Yoshinobu Nishizaki interview, 1994

In the summer of 1994, Yoshinobu Nishizaki was busier than he had been in at least a decade. The proof of this was revealed to the world in February ’94 with the release of a documentary called The Quickening that covered the history of the saga and provided the first glimpse of two new productions for the 20th anniversary: Yamato 2520 and Yamato Resurrection.

Neither had actually appeared yet; 2520 was running late due to the overwhelming demands of the production and a Volume 0 making-of video wouldn’t appear until December. This was just the beginning of what became a troubled production that did not run its full course. (Read all the details here.)

Resurrection was to be underway by this time for an early ’95 premiere in theaters, but it had to take a back seat to 2520 and would end up in cold storage for more than a decade.

Published in the August 1994 issue of LB Nakasu Communication, this interview catches Nishizaki at a sort of tipping point, as 2520 encountered its first wave of turbulence. Nevertheless, he still communicates the excitement of being on the verge of something new in a way that reminds everyone of what made him a pioneer in the first place.

Space Battleship Yamato revives after 20 years!!

Two Space Battleship Yamato works are currently in production, one for video and one for the theater. The theatrical production is Yamato Resurrection (working title), which is set 19 years after Final Yamato. The video has a designer from the US, the entirely new Space Battleship Yamato 2520 drawn by Syd Mead. We asked Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki, the father of Yamato, about Yamato’s first revival in 20 years.

Coverage by Yumi Yoneda, with cooperation from West Cape Corporation

Hasn’t Space Battleship Yamato been completed?

I gave some short answers about the “embryonic movement” in a video, but to some extent I’ll explain why Yamato is coming back now. It’s great for me, after all, to say that this is the first time in 20 years, but to everyone else t’s been 10 years (since the end).

My own feeling is that this is the first time in 20 years. What I’m saying is that the 26-episode Space Battleship Yamato TV series is like a book unto itself. The battleship called Yamato is a mechanical thing, and the story of the people who appear in the 26 episodes is about the relationship between machines and humans. When we first had that unification, the Space Battleship Yamato was not a simple mechanism, but a personification that you could empathize with.

When a human being dies, it’s over. After death, there is heaven and hell. That’s one way of thinking, but it’s not my philosophy. Because when you make something that deals with boys and girls, a dream or a human life is immortal in a way that goes beyond logic. That’s at the core of my spirit.

The sequels to Space Battleship Yamato included two TV series and Farewell to Yamato, and I think of them as being concluded.

It’s nice that the ship’s mechanisms and characters were already created for the Yamato movie. Therefore, I was able to write two hours of story. If we had to create everything from zero for animation, the characters to the battleship, it would be impossible to write it in two hours. [Translator’s note: it’s not entirely clear, but he’s probably talking about the relative ease of writing a new feature film based on pre-existing concepts.]

You need special knowledge of battleships in particular. Since it’s based on a seagoing ship, a spaceship is also a kind of ship. The relationship between the machine and the humans also depends on the age at which they come into contact.

For example, there are people who were involved with the Battleship Yamato in World War II and others who were involved with Space Battleship Yamato, and if you create something exciting in such an environment, it’s not just a human story. It’s necessary to know exactly what kind of functionality a battleship has. Then you can maneuver and fight in it the first time out.

Will New Space Battleship Yamato be a whole new story?

Now I’m making two Yamatos for the first time in 20 years. One is the resurrection of Space Battleship Yamato. This work uses the old characters. Then there is the new Space Battleship Yamato 2520 designed by Syd Mead (hereafter referred to as New Yamato), which has a very new feeling. But I expect that most people think it’s better to resurrect the old Yamato. (Laughs)

I talk about New Yamato as being the first time in 20 years. When I made the first Yamato, there was nothing at all to start with. There was merely the idea of a battleship flying in the sky, and when you invoke World War II, you automatically think Yamato. That was a subconscious connection, and it was built into the plan from the start. But I think the work succeeded by connecting the space battleship with Yamato. It wasn’t logical. At that time, I wanted to make entertainment that would be received with great momentum. I thought I wanted to make a hit work, but I didn’t intentionally seize on the name Yamato. It became Yamato organically.

It was unexpected for a battleship to fly in the air, so therefore we had to think about a science-fiction situation. For example, the simple version of the story is that if Earth is dirty we’ll go buy a vacuum cleaner and clean it up. No matter what, as long as you’ve got a battleship you’ll be fighting other battleships, so you can make a story out of that. The hard part is coming up with something original.

