Yoshinobu Nishizaki Puts His Life Into the Movie
Interview by Masafumi Nishizawa
Overseas Impact and Merchandising
Nishizawa: Soon it will be a year since the previous work, Space Battleship Yamato, became a big hit. What impact did it have in other countries?
Nishizaki: The overseas edition, which was edited down to one hour, thirty-eight minutes in America, was televised only on local TV stations; once on the West Coast in Los Angeles and also once on the East Coast. The publicity was not very effective, but the ratings were actually very good for a 6pm broadcast at that time. Concerned parties on that side know that Space Cruiser Yamato [the English title] was shown on TV, and it could be sold again. Based on this, I am working to sell the movie and the 26-episode TV series together.
Nishizawa: Have there been inquiries from other countries?
Nishizaki: All the countries in Western Europe. Last year I exhibited at the trade fair of the Cannes Film Festival and am working with several countries. The Eastern Bloc has not yet come around, but it is said that Toei will sell it to Russia. Anyway, as of now (June 15, 1978) there are at least 20 countries of inquiry including southeast Asia.
Nishizawa: In which countries has business materialized?
Nishizaki: At this stage the movie is flowing in England, Spain, and part of America.
Nishizawa: Are their also inquiries about the TV series?
Nishizaki: This is already coming in from all over the world. Because the Yamato movie was a hit in Japan, I think it is part of a worldwide SF boom. At least in countries that have developed television.
Nishizawa: So for the movie and the TV series, what kind of earnings do you think will appear from overseas?
Nishizaki: If it goes well and includes merchandising, I think it is possible to earn five million [dollars] or more.
Nishizawa: That’s a remarkable record, even without merchandising. The total exportation of Japanese movies in the last year was under five million dollars. Even with a stronger yen, I think that’s an unprecedented number.
Nishizaki: Yes. After all, it’s the same in America as in Japan; income from merchandising is very big. But in the case of worldwide blockbusters such as Disney in the past or Star Wars now are unusual. The normal case [in Japan] is to introduce it as a TV program so the characters become familiar to children. Merchandising derived from a movie doesn’t usually last long, so for that reason I was really impressed by Star Wars.
Nishizawa: Generally because the life cycle of the movie itself has a trend of only half a year in an extreme example.
Nishizaki: Yes. Therefore, Yamato should open a line to foreign countries to expand sales in both TV series and movies. I think that it’s also strong on merchandising.
Nishizawa: About how many pieces of Yamato merchandise have you released in Japan?
Nishizaki: In terms of small items, I think it’s around 150. [Note: see a substantial gallery here.]
Nishizawa: Then of course this will naturally add to the character of Yamato in the future. When you create a new film, it will be necessary to create merchandising to go with it.
Nishizaki: Yes. My dream goes into that area. Most of the characters in the Fancy System of Japan imitate American characters now. [Translator’s note: “Fancy System” was an early term for “Character Goods,” referring to general-purpose products with licensed images on them. This early term was derived from mail-order products in girls’ magazines.] Yamato provides a good opportunity to produce original Fancy Goods, since there aren’t many from Japanese pop culture. So we should keep it in mind when creating new characters, I guess.
Nishizawa: From the chaos of postwar Japan, there was rapid growth and the flow of the economy changed and many companies now earn money on original talent in the so-called brain [innovation] industry. Whether or not we have become more like America, the concept has penetrated that an idea can be profitable.
Nishizaki: Yes. We certainly have established the right to an idea. It is a good thing.
Theme-Oriented Entertainment in Movies
Nishizawa: What is the production cost of the second film, Farewell to Yamato?
Nishizaki: Production costs are 400 million yen. [Approx. $4 million]
Nishizawa: Previously it was made by Academy Studio, but now it is being made by Toei. What are the circumstances of that?
Nishizaki: It isn’t being made by Academy because there isn’t enough time to do it before the premiere on August 5. If we took the time to produce it at Academy, I think it wouldn’t be ready until the New Year holidays. This is because we only began to move forward with it after December of last year . Toei is very big and has the power to organize big things in a short term. It wouldn’t be possible to make it if it weren’t being done at Toei.
Nishizawa: Are scenes from the first film being used in the second one?
Nishizaki: Not at all. The second film is entirely new. We had to use an established studio because it’s very labor-intensive and requires a lot of organization to maintain the quality.
Nishizawa: And the theme of the second film is “love.”
Nishizaki: When I conceived of the second film, I wanted to make a drama that succeeded the first one on all levels with the themes of “love” and “life,” but I want to emphasize that Farewell is a complete action entertainment movie even without this theme, because a movie is not a lecture. The theme is pressed only in the beginning and at the end of the film, since I intend for it to be enjoyed even by students in the upper elementary grades.
Currently, only the issues of the theme have been discussed, but in fact Yamato is “Oh ni Tai-ho tamago-yaki.” (Smiles)
[Translator’s note: this term is a shorthand combination of baseball smash hitter Sadaharu Oh, sumo wrestler Tai-ho, and an egg roll. In 1978, it signified the perfect combination of every youngster’s obsessions.]
Furthermore, there are battle scenes in space. I think it’s best to tell an enjoyable story of human beings through action. Without entertainment, is a movie still a movie? If you want to describe a theme by delivering speeches all over Japan, that’s fine, but it’s not a movie. Therefore, I think it is the mental attitude of the filmmaker that makes a good movie with a theme. One who makes it entertaining first and foremost creates the best situation.
