Live Action Movie, Report 1

As of this writing, we are approximately halfway between our first glimpse of the live-action Space Battleship Yamato movie and its December 1 premiere in Japanese theatres. After an initial rush of publicity on January 1 (Japan’s equivalent to the Superbowl in advertising terms), things were quiet for a while until something new appeared in April. In the interest of catching up, let’s take it all in chronological order…

The images above are from the teaser website, first launched in July 2009 and upgraded with the publicity wave on January 1. It’s still online but other than some very minimal text features, it hasn’t changed much. Naturally, it will be something to watch as the months tick away, and it can be accessed here.

These images are from a two-sided Chirashi [“Tear Sheet”], a flyer that was available free in movie theatres for a limited time. Such flyers are a common form of promotion; lobbies in Japanese theatres offer them up by the dozen. The text is minimal, but says it all: 2010 is the Yamato Year.

The Teaser

The biggest thing that happened on January 1 was the release of a 30-second teaser commercial that captured immediate attention on both TV and the internet. It could also be seen in theatres as a big-screen trailer for a very limited time. Seeing it was a revelation for all those who had watched opportunities for a live-action Yamato rise and fall for nearly 20 years. Yoshinobu Nishizaki first hinted at it in the Yamato Fan Club Magazine all the way back in 1989, saying that Sean Connery was being considered for the role of Captain Okita.

Then, of course, there was the notorious live-action Star Blazers movie developed during the 90s by Benderspink Productions, which got all the way to a much-maligned screenplay optioned by Disney before it went into Hollywood limbo. Disney’s option expired after ten years and nothing further was said about it.

The new film cut through all that history in just 30 seconds with an absolutely jaw-dropping teaser trailer that can be seen on YouTube here.

Fans got in on the act over subsequent months, assembling their own trailers out of found footage and video mash-ups culled from Playstation and Pachinko game scenes. See one of them here.

The Cast

Typically, the first question that springs to mind when one ponders a live-action Yamato is, which actors would you choose? Sean Connery was a natural pick for Captain Okita after people saw The Hunt for Red October, and though Benderspink’s ideas were generally not well-received by fans, they were onto something when they considered Alan Rickman or Jon Malkovich for Desslok.

The cast for this outing, however, is entirely Japanese and largely unknown to American audiences. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some are industry veterans and others are quite new. A few come from the music world and some have even participated in previous live-action anime adaptations. And, of course, there are a few surprises. Let’s meet them one by one.

Clicking on an actor’s name will take you to their Wikipedia listing or homepage. Clicking on other links will take you to YouTube clips of their work.

Takuya Kimura
as Susumu Kodai

Meisa Koruki
as Yuki Mori

Naoto Ogata
as Shima Daisuke

Tsutomu Yamazaki
as Captain Okita

Takuya Kimura (nicknamed ‘KimTak’ by his fans) is by far the biggest name attached to the film. He got his start as an actor/idol singer and made his first breakthrough with pop band SMAP in 1991, but his parallel careers in film and TV ultimately eclipsed his music stardom. Susumu Kodai is actually the third anime character he has portrayed; as an avowed Leiji Matsumoto fan, he put in some screen time as Captain Harlock in an episode of the SMAP X SMAP variety show with Matsumoto as a guest in 2002 and he also performed the voice of Howl in Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). See a video montage of Kimura’s work here.

Meisa Kuroki‘s acting career began with TV and stage productions in 2004 and expanded to films one year later. She broke out as a recording star in 2009 with her debut album Hellcat. She also appears in many TV commercials and genre films including the SF anime film Vexille (voice actor/title role, 2007), the live-action adaptation of the manga One Pound Gospel (2008), and the 2009 SF action film Assault Girls, directed by anime auteur Mamoru Oshii. Visit her homepage here.

Naoto Ogata got his start in film and TV simultaneously in 1988. His screen debut in the film Oracion (1988) is still his best-known role, and he also starred in the popular TV drama series Loving It (1993).

Tsutomu Yamazaki, like Captain Okita, is the most seasoned member of the cast with a film career going back to 1960 and a TV and stage career that started in 1967, with numerous awards for his work as both a lead and a supporting actor. His performances include Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha (1980), a role in the TV drama Savory and many TV commercials. He has also inadvertently appeared in anime; the villain Kai Kiyoteru from Mobile Police Patlabor (first OAV series, episodes 5 & 6 “SV2’s Longest Day”) was modeled after him.

