Yamatour 2010, Part 1

by Tim Eldred and Anton Kholodov

Those of you who have been reading this site for the last couple of years were with us for our first “Yamatour” in summer 2009 when I wrote at length about my travels across Japan with fellow fanatic Andrea Controzzi. As recounted in that travelogue, we visited sites of significance to Space Battleship Yamato and capped it off by attending Yamato Party 2009 where we met Anton Kholodov. That trip planted the seed for “Yamatour 2” in which Anton and I reunited a few months later in Tokyo for the December 12 premiere of Yamato Resurrection. Don’t worry if you missed out on any of this; both travelogues can still be read anytime right here: Yamatour 1 | Yamatour 2

The plot for Yamatour 3 was launched just a few days later when it was announced on January 1, 2010 that the live-action Yamato movie would premiere on December 1. There was no question in our minds that Anton and I would be at Ground Zero on that day. What we couldn’t possibly anticipate at the time was that neither of us would have to wait quite that long to see the movie itself. Through an interesting chain of connection and coincidence, we both got access to preview screenings and we both took advantage. But this did nothing to curb our enthusiasm for the original plan, since it’s always been about more than just a couple hours in a theater. It’s all about Yamato Fever.

As with the runup to Yamato Resurrection, my job was to follow everything I could online and keep Anton informed since he arrived in Tokyo a month before the premiere. He had the pleasure of picking up right where he left off by attending a Leiji Matsumoto event, and I was also able to steer him toward an advance ticket for the special preview of the film on November 1.

It was a lot of fun to watch his attitude evolve through several emails.

October 24: Even if it’s my doom to see closed doors at that event on November 1, I will definitely go there. As you wrote before, a Yamato fan is essentially an optimist, so I will hope and maybe fortune will smile on me as Teresa did to Yamato.

October 25: Just imagine–I could see the movie on the second day of my 2-month visit! But it’s not so fun to do it alone…like watching play-off rounds of the World Cup starting from the final. They say be careful what you wish for. Now I have to think about it seriously. Hmmm…

Later on October 25: What kind of friend could I be to watch it alone before everyone arrives? I’m sure that is not the way of a noble space warrior. I spent 24 hours trying to get tickets and now I realize that I don’t want to see the movie November 1. Seeing actors and watching some stuff about film making etc. is fun, but I’m not going to see the movie itself! I will wait for you and your friends and we will watch it together.

October 26: I told my friend (also a Yamato fan) about my situation with the preview and asked for advice. He told me: “No problem at all. Just get drunk and enjoy the evening, and the next morning you won’t be able to remember the details, so the second time will be as interesting as the first.” It was just a joke, but I will think about it…

October 27: The main argument for me is the absence of a premier’s atmosphere. I will definitely wait for D-Day!

Later on October 27: I got the ticket. I will ask someone to accompany me. Be sure, I will be so drunk that I will not be able to recognize Lord Dessler. This is my final transmission from Russia. Next time I’ll write from Tokyo. Good luck! See you there!

November 1: Well…what can I say….I saw it. No spoilers. I will say only one word: ANALYZER! Just wait and see.

To be fair, the thing that finally convinced Anton to see the movie early was my decision to do the same. (And he didn’t actually get drunk until afterward.) For me, the tour unofficially began on November 6 when I was fortunate enough to be in the first American audience to see Yamato at an exclusive screening in Santa Monica, California. For a few days, this was home base for the American Film Market (AFM), one of those annual festivals where foreign movies are exhibited for sale to prospective distributors. So that those distributors can have a clear idea of what they’re buying, foreign-language films are dubbed or subtitled.

I was able to pull some strings and wrangle a very generous invite to the screening, but it presented me with Anton’s dilemma: wait until the December 1 premiere to see it in the context of Tokyo, or bite now and get the whole story? Yeah, that’s not really a dilemma at all, is it?

The theatre wasn’t as full as it should have been (40 people tops) but it took nothing away from the experience I wanted, that of seeing something completely new and surprising done with Space Battleship Yamato. I’ve found that’s a good way to keep yourself from slipping into the “checklist” mentality, which isn’t fair to a filmmaker and can really wreck a movie.

The story changes, along with the pace, came fast and furious. Almost before we had a chance to absorb one subplot, the next one came racing in. This also helped to prevent “checklist syndrome,” since I couldn’t say to myself, “oh, this is the Rainbow Star Cluster battle” until it was already half over.

The anime became famous for its long, lingering shots of ships and space battles, but that’s a product of the pre-Star Wars era. A fast pace is a boon to CG effects shots, which are always a heavy drag on a film’s budget, but it does make for a different kind of story.