In fact, the same thing is being done in New Yamato. Syd Mead’s design for it is a fantastic concept for the next century, like nothing seen before. Not even the first work went this far. It’s a great concept with great design, and the story is a human drama. We express the character image by intertwining the boys who get on board and work with each other, and it becomes a huge epic made of seven parts at 50 minutes each. I’m not looking for sympathy, but it’s not based on a previous story, so it’s very difficult to make a single work that’s seven hours long.

What that means is that for the first time in 20 years we’re really making something from zero. It’s probably the first time in 20 years that this staff is able to create an SF situation. This is the hardest thing I’ve done since 1973, and that’s why it has a very profound meaning when I say it’s been 20 years.

Does the theme of New Yamato pursue dreams and romance?

I was actually supposed to release the first video episode in May of this year. (Laughs) It was delayed by the difficulty of making it from zero. That’s because no one on the staff has the experience of making a story with battleships from zero. That’s painful. I know that pain, and so does Leiji Matsumoto, but this time there is no Leiji Matsumoto. It takes a very long time to prepare. It’s the first time in 20 years.

You might think that New Yamato is being made in the spirit of the first work. But it’s not being made to feel like it’s directly connected to the first Yamato. After all, boys and girls have always had dreams and a romantic, adventurous spirit, so the theme is that we should always live with a pure hope for the future.

In terms of design, Syd Mead’s work isn’t something you can draw only with Japanese sensibilities. In that sense, it has a cosmopolitan element. Even when we create costume and character designs, we don’t draw it as if it’s a ship for Japanese people. The future of Earth is for all people, and the cosmopolitan element may be a law of nature.

At the same time, there is an ethnic history in our culture that is also important. It seems contradictory at first glance, but I intend to hold onto that as I make it.

Yamato fought for Japan, Space Battleship Yamato saved the Earth…what will New Yamato try to protect?

If New Yamato has a battleship, it’s automatically battleship entertainment. So the big difference between this and the first Yamato is that it’s in the 26th century, 500 years from now. Boys and girls seek freedom at a time when Earth’s people have emigrated widely into space, so it’s a growth story about knowing what true freedom is, and knowing what we have to protect.

At the beginning stage, there are two great nations from Earth whose ancestors sought an energy source called monopole, and they have a 100-year war. With both sides in a truce, boys and girls are unable to get off a remote planet. They’re forced to live in an enclosed space (something like the former Berlin Wall). Naturally, they want to be free and to see other worlds, and when they find a disc in an old battleship that crashed during the 100-year war, they get an idea that only a kid would come up with; to make a battleship and fly away. So the 18th-generation Space Battleship Yamato is born in the 26th century!!

That’s the simple way to put it, but if they actually break free there will still be restrictions, right? But they leap forward without thinking about that at all. In other words, the truce will be broken when they leap forward, and that’s where the story begins.

Since those who make the battleship don’t actually know how to control a battleship when they leap forward, there’s a chain of mistakes and hardships. Moreover, when the truce is broken they’ll be thrown into the middle of a war. Starting from there, the boys and girls are depicted going through various things and overcoming difficulties. They come to understand that Space Battleship Yamato is their own Earth.

For those in the audience who feel as I described before, New Yamato can’t start out from the same situation as 20 years ago. Starting from the ending, could we surpass the previous Yamato? Could we elicit the same response? I think that was the primary question.

Why revive the old Space Battleship Yamato characters again?

I can’t answer this logically. The most straightforward expression of my feelings is that I’m making it because I want to. Another reason is that it will be the last thing I make in my 50s, and one more is that I take pride in being an entertainment producer of theatrical works. [Translator’s note: Nishizaki was 59 when this was published; he turned 60 in December of 1994.]

Miyazaki anime is good and Gundam is good, too. But I want to make a fully-developed work for the theater based on having a situation and a drama.

Anime has many genres, and none of them is inherently good or bad. However, as impolite as it may sound, I haven’t seen anything in about ten years that feels like entertainment. So in the end I thought it was up to me.

Personally, it’s easy for me to empathize with either battleship in New Yamato or Resurrection, but I’m drawn to the rugged battleship in Resurrection. I guess it’s my age showing. (Laughs)

The script for the film was actually completed last November, but I’ve had to put it aside for New Yamato. Really, I’ve said this already, but New Yamato has a tremendous amount of development.

That’s why the main character in New Yamato is the Space Battleship Yamato itself. If you create a story with a person or a dream that someone can empathize with, you can definitely succeed. So how you make use of the battleship concepts isn’t about management and designs, it’s about whether the specifications can be understood. Otherwise, it isn’t interesting. The development of the battleship elements put us behind schedule…we’re currently about five months late.

What is the content of the feature film Resurrection?