Toshiro Yanagiba
as Shiro Sanada

Toshiyuki Nishida
as Tokugawa

Reiko Takashima
as Dr. Sado

as Aihara

Toshihiro Yanagiba has been a respected actor since 1980 with an enormous list of TV credits and many commercials. He has also been a film actor since 1986, and had a key supporting role in the World War II submarine action film Lorelei: the Witch of the Pacific in 2005 (which also featured three other Yamato actors).

Toshiyuki Nishida has been a very busy character actor since his TV career began in 1967 and he went into films in 1974. He starred in the live-action film adaptation of the anime series GeGeGe no KitaroA Fishing Maniac’s Diary, which celebrated its 20th installment in 2009.

Reiko Takashima, who recasts the role of Dr. Sado as a woman, has done an enormous amount of acting in both film and TV since 1988. One of her best-known roles was in the crime drama Woman of the Yakuza (1999). She also co-starred with Toshiyuki Nishida in the 14th Fishing Maniac’s Diary movie (2003) and was featured prominently in the action film K-20 (2008), written and directed by Yamato‘s screenwriter, Shimako Satou.

Maiko reinterprets the role of Yoshikazu Aihara as a female. Born in Seattle, she started with a modeling and TV commercial career that lead very recently to her first film role in You of the Mountain (2008) and a starring role in the romantic comedy Waiting for Good News (2009).

Toshihiro Yashiba
as Yasuo Nanbu

Kensuke Owada
as Kenjiro Ohta

Kazuki Namioka
as Saburo Kato

Takumi Saito
as Akira Yamamoto

Toshihiro Yashiba has had dual film and TV acting careers since 2003 with roles in such genre productions as the sentai series Abaranger, Densha Otoko [Train Man] (2005), and Death Note II (2008). He also appeared with Toshiyuki Nishida in the 16th Fishing Maniac’s Diary film (2005).

Kensuke Owada is another actor new to film and TV, having started in 2007. His credits include a smattering of TV commercials, live-action adaptations of the anime/manga series Gokusen (2008) and the teen-angst TV drama Vampire Boy (2009). Yamato is only his third film.

Kazuki Namioka has racked up many film and TV credits since his career began in 2004. He has also acted with other Yamato cast members, such as Toshihiro Yashiba in Densha Otoko (2005), Takuya Kimura in Hero (2007) and Meisa Kuroki in One Pound Gospel (2008). 2006 was a good year for him, with a cameo in The Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift and a starring role in the romance movie Strawberry Fields. Yamato is his second film under director Takashi Yamazaki; his first was Ballad: Gift of Time (2009).

Takumi Saitoh has had concurrent careers in film, TV, and music since 2001. He is best known for appearing in the movie adaptation of the yaoi anime Boys Love (2006) and can be seen in a making-of special here (on the left). He has also appeared in an episode of the live-action superhero TV series Garo (2005), numerous Prince of Tennis live stage musicals, and the film adaptation of 20th Century Boys (2009). The latter two on that list originated from popular manga titles. Visit his homepage here.

Shinichi Tsutsumi
as Mamoru Kodai

Hiroyuki Ikeuchi
as Hajime Saito

Isao Hashizume
as Commander Todo

Shinichi Tsutsumi has been a very busy stage, film, and TV actor since 1984. He co-starred with fellow Yamato actors Toshihiro Yanagiba and Isao Hashizume in Lorelei (2005) and appeared in Yamato director Takashi Yamazaki’s previous film Always: Sunset on Third Street (2005), along with its 2007 sequel. Among his many awards was a Best Actor nod from the Japan Academy for his starring role in the suspense thriller Climber’s High (2008), which also featured Yamato actor Tsutomu Yamazaki. He co-starred that same year in You of the Mountain with Yamato actor Meiko. Visit his homepage here.

Hiroyuki Ikeuchi started acting in TV and films in 1997, landing an early breakout role in the live-action TV adaptation of the GTO [Great Teacher Onizuka] manga in 1998 and appearing in occasional TV commercials between his many other projects. He directed his first independent film in 2006, a romance called 13 Months. One of his best-known roles came in the 2008 slapstick comedy Handsome Suits. Visit his homepage here.

