1977 spotlights: Matsumoto and Nishizaki

To this day, it is impossible to overestimate the impact of the first Yamato movie in 1977. Whenever artifacts from this time reappear, we’re reminded all over again how it completely changed the environment for anime production and marketing. It also marked the first time anime creators themselves emerged from the shadows to become full-fledged celebrities in their own right.

Here we present two such examples from magazines published during the heyday, which put the spotlight on both Leiji Matsumoto and Yoshinobu Nishizaki.

Kinejun Motion Picture Times No. 714

Kinema Junpo Co. Ltd, early August 1977

Kinejun is a contraction of Kinema Junpo, which translates to Cinema Bi-weekly. It was the first mainstream magazine to give Yamato a cover story (see it here) but this coverage predates even that by a full year. Two introductory pages and single-page essay appeared just days before Yamato‘s August 6 premiere.

Weekly Sankei magazine

Sankei Publishing, Sept. 22 1977

Derived from Sankei Sports newspaper, Weekly Sankei gathered up sports and entertainment news in a gossip-style format. When this issue came out, the Yamato movie had already become a blockbuster and Yoshinobu Nishizaki was interviewed at the peak of his early success. The result was a revealing profile with biographical info found nowhere else.

Kinejun article

The year is 2199. Because of unforgivable pollution caused by alien attack, the day of human extinction is approaching. The only way to survive is to travel to the distant planet Iscandar for a radiation removal device. A ship built upon a long history sets out to save Earth’s civilization. Its name is Space Battleship Yamato.

Farewell, Earth…

And, with Hiroshi Miyagawa’s mournful melody for the men who boarded Yamato, Space Battleship Yamato will finally be released in theaters for enthusiastic fans. Toshio Masuda (Director of Human Revolution) has reconstructed the film from all 26 episodes that were broadcast from October 6, 1974, following the lives of the men who set out to bet on the future of humanity. The Executive Producer, planner, and creator is Yoshinobu Nishizaki, of the Wansa-Kun anime series. The screenplay was writted by Eiichi Yamamoto and Keisuke Fujikawa, who mainly worked for Mushi Pro on such works as Jungle Emperor Leo. The art and concepts are by Leiji Matsumoto, poet of the manga world who always depicts the sadness and romance of men in such works as The Cockpit series.

The staff is anime’s very best. You can’t look away from the deep density of the anime, which exhausted many animators during production. In addition, an overseas version coordinated by Yoshinobu Nishizaki has been decided for release in Europe and the United States. As befitting 1977, the year of science-fiction, Japan’s first full-scale SF animation will finally set sail this summer.

Produced by Yoshinobu Nishizaki (Academy Co., Ltd.)
Distribution: Toei Films

Popular SF animation blockbuster Space Battleship Yamato

Directed by Toshio Masuda
Art by Leiji Matsumoto

The eternally unforgettable Space Battleship Yamato

By Leiji Matsumoto

My relationship with Space Battleship Yamato is that it was “the ship I boarded.” (A turn of phrase meaning “the path I chose.”) Since I got on board Yamato because of my desire to do animation, the honest truth is that at first I didn’t even think about how hard it would be. I got on board the huge spaceship Yamato in an attempt to create a magnificent space opera of mens’ dreams. Yamato was indeed a great ship, and sailing it was only possible because of the teamwork and cooperation of all the staff members who were engaged in it. I learned to understand this deep in my heart.

Animation…ever since I was a boy, I’d thought about doing it with my own hands one day. But a man can’t make an “animated film” on his own. Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s intense passion and enthusiasm for Yamato must have made this work possible. The backup of Toshio Masuda’s and Eiichi Yamamoto’s abilities must have made Yamato possible. The patience of script supervisor Keisuke Fujikawa, who silently wrote in his book throughout our meetings and never made a face when I showed up late, must have made Yamato possible. Noboru Ishiguro and Kazunori Tanahashi often stayed up all night with Mr. Nishizaki alternately scolding and encouraging them. Mr. Miyamoto worked while neglecting his life as a newlywed. Mr. Nozaki and Mr. Sasayama stepped up for me when I faltered. The passion of all these staff members must have made the TV version of Yamato possible.

While this work was in production, my cat Mi-kun who had been with me for fourteen years, died. It was a painful and sad time for me, being stretched thin by work for magazines and TV. That’s why Dr. Sado, Yamato‘s famous doctor, said goodbye to Mi-kun on TV on my behalf. “Goodbye, Mi-kun!!”

