Harutoshi Fukui interview, Nov 2020

Issue 9 of the Star Blazers/Yamato Premium Fan Club magazine chose Shiro Sanada as the focus of several articles, timed to coincide with the approach and premiere of the Age of Yamato compilation film. Writer Harutoshi Fukui describes his take on the character, the role he plays in the compilation, and offers a tiny glimpse of what we have to look forward to in the next adventure.

The Age of Space Battleship Yamato, Selections from 2202AD
A talk with writer and supervisor Harutoshi Fukui

The new appeal of Shiro Sanada

The Age of Space Battleship Yamato will be screened in theaters January 2021, and of all the things that have been reported, the one that caught the interest of Yamato fans is that Shiro Sanada has been appointed as the narrator of the main story. As the remake series progresses, our “Mr. Sanada” has gained more and more presence. As the top batter of these special features that unravel Sanada’s appeal, let’s start with Harutoshi Fukui, who has been working on the series since 2202.

(Photos by Shinya Ohira)

Why only Shiro Sanada could be the “narrator” of the special compilation

Interviewer: Shiro Sanada is the subject of the special feature in this issue of the magazine, so the first thing I want to talk about is the compilation film about to be released, since Age of Yamato has a special relationship with him. He acts as the narrator in this work, which is an important role. Was it your idea?

Fukui: That’s right. No matter how you think about it, Shiro Sanada is the best choice to tell the story of Yamato, including the “prehistory.” So there was no objection to his appointment.

Interviewer: Certainly, there is no one else who can explain the whole story.

Fukui: The image of a “commentator” is widely established, and Sanada in particular has become a sincere and sarcastic character, especially in the remake series.

Interviewer: When I first heard about this casting, it reminded me of a science documentary program on Discovery Channel, hosted by William Shatner, known for his role as Captain Kirk in Star Trek.

Fukui: I don’t think it feels that showy. Even though he’s a storyteller, he’s in a TV program produced within the world of the story, and he’s interviewed as a person involved. He’s an officer wearing a proper military uniform, so it feels like he’s seriously answering questions and explaining things. It’s kind of a fake documentary, so to speak.

Interviewer: Like an NHK special? (Translator’s note: Japan’s equivalent to PBS.)

Fukui: It’s exactly like an NHK special produced around the year 2205. I was aiming for something like that with the title, Age of Yamato, Selections from 2202AD. (Laughs)

Interviewer: I see. (Laughs) What was your intent in taking the form of a fake documentary?

Fukui: This special compilation is a companion work to Yamato 2205, The New Voyage. It’s the part that corresponds to a “review” you would see before watching 2205. I was particularly conscious of the former Yamato fans who haven’t had a chance to see the remakes yet. What content would they need to connect with 2205? As a result of that thinking, I came up with a special compilation that allows you to understand the world of the remakes in about two hours. On the other hand, using Shiro Sanada os the narrator, we were able to create a fake documentary that re-examines the worldview and message of the remake, and I think it’s a work that can be enjoyed by the core fan base, like those who subscribe to the Yamato magazine.

Many highlights, including new footage! A work that goes beyond the limits of a compilation

Interviewer: Are there any new parts to the film other than the TV program in which Sanada appears?

Fukui: One of the highlights in terms of new scenes is the “Second Naval Battle of Mars.” It’s a scene that has been talked about in the story so far, but hasn’t been depicted on screen. To be honest, it took a lot of time and effort and “it wasn’t supposed to be this hard!” (Laughs) Kia Asamiya drew the storyboard, and even the staff thinks it’s amazing. In addition, you can’t miss the Apollo launch scene. At first we thought about using tone-rendering to make anime based on real-world recorded images, but when we actually tested it, it looked too different. In the end, we took advantage of the drawing team’s encouraging words, “We can draw something like this,” and they completed this amazing image as well.

Interviewer: When the premiere date was announced, you commented that it starts, “From zero, not from one.” Why did you choose the Apollo Project as the starting point of your retrospective?

Fukui: The starting points for talking about the history of humanity’s journey to the world of Space Battleship Yamato are “space” and “battleship” [war], so those are two options, right? In this case, I think “space” is the more suitable choice. The people living in the world of Yamato encounter intelligent life forms one after another, which were previously thought to exist only on Earth, and humans change through their relationships with them, despite the turmoil. The beginning of that history is the Apollo Project, which was the first decision to travel to space, wasn’t it?

Interviewer: When I hear you say that, this seems to be more than just a compilation, and it has a grand theme. As the one in charge of composition, supervision, and scriptwriting, I’m sure you must have had a lot of work to do.