Isao Hashizume is a veteran actor who brings a wealth of experience to his Yamato role, logging hundreds of TV credits since 1966 and films since 1969. He is one of four Yamato cast members who appeared in the 2005 World War II action film Lorelei. The presence of these actors is not the only Lorelei connection; the director of that film, Shinji Higuchi, was originally pegged to direct Yamato, but stepped aside when the movie evolved away from a battle-driven story to a character-driven one.

Supporting Cast Members

The standout here is Masato Ibu, who is Dessler’s original voice actor and (not surprisingly) another member of the Lorelei cast. Character names for the supporting cast members have not been announced yet, but it’s very likely that Starsha, Domel [Lysis], Hisu [Krypt] and Geru [Volgar] will emerge from their ranks.

Takahiro Miura

Koyuki Kato

Ebizo Ichikawa

Naoto Takenaka

Kana Harada

Teruyuki Kagawa

Aya Ueto

Newspaper Coverage

This was another big factor of the January 1st promotional campaign, large-format ads accompanied by interviews with lead actor Takuya Kimura in Japan’s major newspapers. Presented below is coverage from two of the most prominent. Their content is similar, but details differ from one to the other, as seen in the English translations.

Side note: Kimura made news again in February when he asked director Takashi Yamazaki to go back to the drawing board on some of the special effects. After being “moved to tears” by the movie Avatar, he offered to reduce his own salary if it would help Yamato to reach that standard. We can speculate on exactly what category of FX he was talking about (blue aliens, perhaps?) but this should erase any doubts about Kimura’s devotion to the film. There was some concern that re-shoots would delay the premiere, but to date no such delay has been announced.

From San-Kei Shimbun, January 1, 2010:

The actor Takuya Kimura (37), who continues to find new challenges, plays the hero Susumu Kodai in the motion picture Space Battleship Yamato, based on the popular anime. The movie was finally made possible by the progress of the latest imaging techniques this year, the biggest topic for Kimura. “I feel great responsibility as a participant,” he says.

The “Yamazaki Group” gathers again.

It is the year 2194. The mysterious enemy Gamilas begins an invasion of Earth, and most humans are killed by innumerable Planet Bombs dropped on many parts of the world. Five years later, the Earth is polluted by radioactivity, and the survivors live underground. The armed forces have withdrawn, and Kodai (Kimura) searches the surface for recoverable resources.

It is learned that a radioactivity removal device exists on the Planet Iscandar, 148,000 light years away. Kodai boards the Space Battleship Yamato with Captain Okita (Tsutomu Yamazaki), fighter pilot Yuki (Meisa Kuroki), and others for the departure to Iscandar. Toshiro Yanagiba, Naoto Ogata, Toshiyuki Nishida, Reiko Takashima, and others will also appear.

The director is Takashi Yamazaki, Japan’s VFX (Visual Effects) guru, who also made Returner, Always: Sunset on Third Street and Ballad: Gift of Time.

The script is by his wife Shimako Satou, director of K-20: Legend of the Mask.

Additionally, Naoki Satou (Always) is in charge of the music; thus, the “Yamazaki Group” gathers once again. The plan is to open the film nationwide in December of this year.

The “participants” feel a heavy responsibility.

“Because this work thrilled us as children, we didn’t just feel joy to be there, we were a little bit nervous,” Kimura disclosed frankly.


Kimura plays Kodai at 37, the same as his real age. Kodai once worked as a military pilot, but has retired from the service. To save the planet from radioactive contamination in one year’s time, he enters the battlefield again as the combat leader on Yamato. He is portrayed as not just a hero, but as a solitary man with an overflowing love for humanity.

“There are two sides to Kodai’s character, strength and weakness,” Kimura enthuses with great admiration.

His first Yamato experience occured at just five years old when he saw the movie and Farewell to Yamato at a theatre in Shibuya, Tokyo.

“I lined up at the theatre and saw them. There was an elder who taught drawing in my neighborhood kindergarten. He once said ‘draw your favorite thing today’ and I drew Yamato. The bow was on the left side of the paper and smoke flowed from the hull.”

There is a feeling of nostalgia.

When Kimura saw the design for Kodai’s costume, that’s when he first realized he would be playing this character.

“The moment I saw it, I suddenly felt the role emerging. I went in for a fitting in a pre-production meeting and when I saw Kodai’s jacket hanging from the rack, I thought ‘is that mine?’ I felt a great responsibility as soon as I put it on. I thought about the cloth, the human ability to turn cotton stuffing into something solid.”

It is also said that the special effects by the production company ‘White Group’ utilize the lastest technology and are likely to become a highlight as well.

