As the Executive Producer and guiding hand of Space Battleship Yamato, Shoji Nishizaki is by definition the primary source for all information about the state of the franchise. Shortly after Yamato 2202 Chapter 7 closed in theaters with the announcement that another production would follow, he was interviewed for the Yamato 2202 Complete Works Script Collection, published by Kadokawa in June 2019.
Executive Producer Shoji Nishizaki
Producing Yamato so it doesn’t get lost in the waves of history
Interviewer: When did you all come up with a plan for Yamato 2202?
Nishizaki: There was already a plan for 2202 when production of Yamato 2199 started. Since 2199 was a remake of the first Yamato, I naturally thought from the beginning that I wanted to do the next one as well.
Interviewer: Harutoshi Fukui and Hideki Oka, who were in charge of the scripts for 2202, were part of the so-called Yamato generation, who encountered Yamato in their childhood, weren’t they?
Nishizaki: Their parents were the so-called baby boomers, and it was the generation that lived through the period of high economic growth. Therefore, unlike our parents, we didn’t actually experience war. However, when we were touched by the work called Yamato, we could sufficiently imagine it. From Yamato, we received the theme that war is sad and empty whether you win or lose. I feel that 2202 was woven together wonderfully because the two of them took that theme into consideration.
Interviewer: What was your first impression when you saw Mr. Fukui’s written proposal?
Nishizaki: I had an intuition that, along with his talent as a storyteller, Mr. Fukui was also capable of being a producer. If a writer reflects too much of his or her feelings in their work, it is possible for them to lose sight of their direction. However, Mr. Fukui always maintained an objective viewpoint, seeing how the readers and viewers took the story, whether they were happy with it or not. Mr. Fukui was prepared to maintain this point of view from the his proposal throughout the production.
I also felt that he went to considerable trouble to respond to our order for the project. We asked him to rebuild Farewell to Yamato as a series, but not to kill the main characters. However, the movie has an ending caption written by Yoshinobu Nishizaki saying, “They will never appear again,” and if we withdrew that you wouldn’t know what “Farewell” is referring to. Since 2202 has the same Soldiers of Love subtitle as Farewell, it had to be a story that was just as moving. In response to that question, Mr. Fukui’s gesture in the first meeting was to present the first episode along with the proposed structure. I felt this was the right answer, and that 2202 would succeed with Mr. Fukui at its core! I remember that I was excited at that moment.
Interviewer: I heard that Mr. Fukui and Mr. Oka jointly wrote the 2202 scripts in the form of a two-person relay, which is not common in anime scriptwriting.
Nishizaki: Mr. Fukui was the main writer to the end, but rather than it being different from general anime, it’s more like Hollywood animation in terms of time and budget. On that side of filmmaking, the staff members give their thoughts and opinions on the plot, the scriptwriter receives them, and the script is built. The producer, director, and everyone on the staff makes the decisions. The director receives the decided script and makes the film. That kind of flow is the mainstream.
Nishizaki and Harutoshi Fukui at T-Joy Cinema in Hakata, June 2018
In Japan, on the other hand, the director often has the most decision-making power, and the producer is usually only a client and a matchmaker. When a director has too much control over the story and picture, the film often loses sync and persuasion, so it was fortunate that Mr. Fukui had the makings of a producer in 2202. Before the staff members, including the producer, came up with suggestions for the proposal, they all put their pride in a locker and gave honest opinions. The recipient took it all in, and Mr. Oka and Mr. Fukui created the script in a relay. By taking in a wide variety of nuance, they were able to weave the story while reflecting on that. On that point, I think it’s different from general anime.
Interviewer: I must say, it sounds like the Hollywood script process.
Nishizaki: Oh, no, no, note quite. I’d say it’s more Hollywood-like. The biggest thing I should say is that I was originally part of the music industry, and not a talent who came up through the anime industry. Also, rather than capturing Yamato in the framework of anime, I think of it more in the framework of a movie. Because when you think of it in an anime framework, everything in it becomes an anime standard.
If you take the theme song or an insert song as an example, I think it reminds you of a wide variety of things in terms of movie music. But if you approach it as anime music, you’ll only think of anime songs. Of course, there is depth in anime songs, but the framework of movie music is definitely wider.
At the 2016 year-end party
My father Yoshinobu Nishizaki also had experience in the music industry, and the Yamato series was not limited by anime territory. The plan was to make it in the larger framework of a movie. That was evident at the time of Farewell, when Kenji Sawada, a big star at the time, was in charge of the theme song. Along with From Yamato With Love, S.E.N.S. Project produced an ending theme song for 2202. This was another example of not wanting to limit ourselves to the framework of an anime song.
Another of our attempts not to be limited by the normal anime standards was introducing a more Hollywood-like process for the scriptwriting. I feel that all these attempts have been very successful. I’d like to incorporate them into the next work and beyond.
Interviewer: Other than yourself, many creators outside of anime were brought into 2202, and the work was completed with a solid cinematic feeling as a result.
Nishizaki: If you look at those who have only worked in the anime industry – an animator, director, producer or whatever else – they have unique know-how about anime works and techniques compared to other people. It’s great and sort of intimidating that they can single-mindedly face up to the challenge of anime, but I’m always thinking that there should be a little more external perspective, too.
Currently, hundreds of anime works are produced every year, and we’re scrambling for a few creators. And while we get quality work, we wonder, “Why is the situation like this?” Frankly speaking, the traditional anime production system is broken. Still, because they’ve only worked in the anime industry they believe it’s normal and they don’t take action to try and change anything. So the ship of the anime industry keeps sinking. But that shouldn’t be the case. This environment has to be improved somehow…that’s my belief.
Therefore, I’ll make various attempts to combine things from both inside and outside the anime industry to produce the work. As I mentioned earlier, my late father Yoshinobu Nishizaki also took various measures both inside and outside the industry, and because he made Yamato into a social phenomenon, I intend to carry on that will with a modern approach.
Interviewer: Taking various approaches from both inside and outside the industry could lead to a revival of not just Yamato, but the anime industry as a whole, couldn’t it?
Nishizaki: Just like in the story, I’d like Yamato to bring a Cosmo Reverse System back to the Earth called the anime industry. The Yamato series has already celebrated its 45th anniversary since the first generation, so it often seems like a nostalgia title. But we can break through that first impression, which is held by people who haven’t yet been touched by Yamato, and we’ll always take an approach that isn’t limited to history.
For example, we made dozens of products through our collaboration with Under Armour, which is a sporting goods brand. If sports fans haven’t encountered Yamato yet, maybe those products will get them to watch it. Such possibilities are everywhere. We’ll produce Yamato so that it doesn’t get lost in the waves of history. I feel that is my duty. As for the new work that was announced the other day, we’re working hard under that policy every day, and we hope that you’ll continue to love Yamato in the future.
At a 2202 Chapter 7 screening. R to L: MC Osamu Kobayashi, Shoji Nishizaki, Director Nobuyoshi Habara, Harutoshi Fukui