Fukui: Actually, my impression this time is that I didn’t have to do that much work. The most difficult part of composing the story was handled by Yuka Minikawa (screenplay) and Junichiro Tamamori (concept advisor). They put together the history that leads to 2205. It was not only a matter of reconciling the timelines of the old and new series, but also parts that weren’t outlined in Yamato history. For example, when did the migration to Mars begin? They thought about it in detail down to the date level. Honestly, I just used the ideas they came up with. I’m sure they’ll resent me for saying this. (Laughs)

My Shiro Sanada comes after 2199, where the “Sanada image” was remade

Interviewer: Since Sanada is featured as the narrator of the compilation, I would think that you yourself would have a strong attachment to him.

Fukui: Hmm, I don’t know. If he and I were in close proximity, it would be a delicate relationship. (Laughs) We might have a good relationship in some strange way, but in any case I think he’s a completely different type of person from me.

Interviewer: Then how do you perceive the character of Shiro Sanada?

Fukui: I think there are as many images of him as there are fans, but to me I think the Shiro Sanada of the old series played a role as close as possible to Doreaemon. In the first Yamato series, we had a chance to see his background, but in the subsequent episodes his contradictory feelings about science never came up. He became like a handyman who provides “tools” and “wisdom” when we need them.

Interviewer: It’s symbolized by the familiar phrase, “I wonder if this could happen.”

Fukui: Even people who haven’t seen the work know that phrase. That’s how his character as a handyman was emphasized. It was 2199 that shed new light on his humanity. It took a very modern approach.

Interviewer: As a fan, I was both surprised and convinced by the depiction of him as a person who has problems with interpersonal communication.

Fukui: He joins the journey to Iscandar carrying a big “heartbreak” inside himself over Mamoru Kodai. Through the voyage, he confronts and overcomes his own emotional wounds. That process was very well depicted in 2199, wasn’t it? So my Shiro Sanada is the post-2199 Sanada. All my images of Sanada from before then were remade.

Interviewer: In 2202, which you wrote, Sanada has a sense of distance from others and is more human than in 2199. The essence of this was his speech to the entire human race in the final episode.

Fukui: That speech was also made that way because of how he was portrayed in 2199. That’s how it was born, wasn’t it? If someone other than Sanada had spoken, it would have sounded ordinary.

Interviewer: Certainly, only Sanada could make it sound so convincing.

Fukui: That’s because of the humanity he acquired between 2199 and 2202. If another character had spoken, their background before the voyage would have gotten in the way. Don’t you think it would have been difficult to hear the straight story?

Interviewer: That may be so. However, if we listen to the words of Sanada, who gained humanity through the two voyages, we’re better able to hear what he has to say.

Fukui: That’s the difference between him and the Shiro Sanada of the old series. In the past, he was portrayed as an already-established character. He’s a handyman, but he also genuinely cares for Kodai, and behaves as a “big brother,” doesn’t he?

Interviewer: There’s even the line in Farewell to Yamato where he says, “I’ve thought of you as a younger brother.”

Fukui: The Sanada of 2199 wouldn’t have said that even if he did a handstand, because it wouldn’t occur to him at all.

Interviewer: Something that seems to be in common with the old series is the point that he’s a reliable elder among the bridge crew. He’s cool and calm and leads the crew.

Fukui: That’s also surprisingly different in the remake series. He does things on his own, and if he thinks he’s right he’ll go that way. That gets developed.

Interviewer: Yes, that’s true.

Fukui: In fact, Sanada makes more mistakes than anyone in the story. The biggest event he faced in 2199, which isn’t really mentioned in the story, is in Episode 13, The Wolf of Another Dimension. He was in conflict with Kodai over how to deal with the Dimensional Submarine.

Interviewer: It’s a scene of disagreement between Sanada, who respects rational judgment, and Kodai, who wants to act based on his intuition.

Fukui: At that time, they lost a lot of people on the crew as a result of Sanada’s final decision. That would have been a big deal for Sanada. For the rest of his life, he’ll have to carry the weight of the lives lost because of his own decision.

Interviewer: I see.

Fukui: That’s why, for Sanada, the theme of the voyage in 2202 is “redemption.” We discussed it in the early stages and tried to depict the subtleties of that.

Interviewer: If that’s the case, then Age of Yamato is also a compilation for the character of Shiro Sanada.

Fukui: There is no doubt that we were able to go through this 2-hour work together because of his presence. That’s why the Shiro Sanada of the remake series is an important person for me.

Will Sanada be active in Yamato 2205?

Interviewer: Now that I’ve heard your story again, I can see that the Sanada of the remake series has become a particularly important figure for you. I have high expectations for his growth and success in the future, including the special compilation. So, can we expect to see more of Sanada in Yamato 2205, The New Voyage?

Fukui: I think you can count on it. However, he won’t be riding on Yamato!