I never thought I would have to set and specify the colors shot by shot for more than 300 shots. Hachiro Tsukima of the art department expressed those colors wonderfully. All the members of Studio Nue finished designing the mecha by the sweat of their brow. The 70mm-worthy music made you feel the mystery of a man’s romance with space. Hiroshi Miyagawa created a number of melodies for the screen that supported Yamato, and even if I’m just selfishly blurting all this out, it can still be called a masterpiece.

Space Battleship Yamato must be the “ship” that was born out of the combined power of many professionals. Yamato is the bearer of the romance of men in space, the way of life and sincerity of Captain Juzo Okita, the incarnation of an immortal man. It must have been born out of the pain of creation we all experienced together. It must be that Starsha, who I believe is the incarnation of an immortal woman, was also born from this.

For some reason, Yamato continues to fly around as an immortal spaceship, three years after the TV series ended. Now, a feature-length Space Battleship Yamato for theaters has appeared due to Mr. Nishizaki’s passion as a producer. His enthusiasm for Yamato led him to produce several prototype feature films by himself, and now it has made this new longform Yamato possible.

I became aware of some inconveniences and irrationality that forced compromises for the sake of the animated visuals that appeal to the eye as a series of moving pictures. This may have resulted in unexpected humiliation for Aritsune Toyota, a science-fiction writer who participated in the conceptual settings during Yamato‘s voyage. If you stick too close to logic, it may not work as a visual. This was entirely my responsibility. It’s not that the staff and I didn’t have the knowledge to develop SF ideas. Sometimes it is in the nature of a cartoonist to trample on scientific rationality and all things in nature. Please forgive me.

Thanks to Mr. Nishizaki’s passion, Space Battleship Yamato is a work that I will never forget.

– Leiji Matsumoto, manga artist

Weekly Sankei article

Contemporary Theater – 24

The up-down life of the man who earned “500 million yen in one summer” with Space Battleship Yamato

Yoshinobu Nishizaki

Space Battleship Yamato is the animation picture that caught the attention of the summer film world. There is another past behind the producer who made “millions” by continuing to chase his dream.

By Susumu Inuzuka

The producer who was asked for his autograph

This summer, Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki was leading the way.

But rather than running in the lead, it would be more accurate to say that he realized he was running in the lead.

On July 3, a press conference was held at the Hotel Grand Palace in Kudan, Tokyo for the release of the animation movie Space Battleship Yamato. It was expected to be a hit, but it didn’t have the bustling atmosphere of a promised movie. About forty reporters had gathered, but all were equally skeptical.

“We plan to release it only in Tokyo,” Nishizaki said, “but we’re aiming to raise 100 million yen in box office revenue.”

The reporters became more skeptical when they heard this unrealistic number (around $1 million USD in 2020).

Some time later, in mid-July, he visited Toei headquarters in Marunouchi because he wanted to distribute Yamato not just within Tokyo but throughout the entire country. The only way to distribute nationwide is to ask a major company with a distribution network. He was guided to a chair before the seat of a Western-style film distribution manager in one corner of an office. The office was cluttered.

The second time he visited Toei, he was guided to the executive meeting room next to the president’s office. It was the end of July.

Yamato was going to open on Saturday, August 6. The reason he was sent to Toei’s executive meeting room at the end of July is because there were already signs of it becoming a hit. The advance ticket sales at the four planned theaters in Tokyo were unexpectedly good.

“For a normal movie, you can’t sell even ten advance tickets a day at a single venue. In the case of Yamato, 15 to 30 tickets were sold a day.” – Suzuo Horie, Director, Tokyu Recreation Entertainment Department

At the beginning, only one of the Tokyu-affiliated movie theatres was going to be rented to show it in Tokyo. Yamato, Directed by Leiji Matsumoto, was broadcast on TV from fall 1974 to spring 1975, and the ratings weren’t very good. Because of that, “Initially, there would be a recital [screening] at only one venue.” (- Nishizaki) Or so he thought.

After seeing the film, Tokyu offered to open four of its affiliated theaters. At the same time, they asked Producer Nishizaki to bear the advertising expenses of 40 million yen ($400,000 USD in 2020). It was something of a gamble.

