to survive and do my best with everything after that. Since I pretty much used up everything on this, whatever I make next may require a change in approach.

Interviewer: There’s also something still “unresolved,” and that’s what will happen to planet Garmillas.

Fukui: That will have to be connected to the previous work somehow.

On the road for Chapter 7, March 2019


Interviewer: Mr. Habara, what do you think is the appeal of Mr. Fukui’s script?

Habara: It becomes like the mesh of a net. I felt that it had some very clever ideas about how everything connects. The space between the lines is very complicated. The more you read, the deeper you get into it. It felt more like a novel than a script. Plus, he’s a planner and an idea producer.

Fukui: I didn’t start out as a scriptwriter, after all. I want to sell my work, and I think that’s my calling simply because I want to sell you on it. As we proceeded while consulting with each other, I was glad to have Mr. Habara as my partner in this.

Interviewer: Finally, please give a message to the fans who have seen all seven chapters.

Fukui: This is work is for the many people who live in Japan today. You’ll see that the people on the screen who are having a hard time find their release. It might be that kind of a work. One that drives everyone’s feelings into a corner, to the point where it becomes difficult to watch, having first prepared to tell the story of a “miracle.”

That is, “A person comes back from heaven” rather than “All of mankind made a decision to throw away the Time Fault, which was a useful tool for returning people from heaven.” We all know that such a miracle can’t happen in reality. But if you watch this work or if you accept that there might be such a miracle, things may look different to you when you leave the theater. That’s the kind of work we aimed to make.

Habara: I made this with the same feelings as Mr. Fukui. When I first heard the story, I wondered if I was really the one to take on such an important role. But I thought that if I refused, I wouldn’t like seeing what someone else made. (Laughs) I got the chance to ride on Yamato, so I decided to do it even if it killed me.

Captain Okita said, “Show your resolve” and I took up that challenge. There is still work to be done at the time of this interview, but when everything is finished I don’t think any of my soul will be left. My intention was to “Put my soul into it,” and I’ll be glad if everyone can accept my soul.

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

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