Interviewer: What??

Fukui: He won’t ride on Yamato, but he’s always with you. (Chuckles) Please look forward to the next issue [of the magazine] for more information.

Interviewer: This really piques my curiosity. Speaking of which, I’d like to know about the current progress of 2205.

Fukui: Of course, the whole staff is working together on it as one. But due to the effects of Corona, it has been difficult for everyone to work together in the studio. There are some situations where it’s difficult to proceed, but we’re working hard.

Interviewer: Production studios have been completely rethought during the Corona disaster, so I’m sure you’re all having a hard time.

Fukui: It’s the same for other works, they’re all in a difficult situation. Since the premiere is delayed, I’m doing my best to make it better. In terms of progress, we’ve just started the voice recording. From what I’ve seen on-site, I’m confident that we will be able to deliver a Yamato with a different atmosphere from the old series as well as the remake.

Interviewer: Can you be more specific?

Fukui: Of course, the story is continuous. This is a sensory answer, but the biggest change is in how it “opens.” In 2202 I focused on taking the time to show scenes slowly, which is impossible in today’s visual works. In 2205, we’re conscious of the modern style of pacing. For example, the sense of speed in the action scenes.I think it will give the audience a stimulus that they haven’t felt before.

Interviewer: This is a question from a fan’s point of view, but in telling the story of 2205, I wonder if it will be an important story point that the Time Fault disappeared at the end of 2202.

Fukui: Since it disappeared, the existence of the Time Fault itself doesn’t lead into the story, but of course it has an influence, especially on Susumu Kodai and Yuki Mori. The whole human race knows that Kodai and Yuki survived in exchange for the Time Fault. There is no way they can live a normal life in such a situation. If we compare it to today, they would be easy prey for the weekly gossip magazines (laughs). I plan to depict exactly what kind of impact would come from losing a Time Fault in exchange for the lives of two people. Anyway, it’s quite dense, including that part. So if you don’t get into shape now, you might not be able to endure it in the theater. (Laughs) The next work is a “short-term decisive battle” including points like that.

Interviewer: In the original series, The New Voyage began the part that leads up to Final em>Yamato. It’s the starting line of stories between Earth and civilizations rooted on other planets. It’s an important part of the series, and in that sense it seems the next work would be quite dense. With 2202 you built a new world unique to the remakes, so it’s a place where expectations for your skill are quite high.

Fukui: I will say that the next work will be more of a “new voyage” than you might think. With 2202, as we proceeded to the second half, I found myself wondering, “Where are the elements of Farewell and Yamato 2?” We told ourselves, “We’re saying something different, but doing the same thing.” But when it was finally made into a film, we found that what we were doing was also quite different.

Interviewer: There were some controversies, but that’s the charm of your version of Yamato.

Fukui: Everyone has their own feelings about the old series, including where the core of the story lies. However, for the next one, the meaning of “New Voyage” in the title will be more vivid than in the previous series. Of course, it’s not a fun story because we’re fighting a war, but it’s more “refreshing” than before.

The big mission is to draw out the “essence” to tell a story in modern times

Interviewer: Including the works you’ve participated in so far, what do you pay attention to when reconstructing Yamato?

Fukui: Rather than “imitating as much as possible,” what is the essence I’m trying to depict in the story? With that in mind, is the essence worthy of acceptance again in modern times? That may be the most important point to consider. As the times change, so do our values. If you simply rework the film without updating the essence, you will lose sight of who the film is aimed at.

Interviewer: I can feel your preparation from that.

Fukui: On the other hand, I’d like to show the mechanics and famous scenes that fans remember in a more modern and accurate way. But for the story itself, I think we have to deconstruct what the creators were trying to convey in detail, and make the message more suitable for people today. That is the mission of the staff involved in the remake, isn’t it?

Interviewer: Lastly, please give a message to the readers of this magazine who are looking forward to the compilation and 2205.

Fukui: If you’re a fan who subscribes to this magazine, you know how to enjoy these more than we do. So I won’t dare to say, “Pay attention to this!” I can’t say something like that. (Laughs) If I may be blunt, I would like to ask you to gather as many of your friends as possible at the theater. I think there are still a lot of people who were fans of the old series, but haven’t seen the remakes. If so, I have to think, “What a waste!” As I said in the beginning, the compilation is a work that even fans who haven’t seen the remakes can understand. I’m sure you’ll be able to share the excitement you felt in 2199 and 2202. I know there are some who look at remakes in a different light, so please forcibly invite that kind of person by saying, “I wish you’d give it two hours of your time!” (Laughs) I’m sure they’ll be interested in 2205 as well.

Interviewer: I can feel your confidence in the compilation! Thank you very much for your time today.

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