I think the Yamato feature film will be something that doesn’t betray the existing fans. I think the script that was finished in November was a bit constrained by logic, and I want to keep in mind the viewers who don’t see Yamato as completely logical. Even if Yamato only flies in a picture, there’s something that makes you feel like it’s really flying. If that’s the case, we have to be careful with it as creators.

The setting is 19 years after Final Yamato, and among the former crew members is a 45-year old Captain Susumu Kodai. Strictly speaking, he’s not actually 45 years old, but since he’s the guy in charge, we made him 45. [Translator’s note: continuity places him at 41 years old in 2220.] He has a seventeen year old daughter, and I wondered if I could make it a father-daughter story. Conversely, Susumu Kodai was 22 years old when Final Yamato was over, so that’s one way to bring out his character. 41 is quite young now, and the character will have a perfect look.

Hiroshi Miyagawa’s melody will be slightly different, but it wouldn’t be Yamato without that melody and that scat [vocal]. It’s been 19 years since Yamato launched, but it won’t be pinned down to modern jazz. (Laughs)

There’s no change in having to save Earth from a crisis. This time, Earth is in the path of a moving black hole that will inevitably swallow an entire galaxy. They’ve tried to save Earth somehow, but when they realize it can’t be done, the human race emigrates to another planet. The story of human migration is the theme.

That’s the basis of the story, and Yamato comes back to Earth one last time. When we see Earth for the last time, some people think that they want to share Earth’s destiny and die with it. 90% of people move to emigrate, and only animals stay behind to share Earth’s destiny, and so they calmly await their death. A thousand lions on the savannah raise their heads and roar into the sky. That’s the first image. (Laughs)

When it turns out that all the local resources will disappear, we recognize what a wonderful planet is the Earth we live on. That’s a big theme, isn’t it?

Does Yamato follow the royal road of entertainment?

When making things, there should be a basic rule to making things. If you don’t study hard and make things, Japanese films will be no good.

If you make live-action film entertainment in Japan, you’ll never recover your investment. With New Yamato (designed by Syd Mead), I’m motivated to do the animation in Japan because technology has improved. When the design first came up, I didn’t actually think of doing it in animation. Instead, I thought about doing it in live-action.

When you talk about Japanese entertainment, it’s equated with Godzilla. I once wanted to make a live-action Space Battleship Yamato for theaters, but if you don’t have enough money, it won’t be entertaining. (Laughs) Something that costs over 10 billion yen can be done in animation with 1 billion or less. Yamato is a kind of Godzilla. If the story is written around Godzilla coming out and roaring, it doesn’t mean you’re going to go “oooh” if you’re watching at that moment. But if you make a Godzilla movie where Godzilla doesn’t appear, it’s worthless.

For Yamato, when it came time to pick who should sing the main theme, we said “Well, I guess we’ve gotta go with an enka [folk singer], don’t we?” (Laughs) Because Mr. Miyagawa’s music is pop enka. And then everyone cracked up when Shin’ichi Mori was suggested. I honestly think this. Depending on the scene, there are certain things that you absolutely must have.

I don’t sing the Yamato theme very much when I go to karaoke. When I sing Japanese songs, I do Sake of Sadness. (Laughs) No other song has such wonderful lyrics and composition. But I can’t put “Sake, if you have a heart…” in Yamato. (Laughs)

Could Yamato take my life?

Isn’t it satisfying to engage in this kind of work? Up until now, I’ve always thought that I was right and others were wrong, that my way of life was right and theirs wasn’t. I thought that others changed, but I didn’t. But when you think about it, there aren’t many others like me. So I wonder if it was me who changed. (Laughs)

So there are a lot of drawbacks. If you get your own way, you may sometimes kill someone else’s talent. But when it comes to making something that will be a true hit, there is no compromise on that part. If it has a certain characteristic, you can’t do it another way.

It is necessary for a producer to be greedy for the talent of others. At first glance it looks like arrogance, but he is actually humbled by the talent of others. If you can’t do it, you can’t work. For example, I can’t write Hiroshi Miyagawa’s melodies, and in the same way you can’t assume someone who performs as wonderfully as Kentaro Haneda can write melodies like maestro Miyagawa.

You take on a lot of pressure, and it’s not just because of me that the previous work was a hit. I don’t think fans will ever forget the title Space Battleship Yamato. The reason it got so much sympathy from boys and girls was the people who participated in it. Furthermore, to create a New Yamato for those who were impressed by seeing Yamato, I have to take responsibility regardless of whether the peoples’ reputations are good or bad.

That’s the hardest of the hard parts. The pressure. Especially when it comes to New Yamato. I’m confident in the feature film. That won’t let anyone down. But if New Yamato comes out badly, it will tarnish the names of the people who participated, and the achievements they leave behind. I won’t be able to take a rest for a while. It’s been 20 years since I felt this way.