Thus, the film never quite delivers the same feeling of lonely vastness you get when Yamato drifts ever so slowly off into the distance with only XX days left. Scenes like that were absolute murder to animate one frame at a time for TV, but they created a unique tone that the movie does not share. A CG version of the famous Yamato flyby would have been awesome to behold on a big screen, but would probably have fallen outside the scope of the directorial style. Also, the “World War II in Outer Space” aesthetic was discarded in favor of high-tech combat against an utterly alien foe. Even the original staff went in that direction when making Farewell to Yamato, which was amped up and quickened for the big screen. The way we measure that has changed since 1978, but the intention hasn’t.

So, without giving away any story points (though you can read a full synopsis here IF YOU DARE), I can tell you that the live-action Yamato movie is a new, faster-paced version of an old favorite that does nothing to discredit its source material. Exactly the same can be said for Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, which puts it in good company.

I wrote my review for Otaku USA.com a few hours after seeing the film, which turned out to be a smart thing to do, because I wouldn’t have been in the mood for it the next day.

That was November 7. About twelve hours before I got up to check my email and the latest news from Japan, Executive Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s life came to an abrupt and untimely end. The circumstances couldn’t have been stranger; falling off a boat named Yamato during the runup to a new Yamato movie.

It was, of course, a vicious blow to the gut. It was also especially disheartening for me because up until that moment, friend-of-this-website Sword Takeda was working to get me the interview of a lifetime. I don’t know if he would have succeeded, but it was the closest I’d gotten so far. Now speaking to the creator of Yamato was no longer an option. I could definitely speak about him, though, having spent the last few years translating and researching his words for this website. That lead me to write a tribute and participated in a memorial Anime3000 podcast with Patrick Macias and Michael Pinto.

Listen to that podcast here and find a bonus episode here.

That cast a long shadow over my trip planning, but everything would still go ahead as scheduled: arrive in Tokyo November 30 and stay through December 6. See the movie three times, hang with homies, scope out all the new swag, and pack in as many related activities as possible.

This planning alternated with continuous monitoring of Space Battleship news. Just like last year, new things were announced on practically a daily basis; forthcoming products, promotional tie-ins, event announcements, new photos and video clips, etc. Tracking it all was heavy-duty work resulting in the 4th movie report which can be read here.

But the release of a new movie adds only one more layer to a phenomenon that goes as deep as you can imagine. It has been my profound pleasure to explore the world of Yamato and Star Blazers since I was first asked to manage this website in 2002, and there is nothing to compare with doing so on its home turf. Yamatour 2010, LAUNCH!

And now, over to Anton…

Once again, I left everything behind to dive into the atmosphere of endless space and romance. The first big event was the Movie Preview at Tokyo International Forum on November 1. It was here last November 28 that Yamato Resurrection had its first preview. Thanks to Tim, I learned how to get a ticket. It was for two, so I shared it with famous Leijiverse and Star Wars fan Sword Takeda and we talked a little before the beginning of the event.

From the trailers it was looked like a mix of Series 1 and Farewell to Yamato. All the casting was well-known except for Lord Dessler. Mr. Takeda agreed that it’s the main secret of this movie for everyone.

When we arrived I was shocked by the number of people. Thousands and thousands of them were standing in a huge queue. What kind of theatre could fit them all? Maybe it was some other event? People were of various ages. Unfortunately (for me) many young girls came there just because of Takuya Kimura’s name in the credits. OK, so be it.

As we proceeded inside I was shocked once more, this time by the size of theater. Sitting on the second floor balcony almost in the last row I couldn’t say “I’m watching it on a big screen.” All photos were strictly prohibited, but Sword Takeda was the right guy so he shot me few times while the staff was absent.

Should I say that Steven Tyler’s song was playing over and over? The same trick was done [with the song by The Alfee] for the preview of Yamato Resurrection. Japan is sure a country of traditions.

Then finally, we saw the movie.

Actually, I was quite pessimistic about it from the beginning. How can they feature characters, which everyone sees in his own way, with live actors? How can they make story interesting if I’ve already seen it many times before? I had many questions like this, but as soon as movie started, I forgot about them.

The first minutes swept my doubts away. It is 100% Yamato. Every character is in place. Every scene is in the right time. And the atmosphere of the anime was really gently placed in the movie. It will be interesting for both types of viewers, the ones who want to see the same old good story in live-action with modern CG, and the ones who want surprises and new events.

It’s unique. You can enjoy the movie like I did, (“oh, that’s a moment from episode X, and that scene, I remember it too!”) but then be surprised by some unexpected turn in the storyline, and then again to see something familiar. Some could say the movie should have more battles and action. But for Yamato, the relationships between the crew were always an important part of the story, so it can’t be made another way.