In this case, I decided on the ending of the movie first, then thought freely about a fun story. Through action and impressions, I thought about how to make it a story about human beings.
Nishizawa: What is the running time likely to be?
Nishizaki: We think it will total two hours and 45 minutes, so I am thinking of cutting it down to about 2:20. In animation the production cost is tens of millions of yen just for the 25 minutes to be cut.
Film and Music and a Musical
Nishizawa: It is possible that Farewell to Yamato could open in about 110 theatres. Could that still increase?
Nishizaki: According to Toei, it could go to 130. Compared to this time last year, that’s an incredible number, and I’m very thankful.
Nishizawa: As for the target audience, for whom is it intended?
Nishizaki: Since it follows Space Battleship Yamato, the age has been maintained at the level of junior high and high school students without being lowered much. However, when the new TV series premieres in October of this year, I intend to lower the age a little.
Nishizawa: How many Yamato fan clubs are there now across the country?
Nishizaki: Officially, there are 800 or more, but I think it has decreased a bit down to 600. When Farewell to Yamato opens, it is likely to increase to about a thousand.
Nishizawa: Did they arise naturally, or was there some degree of influence placed on them?
Nishizaki: It was completely spontaneous. Although we have a headquarters for the fan club, it is first and foremost a control center for communication. Each club has their own activities that they spread by word of mouth. Those who cannot join an individual fan club can register directly at the club headquarters. They number about 20,000 and when they are combined with all the other club members it easily comes to 150,000 people.
Nishizawa: When will the full-scale promotional campaign begin?
Nishizaki: At the beginning of July. It is roughly divided into conventional advertising such as on TV, and club meetings combined with concerts across the whole country. There will be a 62-member symphony to perform music from both the first work and the second one, and at the same time there will be press conferences with the representatives of each fan club in the local area. This is our best audience. They made the first movie into a hit last year, and I don’t want to leave them out. I want to stay in direct touch with them.
Also, I’ve announced that the first movie will be shown on TV on August 4.
Nishizawa: As for you, Mr. Nishizaki, you seem to want to produce a musical.
Nishizaki: Yes, I do. A modern Japanese musical. There are many musicals made from foreign material like Gone With the Wind, but I wonder if I can attract the youth of Japan with something that emerges from the climate and history of our own country.
There are some possible candidates for the theme, such as Yama-Tai-Koku, the first ancient Japanese nation, but thinking about modern issues, a Yamato musical is more likely. The story attracts young people and it has a strong musicality. Each scene has been put to music, so I can describe it as a musical. In cases where the story inevitably requires music, the effect is stronger if you only hear the music. That’s what makes it musical.
The venues for a musical in Japan are limited, but I would be very grateful if one were to accept it. And if there is a chance, I have a strong desire to test my own ability. Since I let Yamato unfold on radio, TV, movies, and concerts, a musical would be next.
A feature film and animation as the next work
Nishizawa: There is now a movement for your company to make a non-animated movie…
Nishizaki: Up to now, we could not express through TV and film animation what can only come from a real flesh-and-blood actor, the drama and expression of the human heart. Animation technology has difficulty with depth perception of a human face, so there are limits to the thoughts that can be expressed. Of course, animation has its advantages and disadvantages, but it is impossible to depict a truly realistic person. I really hope to make live-action films for that reason.
Nishizawa: That wouldn’t follow the Yamato formula that distributors and theatres are accustomed to. If you were to make it yourself, could you also distribute it? Or would you cooperate with a production company and distributor to decide the budget and schedule before you start?
Nishizaki: I’m at a loss about that right now. Generally, I’m not a man who follows someone else’s plan to make something. Because it would be my first time I feel I would have to study and make decisions about taking on a distributor as a partner.
Nishizawa: Seeing it as a third party, it doesn’t seem significant to me. Many bad Japanese movies are made because they only copy existing movies. However, it is said that this is the era of the independent producer who makes films that could not be done inside a conventional movie company. I think that’s how a hit is made. I think a creative person such as yourself would only be stained by joining the Japanese movie system. By the way, what sort of film would you like to make?
Nishizaki: There are only two concrete things I can talk about. One is for animation and is currently in the conceptual stage. It’s for young people and goes back to the past, the founding of the nation. It deals with the theme of nationalism while being concerned with foreign countries. It is about the passion of youth that unifies Japan into one country.
As for live-action film, I want to make a seagoing drama that is not animated. It would depict young love and relationships against the background of nature.
Nishizawa: Would it materialize within the next year?
Nishizaki: There is a possibility, I’m talking with a film company about it. It could also be the animated film. However, one per year is appropriate. I’m also thinking of animation combined with my favorite musical, but that’s another story.
Nishizawa: Would the target audience for your movies be young people from now on?
Nishizaki: No, I wouldn’t limit it to the youth. If Farewell to Yamato is made for teens, I would make the next movie for those in their 20s, and the next for those in their 30s, and so on. And I will bring a younger image of each age, teens, 20s, and 30s, to those works.
Nowadays, the main moviegoers are 15 to 25, so moviemakers should focus on those ages. But I personally want to pick up issues and themes from my own life experience at each occasion. If I make it that way and then fail, I will believe it was the right method and have no regrets. Or not. (Laughter)
Special thanks to Sword Takeda for translation assistance.
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