Two new works to be released

Space Battleship Yamato 2520 (video series)

Set in the far future of the 26th century, this new work depicts a new Yamato designed by Syd Mead. Only young staff members have gathered to work on it, and it depicts boys and girls reaching for freedom. It will be a magnificent 7-hour story to be released as a video series starting this fall.

Space Battleship Yamato Resurrection (working title/feature film)

Yamato returns 19 years after Final Yamato. Susumu Kodai (now over 40 years old) has a daughter, and a new story develops. This feature film should be a must-see for fans of the series. It is scheduled for nationwide release in January.

Footnotes: Communications from “Dr. Yamato

Many Gamilas characters who appeared in the first work had their names taken from famous German soldiers in World War II. Example: Dessler/Hitler. By the way, Captain Okita and Captain Hijikata on the Yamato side got their names from the Shinsengumi for some mysterious reason.

Part 1 progressed with a schedule for 52 episodes, but this was cut off. If it wasn’t, Mamoru Kodai (Susumu’s missing brother) would have appeared as Captain Harlock, which would have been a link to Leiji Matsumoto’s works. Was it a good thing that this was discontinued?

Because the series lasted so long, of course substitute characters also appeared. Chief Engineer Hikozaemon Tokugawa was killed in action in Farewell to Yamato, so Shou Yamazaki became the new chief engineer. Tokugawa’s son Tasuke also came on board as an engineer in The New Voyage.

Lieutenant Alphon appeared as one of the series’ beautiful enemy characters in Be Forever Yamato. Nachi Nozawa, also the dub voice of Alain Delon, said to Yuki, “I’ll tell you the secret of the hyperon bomb any time…if you accept my love.” So there is a pompous man for this series, too.

In the first work, the color of Dessler’s face differs from scene to scene in a funny mistake. That being said, this is actually a science-fiction concept. Colors naturally change when exposed to sunlight or radioactivity. It was the result of specifying in detail. [Translator’s note: no, it wasn’t. Nishizaki simply changed his mind in mid-production.]

Related articles:

Yamato Resurrection staff interview, 1993

Yamato 2520 staff interview, 1993

Coverage in The Quickening, 1994

About the source

Cosmo DNA editor Tim Eldred here, chiming in with no small amount of personal pride over obtaining this interview for publication. As longtime readers know, I’ve gone after and landed some pretty rare artifacts for this website. This particular issue of LB Nakasu Communication is among the rarest. I first spotted it long ago in an online auction, but didn’t move fast enough to score it. This led to over ten years of searching; continuous scouring of online sources and used bookstores in Japan yielded nothing. Then, completely at random, another copy turned up at auction in May 2019 and I was lucky enough to make the sole bid. All good things come to those who hunt.

As it turns out, this was an interesting magazine with a story of its own. It originated in Nakasu, an entertainment community on an island between two rivers in Hakata, a district in Fukuoka city (within Fukuoka Prefecture). The LB in the title is an abbreviation for Lindberg Bar, a well-known Nakasu hotspot owned by beloved socialite and “bar mom” Kazuko Todo.

Ms. Todo founded Nakasu Communication as a monthly digest of local culture in 1980, then added the LB initials in 1991 to identify it with her bar. She was the editor-in-chief for its entire 30-year run, which ended with issue 284 in 2010. As a club owner, it’s possible that she could have met Yoshinobu Nishizaki through live music circles, but no specific explanation is given for how a Yamato story found its way into the pages of a locally-oriented magazine.

In fact, it was a cover story that totaled 17 pages with the Nishizaki interview filling up only the first 6. The rest included a Yamato retrospective (read it here) and additional articles about Syd Mead and the history of IJN Battleship Yamato (read them here). Meanwhile, this brief explanation from the end of the magazine perfectly sums up its mission statement…

What is LB Nakasu Communication?

The catchphrase is, “It’s nice to have so much fun in life!!” East or west, young or old, no matter what you do, “whoever says this is definitely interesting”! This magazine thinks about people and all things in nature, and every time the staff and readers take it in, it becomes pleasant and exciting. Our aim is to create a magazine that makes you feel cheerful and energetic. It is a monthly magazine produced day and night, drinking sake and mobilizing luck with both intellect and stamina, all while casually saying, “Well, it’s another perfect month.”

The readers and staff get together and play around a lot. We really enjoy it, and hope to see you there.

Also, since this magazine currently has limited sales channels, it’s difficult to get into the bookstore game. Please reserve your copy at the Tokyo Editorial Department as much as possible.

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