People rushed to the cinema in a rainy summer in Tokyo.
Space Battleship Yamato closed the gap and created a boom.
Freelance Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki is 42 years old.
There’s a reason he revels in love and roman[ce].

Mr. Nishizaki took out the money and made new advertising. The response was a sharp upward curve in advance ticket sales.

When the movie was released on August 6, there was a long line around a theater. When he went there, kids who had come to see the movie asked for his autograph and a handshake.

After that day, Tokyu opened two more theaters for Yamato. It had been raining in Tokyo since long before August 6, and children on summer vacation ran to the cinema. The next location for its release was Sapporo, then Fukuoka, Osaka, and Nagoya. In Tokyo, news of the hit excited local kids and a similar boom began. Withered newspapers who had been looking for stories all summer picked up on this, and a local newspaper put the “Yamato Boom” on the front page.

The box office side anticipated 600 million yen in distribution revenue by October. Toei and Tokyu made a profit just by renting out affiliated theaters. Yoshinobu Nishizaki made more money, the exact amount of which is unknown at this time. However, there is no doubt that it is in the ”millions.” Taking production and promotional expenses into account, it should be close to 500 million yen ($5 million USD in 2020).

The rest of the story is easy; the enthusiastic and pure-hearted children who saw Yamato spared no applause at key points.

When a 42-year-old man talks about love and roman[ce]

In the year 2199, Earth is under attack from the planet Gamilas. Radioactive contamination caused by the attack is going to kill all life on Earth. At that time, a message arrives from Iscandar, a planet of peace and love. A device to remove the radiation must be retrieved. The Battleship Yamato, which had been remodeled as a “Noah’s Ark” to escape into space, is further remodeled into a space battleship and heads for Iscandar. After that, Earth is saved despite the twists and turns. That’s what it’s about. According to Nishizaki, the theme is, “Love, adventure, roman, and a man’s way of life.”

I understand the meaning all too well. A battleship flies out into space on a desperate mission. The theme is symbolically represented in this situation. That’s all well and good, but when I met Mr. Nishizaki, I was only interested in one thing: why did he produce “Love, adventure, and roman”? That was the point. If it was nothing more than business, that would be a very easy answer.

This year he will be 42 years old. At that age, few people talk about love, adventure, and roman instead of business. When we reach middle age, most of us forget those words and the substance behind them. That’s normal. Even if those words sometimes come pouring out of our mouths, we can’t look our partners in the face. This is also normal.

Mr. Nishizaki looked directly at me when he said those words. It wasn’t a businesslike way of saying it. That interested me.

There was another thing that interested me; in the message column from the producer in the Yamato program book, the kanji character “Kazu” [Harmony] was written in ink. It turns out that it’s his favorite kanji. However, as a mature business manager, he doesn’t look like the type that would value such a human word. The fact is, he is a freelance producer. There is no need for him to mature, and there is no need for him to dare preach the “harmony” of human beings.

I changed the subject to his career.

There is another career that can’t be overlooked

He was born December 18, 1944. His father, Masahei Nishizaki, was a financier who became the president of Japan Specialty Steel after serving as the managing director of Japan Soda. His grandfather, Kotaro Nishizaki, was a prominent pharmaceutical proponent. Kotaro’s wife Ayano was said to be a famous flower of the Rokumeikan era. His family members were the stars of social circles, turning up several times in the pinup pages of monthly women’s magazines. His aunt Midori Nishizaki made a name for herself as a dancer.

“It would have been best for my father if my older sister and I were switched,” he says.

His older sister Yoko is a so-called “gifted” type. She went to Ochanomizu Women’s University, Tokyo Women’s Christian University and Japan Women’s University, passing at all three and advancing toward Ochanomizu University. She is married to University of Tokyo Professor Takashi Oguchi, who is known as a doctor of earthquakes rather than geophysics.

Yoshinobu was not a “gifted” type, escaping from the pressure of his parents’ expectations to enter the theater department of Japan University and the Bungakuza [Literary Theater]. He stayed with Bungakuza for two years, describing it as “half-hearted.”

After graduating from university in 1932, he began to work in various jobs. The first thing he did was jazz commentary. There was a jazz café in Shinjuku called “Swan.” Rockabilly bands were finally starting to appear in Japan, so he was more of a moderator than a commentator. He didn’t have a deep understanding in that area, but he was told that his time in Bungakuza made him a talker, so he got the job. As for the content, it was mostly talk for the sake of talk.