“The new CG process has a remarkable ability to feel realistic. Though it uses the power of a computer, is directed by a human hand and brings great excitement to the screen.”


There is a fierce battle depicted with the latest CG technology.

“I felt bad about being at war. It was unbearably sad and unfair. Tsutomo Yamazaki in his captain’s role said, ‘it won’t just be me who has actual war experience in this.’ I was surprised at his words,” Kimura said. “I want to accomplish other things properly, with all my energy, after what I learned from doing this.”

It is Kimura’s ambition that this will become the “Yamato Year.”

From Asahi Shimbun, January 1, 2010:

Human Feelings and the Grandeur of Space are Unbeatable. I think that is Yamato.

The love and courage of human beings who face Earth’s biggest crisis. The ship that excited Japan with a new story and grand romance. The journey into space now becomes a live-action motion picture with state-of-the-art images. The long-awaited Space Battleship Yamato will be released December 1.

Needless to say, the staff and cast have realized the “Japanese Dream,” and none more so than this man. We talked with Takuya Kimura, who plays the main character, Susumu Kodai.


Born November 13, 1972. From Tokyo. Blood type O. CD debut September 91 with Can’t Stop!! LOVING by SMAP.

Involved in many fields such as singing in a group as well as acting for TV and film.

A man who stays on top in both name and reality alike.

Everyone knows Susumu Kodai as the combat leader in the masterpiece anime Space Battleship Yamato.

Choosing this new challenge becomes the boom of a social phenomenon.

Interviewer: Mr. Kimura was still a young boy in the 70s when Space Battleship Yamato created an enthusiastic boom. In what form did you encounter Yamato at that time?

Kimura: My first encounter with Yamato was not on TV, but at a theatre; the movie version of Space Battleship Yamato and also Farewell to Yamato. I stood in a long line at the movie theatre in Shibuya to see it. The first points, the destruction of Earth and space travel over 148,000 light years, were on too large a scale for a young child to understand, but I was drawn in anyway. There were deep words I couldn’t understand at the time, but I remember that it was very convincing.

Now I remember well there was an old man in our neighborhood who took the trouble to teach drawing when I was a child. Usually it was still-life drawing, often fruit on a desk. But one day he said, “draw your favorite thing today.” I looked around, but didn’t see anything that I sincerely wanted to draw. Then I said, “ah, that,” and drew Yamato.

Now I can give my whole mind over to the world of this work and give it a reality. There is not just happiness in this, but also excitement.

Interviewer: It is “that” Kodai that you are portraying. This will be a challenge; it is not exaggeration to say that this character is a national hero.

Kimura: There is both human weakness and a strong sense of justice and purpose in this man named Kodai. Is there not some part of Kodai in everyone?

I also have admiration for the man. When I thought about playing Kodai, I wanted it to be different from an “imitation movie” of the anime. I could go “plus alpha” by absorbing peoples’ passion for Yamato and pass the baton to those who will experience this world for the first time. I thought it would be a good thing to accomplish with this role.

When I met with the staff and cast, the costume rack was on the other side of the table where we were sitting. A jacket was hanging there with a tag saying “for Kodai.” I became absent-minded with excitement during that meeting, and just thought, “is that mine over there?” (Laughs)

However, I felt I big rush of responsibility when I put it on. I felt the responsibility of the mission entrusted to Kodai rather than the small responsibility of performing Kodai. Then the sense of Cosplay disappeared.

Interviewer: The movie’s director is Takashi Yamazaki, who also supervises the VFX (Visual Effects). Do you feel the atmosphere of “this is an SF movie?”

Kimura: The answer is both yes and no. Many shots are done surrounded by a bluescreen to synthesize the CG later. But looking around you can find Shima (Daisuke) played by Naoto Ogata, as well as Shiro Sanada played by Toshiro Yanagiba and Captain Okita by Tsutomu Yamazaki. And to me the Main Bridge is a real thing controlled by flesh and blood human beings.

For example, I don’t recognize Mr.Yamazaki by name since this is my first time acting with him. That makes him Juzo Okita, not Mr. Yamazaki. As the shooting proceeded, we developed real captain-crew relationships. That gradually changed my mind, calling him Captain. It was much later that I could feel, “now I’m facing the actor Tsutomu Yamazaki” during some breaks.

