Monday, December 14
I inadvertently picked a famous theatre for my second viewing of Yamato Resurrection: the Shibuya Humax Cinema. Shibuya is a Tokyo suburb, the one you see most often in movies shot here, and Humax is the name of the theatre chain. It’s quite easy to find, as well. On a previous visit a local friend of mine just said to look for the black tower that came from Gotham City.
I learned after the fact that this was quite the hot spot in the early years. Every previous Yamato film played here (when it was called the Shibuya Pantheon) with special promotions devised by the theatre staff. Today they were continuing the tradition in several ways. The first was an online callout for photos of fans with their Yamato collections to be displayed in the lobby.
This wasn’t on display yet, but there were several other attractions. A board was set up showing all the characters from the film with sticker-dots you could apply to vote for your favorites. Two nearby vending machines (probably unique to Humax) doled out customized Yamato stickers and the strap mascots shown below left.
Just around the corner from these was a drop-box for a trivia questionnaire that was handed out with your ticket. (I neglected to mention that the advance tickets I purchased before the trip were actually vouchers; they tore off the bottom portion and exchanged it for an actual movie ticket with assigned seating. I’ve only had that same experience with high-end theatres in Los Angeles; in Japan they all seem to work that way.) Trivia contest winners were eligible to win t-shirts and other prizes.
Another object of interest was a bulletin board collection of Resurrection articles clipped from magazines and newspapers. The gift shop here was just a cart, but it held a few things not seen at the Piccadilly, such as a classic Yamato model in a fresh new box.
My second viewing of the movie was better than the first. For one thing, I’d gotten a full night’s sleep and a decent breakfast before this one. Plot points became much clearer and the anticipation of key moments made me look forward to them. The audience, however, was significantly smaller seeing as it was a Monday morning.
The balance of the day was spent at various Mandarake stores in Shibuya and Nakano. I can’t say enough about Mandarake. There’s no better place for a hardcore anime/manga fan to spend an afternoon. The Nakano stores in particular satisfy your concept of a perfect world; each of them specializes in a different category such as art books, manga, vintage toys, model kits, DVDs, etc.
Really, the only shopping letdown I experienced on the trip was at the various Sunkus convenience stores. Like Organic, Aeon, and Jusco, Sunkus was listed as a sponsor in the movie’s end credits, and right up until the movie premiere they sold Yamato food items. But apparently that ended on December 11, because I couldn’t find a single crumb left in any Sunkus store anywhere.
Yamato DVDs and manga reprints were easy to find, and I must admit it was reassuring to know that Yamato manga was just around the corner from my hotel 24 hours a day. (You know, in case of emergencies.) But despite the lack of food items I still regularly heard pre-recorded promos for them on all the stores’ PA systems. Thus, the “wave-motion dog” and “black hole roll” live on in name only.
Tuesday, December 15
I left my hotel 10 minutes late but arrived at my destination 5 minutes early after some luck with my train connections kept me inside the timing curve. It occurred to me after this that some Tokyoites probably measure their daily karma by the flow of the train commute. A good day would be signaled by arriving at a track just as your train pulls up or descending a staircase right next to an exit. It makes you feel like the world is doing you a favor.
My third screening of Yamato Resurrection reunited me with Anton and another friend named Tsuneo Tateno. Tsuneo is a game designer and translator; he spent several years at the University of Idaho and now translates the Japanese editions of Dungeons and Dragons books. He’s not a huge Yamato fan these days, belonging to the subset that believes the saga should have ended with Farewell to Yamato in 1978, but he’s still a great guy to hang out with and exceedingly generous.
I asked Tsuneo in advance to select his own favorite theatre, and he chose one in the suburb of Iitabashi that had the surprisingly familiar name of Warner Mycal. Indeed, it belongs to the same organization that provides me with regular employment (I’m one of the lucky guys who gets to draw storyboards for the animated Batman TV series, The Brave and the Bold), so I was amused to find myself face-to-face that morning with my “boss” in the theatre lobby.
Anti-trust laws prevent Warner Brothers, a maker of motion pictures, from opening theatres in the US, but since those laws don’t apply in Japan, WB can do as they will here. The result is a bright, attractive space populated by Warner characters. The apparent concern of anti-trust litigators is that Warner would block out films from other studios, but nothing of the sort takes place here. All the proof I needed is that they were showing a Toei production named Space Battleship Yamato Resurrection.
The screen was pretty average, smaller than the one at Piccadilly, but the sound was the best I’d heard on this trip. That’s what made it Tsuneo’s favorite; he’d seen all the Lord of the Rings movies here and was blown away by the sound quality. Piccadilly and Humax each sounded fine to me, but Warner topped them both. It reminded me that American cinema has always had the edge in sound production; very few Japanese theatres were even equipped with stereo back in Yamato‘s heyday. When Nishizaki produced the upgraded version of Final Yamato, only 20 theatres in the entire country could handle the multi-channel stereo soundtrack, and only two were available to book the film: one in Tokyo (Shibuya Pantheon) and another in Osaka.