He is a professional-grade scuba diver
(Photo courtesy of Kobunsha Publishing)

He worked as a coffee boy and a bartender, and there was a time when he went on the road for performances as an orchestra manager. He came to be interested in dramatic performance, and when the Yasuda office in Kyushi heard about him from the Tokyo office, he was put in charge there. It was 1961.

Two years later, he independently created a company called Office Academy to produce stage shows. It went bankrupt in 1968 with a debt of 18 million yen ($180,000 USD in 2020). A laywer stepped in with the creditors to finish the post-processing, and Nishizaki went to Europe.

After returning to Japan, he signed a contract with the manga artist Osamu Tezuka and worked on developing Tezuka manga for TV. He re-established Office Academy, this time as a licensor of trademark rights. He planned, produced, and sold novelty calendars, picture books, and more.

Although not socially independent, he made some bestselling calendars. On the other hand, as an individual he worked as an animation producer, making a TV series with Sanwa Bank’s mascot character “Wansa-Kun.” The next thing he worked on was Space Battleship Yamato.

There is yet another career that can’t be overlooked. He married once at the age of 28, then divorced and remarried.

He was particular about the kanji for “Harmony”

And one more thing; he had a love affair.

He will only say that her first name is Kazuko. She got married, had one child, and is now divorced. An intense story of ups and downs developed between Nishizaki and Kazuko. It was after he got married the first time.

“He once carried her out the second floor window of her house,” said a friend who knew the circumstances. It was also said that drastic and dramatic scenes like this developed many times. That’s what led to his divorce, but he couldn’t marry Kazuko.

Her parents stated that if they wanted to be together, Nishizaki had to inherit the position of his father, since someone working in show business would be unacceptable. Another bottleneck was the bankruptcy of his company. The first Office Academy was funded by one of Kazuko’s relatives, which added even more trouble. In the end, Nishizaki and Kazuko never married. She was married when he was single, and now she is divorced and he is married to another woman.

“There will probably be a love that will never come again in your lifetime,” he says.

To tell the truth, the kanji “Kazu” [Harmony] that I wrote in the program book isn’t about me, it’s for Kazuko. If you don’t know that, you’ll think it refers to the harmony of humanity, and I think that’s fine. For me, it’s ‘Kazu’.”

He said he would be satisfied if he could do two things in his life. One of them is to know the love of someone with the confidence that they were both in love. The other is to create something on the job. He says he’s already gotten that one. But can it be said that he got 100%? He couldn’t get her as a result. He still has bitter feelings.

(Read Nishizaki’s own account of Kazuko here.)

The thing you couldn’t get looms the largest

There is an opinion that what you are unable to obtain becomes the most valuable thing to you.

After a great romance, the passion vanishes once you get married. The voltage gradually decreases in everyday life. Eventually, the great love of the past can only be told as an old tale. In other words, it is forgotten day by day.

On the other hand, when you can’t get that love in the form of marriage, it continues to shine forever in inverse proportion to the taste of your present life. You gain the illusion that this life would not be so dull if you could have married that person at that time. Doesn’t it become a dream and a roman[ce] in the sense that it cannot come true?

If you hold onto that feeling, I think you can enter the world of “dream, adventure, and roman” with no trouble. When I asked Mr. Nishizaki about this, he opened his eyes and quietly said, “The one I couldn’t obtain is certainly the biggest. About 70% of what I say about love and roman is because of Kazu.”

The remaining 30% is, for example, naïve education received from mothers, the influence of blood flowing from his grandmother and aunt. He says he has a rather self-centered personality. The 42-year-old Yoshinobu Nishizaki will go on chasing love and roman.

With children waiting in line
(Photo courtesy of Kobunsha Publishing)

His friend, animation director Eiichi Yamamoto, said this: “When working on an animation project, I can’t really immerse myself in that world. Even if I’m writing lines for characters, there are parts that I’m too embarrassed to write. Because it’s business, I do it. But it’s different for Mr. Nishizaki. It seems he can immerse himself quite seriously.”

I couldn’t help wondering about it. He stands out from the herd of a middle-age industry by talking about love and roman.

Read more about Nishizaki’s early career here

Read another 1977 interview with Nishizaki here

Read a detailed history of how the 1977 Yamato premiere was organized here

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