Speaking of visual effects, we had no worries or concerns since Director Yamazaki has very clear visions of the final look and gives us the right directions. He always has two desks, one for regular directions another for the VFX works. And while we have lunch, he quite often looks into computer display alone.

Watching that makes me think, “CGI is not generated on its own, but is only the tool of a man of passion.”

I had some chances to have a look, and now the scenes are filled with all the details, even though there was nothing there when it was shot a week ago. So naturally, I cried out saying, “oh, this is great!”, But he replied quietly, “no, it’s not the final look and we have to do much more with it.”

I can’t even imagine that final look. And I am quite sure this is the first ever Japanese movie to pursue such a high level of visual images.

Interviewer: There is approximately one year to the opening of the film in December, just like the voyage of Yamato. I would appreciate a message on behalf of the crew for all the people waiting and hoping for Yamato‘s launch.

Kimura: I feel that Yamato is more a story about human relations than the attraction of outer space, and it creates an extraordinary world. I’m certain you’ll feel the grandeur of this work by all means.

When shooting a particular scene I wanted you in the theatre to feel the “hatred I have for war.” In performing the role of Kodai, I came to understand him as someone in an unbearably sad situation. Tsutomo Yamazaki once said, “it won’t just be me who has actual war experience in this,” which was very surprising. It compares the world of reality to the unreal world of SF and injects life into all the scenes and characters.

To those who have continued to love Yamato for so long and taken Yamato into themselves, if you greet this winter by adding one more page to those feelings, I will be very honored.

Yamato News

We close our first report with the most recent promotion from Japan, a tabloid-style all-Yamato newspaper distributed to movie theatres on April 17. It offers up a wealth of new photos showing several members of the cast in costume for the first time. It also contains some new promotional text that has been translated below.

See a gallery of the new photos here.


The TV anime Space Battleship Yamato was broadcast in 1974. Its magnificent story and scale revolutionized animation in new and dynamic ways, setting off a boom that became a cultural phenomenon. Yamato has been loved as a national monument of anime ever since. The long-held dream of cinema buffs to see it as a live-action movie has finally come true with Takuya Kimura in the lead role!

The supervisor is Takashi Yamazaki, who swept the movie awards with Ballad: Gift of Time and his two Always films. He personally leads Shirogumi [White Group], Japan’s top VFX company to make use of the latest technology and produce unprecedented CG images. Along with the best cast and staff in Japan, they will make Yamato into exceptional entertainment.

Now, carrying Japan’s hopes and dreams, Yamato takes off for space!

The human race has dreamt of traveling in space since ancient times. Vostok 1 of the Soviet Union succeeded in the world’s first manned spaceflight in 1961. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin looked at the Earth from space and said, “the Earth is blue.”

In 2010, Space Battleship Yamato becomes a live action movie starring Takuya Kimura. The story is set in the year 2199. Earth has lost all of its blue and has been so badly contaminated that it cannot support human beings. Shouldering the serious mission of preventing the ruin of Earth, Yamato launches into space to protect loved ones and restore the blue. The belief is that “hope” can be found somewhere in space…

This magnificent drama is about “love and war,” the love of human beings who leave the Earth to defend it, to fight endlessly against the backdrop of infinite space. On December 1, you will fly into space with Yamato, too.

The great work of SF that Japan challenges for the first time. Now in production!

This will become Japan’s first large-scale SF film. Principal photography began in October 2009 and concluded successfully at the end of the year. This photo was taken on the final day of shooting to commemorate the “crank-up” (production wrap) of Takuya Kimura, the lead actor. He was presented with a farewell bouquet from director Yamazaki. He had survived the experience and smiled with his entire face!

After the shooting finished, the CG team stepped forward to show what they can do. In Yamazaki’s film series Always, they reproduced a row of houses in a city street of the 1950s. Then they amazed you with the spectacle of major civil war battle scenes in Ballad. Director Yamazaki and the White Group, the best in Japan, are now hard at work again. Don’t miss it!

The End

Continue to Report 2

Bonus: Finding Yuki

The Yamato movie’s initial round of publicity in 2009 was unfortunately somewhat negative. The first actress cast in the role of Yuki Mori was Erika Sawajiri (above left), but she had to be let go when her film career clashed head-on with her personal life. Lead actor Takuya Kimura then strongly lobbied for another actress named Aoi Miyazaki (center), but when she turned down the role it opened up for Meisa Kuroki (above right). The world will see the results in less than six months.


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