Tsuneo and I sped off to lunch and conducted one of the oldest traditions in anime fandom. Even now in the age of DVDs and the internet, he recorded TV shows for me on VHS; a trio of Yamato Resurrection promo specials that had aired the previous week. The symbolism of this was inescapable; it’s exactly how Yamato (and anime in general) first came to America. Exactly 30 years after I’d first seen Star Blazers, it was happening again.
After an afternoon of shopping in the used bookstore district of Jimboucho (one of my favorite places in Tokyo) we hauled ourselves down to the “leisure island” of Odaiba, home of the city’s biggest shopping malls and entertainment centers. It’s possible to spend an entire weekend there, but I had just one destination in mind, tipped off to me by fellow traveler and occasional guest writer Dave Merrill.
He’d made his first trip here back in August and discovered a theme-mall named Daiba 1-Choume Shontengai which translates to “1st Street in Odaiba Town.” It occupies a single floor of the huge Decks Tokyo Beach building. If you grew up in Japan in the 1960s and 70s (the golden years of the Showa Era), your childhood is preserved here. Vintage cars and storefronts, home facades with living rooms on display, tin signs and adverts in Japanese; they all came to rest in Daiba-1 Choume.
I quickly found the one object I was specifically looking for: the famed Yamato bicycle, bolted down in a mini-reproduction of a children’s playground with a mural of a Tokyo cityscape behind it. The painted afternoon sun cast a golden light that undoubtedly fills many adult memories even if it wasn’t really like that.
The bike, like just about everything from childhood, is much smaller than you might think. But it’s in excellent shape despite the lack of a wave-motion headlight. (See a full article about the bicycle with more photos here.)
From here the kitschy wonders continue. You can buy a beetle in this mall. Not your scrawny temperate variety, either; these are the giant 6-inch monsters with jaws and horns. Tsuneo remembered catching them with ease at his grandfather’s farm. In the days before pro wrestling, boys would pit them against each other in epic backyard brawls.
The capper of this tour is a children’s arcade filled with solid-state, old-school pachinko and video games. Manga magazine covers and movie posters cover the walls, ready to fill heads with flashbacks. I’m just the right age to have experienced all this, but I grew up in the wrong country to do so. Alas.
Wednesday, December 16
This was the last day of my visit, or as I’ve come to call it, the final lightning round of shopping. The mission was simple: find the four new Yamato Resurrection CDs that the EMI Music company thoughtfully delayed to go on sale today. It was Anton’s goal as well, so he joined in the search. Our Yamato Party friends had told us that some stores might put them out the night before, but Anton’s attempt to confirm this met with defeat.
Before our 11am rendezvous in Shinjuku I checked a few music stores that all came up blank. I had a few minutes to duck into a hobby shop and was lucky enough to find both of the newly-reissued Bandai model kits of the 1/700 Yamato and Andromeda. I didn’t intend to buy them, but they photographed nicely. It also gave me a rare opportunity to commune with the massive 1/350 Yamato model. This, too, is off my buy list (I’d need an extra plane ticket to get it home) but it was interesting to see it measured against a sizeable stack of other Yamato kits. It’s the one sitting on end and big enough to hide a child in.
Anton and I agreed that Akihabara was the best place to spend the limited time I had left on the CD search. We were partially right. Of the five stores we checked, only one had them. And even they could provide only three out of the four. This was proving far more difficult than it should have been in the anime capital of the world. Maybe it was the effect of online commerce taking over the market, but that didn’t seem to affect all the Macross F and Gundam discs. Either way, it was looking more and more like I’d have to take the online route to finish this hunt back home, which felt like cheating (bad karma).
En route back to Shinjuku I had the brainstorm of trying HMV as a last resort. With just one hour left we miraculously found ourselves at the train station exit closest to the store (good karma!) and fast walking got us there just a few minutes later. While the clerks were checking the computer to see if they had what we wanted, my eyes were somehow drawn like magnets to the exact shelf holding the final disc I needed. Eureka! It even came with a bonus clear file, which I accepted as righteous reward for my dedication.
I described all this in such detail because it’s exactly the sort of experience I was hoping to have on this trip, to relive the challenge of the pre-internet era. Sure, I could have just clicked the “save to cart” button at Amazon.jp, but anyone with a knobby appendage can do that. I came to Japan for the thrill of the chase, and Yamato gave it to me all over again.
I also recognize that the ability to be here at such a time was a privilege for reasons that go beyond simple determination. My job in TV animation is uniquely steady work that grants me a financial flexibility that currently eludes many Americans. In planning this trip I’d hoped to be here for all those who couldn’t, to have this experience on their behalf and bring it back to them with these words. If reading this gave just one of you an unexpected smile or took your mind off less pleasant things for a moment, then it was worth every penny.
And this is still not the end of it. Anton remained in Tokyo for another two weeks after my departure and had one more adventure – one that brought him face to face with a true Yamato luminary. Read his account of this rare encounter here.
Thanks for traveling with us, even if you could only do it vicariously. The live-action Yamato movie is now less than a year away, which makes Yamatour 3 a no-brainer.
The End. (For now.)
This was a restaurant next to the Shinjuku Piccadilly, where we first saw the movie. I instantly recognized the familiar typeface. Yeah, I notice things like this and yet I still regularly forget where I put my stupid phone.