After the credits were done, the actors came to the stage. They talked about working on the project and their expectations. By the way, out of all the actors only Reiko Takashima (Dr. Sado) said she was a fan of Yamato from her youth so it was great honor for her. And everyone asked us to go to the premiere and see it again.

I can say the same thing to every Yamato fan: this movie is worth it. And…aren’t you interested in seeing Lord Dessler?

Anton’s next mission was to track down the comparatively slow trickle of pre-release merchandise that rolled out through the month of November in Family Mart convenience stores. As described in Movie Report 4, it was a two-layer campaign with weekly rounds of special goods given away by lottery (shown in the display above right) including stickers, clear files, tissue boxes, and memo pads. They quickly became online auction fodder when winners would turn them around to make a quick buck. And they knew what they were doing; collectors without access to Family Mart stores couldn’t obtain them any other way. Yes, that was my route.

The other layer was Yamato food in a few different varieties (which, incidentally, didn’t quite add up to a balanced meal in any combination). Above are the beverages, Milk Coffee in crew-uniform cups and soy milk in cartons. Shown at right is “Iscandar Pan” (bread) meant to look like a planet with a pocked surface. Not quite movie-accurate, but still clever.

Anton tried one of these and described it (via email) as far too sweet to finish in one sitting. On the other hand, he commented that “Iscandar Bread” was probably an ideal antidote to the “Black Hole Hot Dog” he sampled last year during the Yamato Resurrection food campaign.

Below are the products that came from House Foods, “Kukure Curry” and “O’Zack” potato chips. The presence of Takuya Kimura on the packaging meant House Foods was a primary movie sponsor with deep pockets, as any use of Mr. Takura’s image is tightly controlled and charged accordingly by his agency. Incidentally, all of this vanished from store shelves on November 28, so I never got to taste-test one. You do feel my pain, I know.

The highlight arrived on November 20 when the Yamato prop exhibit, which started at Sanrio Puroland in August, arrived in Akasaka, Tokyo. What began as a collection of props and costumes grabbed headlines when a massive 15-meter long Yamato model was added. The exhibition filled a plaza at the foot of the TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) headquarters building. By now, those initials should be familiar; as a primary sponsor of the movie, TBS brought it to the American Film Market festival in Santa Monica, California.

The ship became the natural center of attention, its massive prow ripping free of Earth to head off to outer space. The stern was unbuilt, still “below ground,” but just the exposed portion of Yamato was 15 meters long–the same length as the gigantic 1/10 scale model of the IJN Battleship Yamato at the museum in Kure (visited in our first Yamatour). The odds of them ever being seen side-by-side are probably zero, but at least they’re on display in the same country. The ship had working parts as well; lights in the bridge windows, rotating shock cannons, and a Wave-Motion Gun laser light show ignited on the hour after sundown.

The props and costumes lined the back wall of a pavilion just to the right of the big model, a tempting target for every camera in the room. Click here to see an extensive photo gallery of the collection.

The pictures shown here were taken a week after the exhibit opened, when friend-of-this-website Gwyn Campbell joined Anton for the special Countdown Event on November 28. Anyone could visit the exhibit on that day, but only 500 lottery ticket winners could get close to the special event: a pep talk by Director Takashi Yamazaki, frolicking by Analyzer (a suit modified from the movie design to fit a human), and a crowd-pleasing performance by Isao Sasaki doing the classic Yamato theme. Photography was prohibited, but that didn’t stop Gwyn from grabbing some lucky shots like the one above right. (Those shown below are official photos published on Japanese websites.)

Having seen the exhibit a week earlier, Anton found some of this a bit of a letdown, and he didn’t mind saying so in this email to me a few days later:

THANK GOD I didn’t try to buy a ticket–the whole event was in the open air and many people watched it for free. Everyone stood around a red carpet, then some announcer from TBS came to the stage along with Analyzer. Then Yamazaki-san appeared just to let everyone see all the existing trailers on a big plasma screen. Booooring. All trailers were just the same. After that they showed a part from the November 1 preview with actors giving short greetings to everyone and asking for an assault on the theaters on premiere day.

Then, finally the main event (for me): Sasaki Isao appeared to sing The Scarlet Scarf and the main theme, with a dozen cheerleader girls dressed in Yamato uniforms and short skirts. That was a good performance. And then, once again Takuya Kimura appeared from his black limousine to stoke up all those crazy girls. They waved even to his image on the screen. He said few words, the whole group (Takuya, Yamazaki, Analyzer, Sasaki) ws photographed for magazines/news, and that was the whole event.

In the end, both Gwyn and Anton got their moment in the sun.

I finally joined the fun on November 30 and returned to familiar ground the next morning, Wednesday December 1. The day of days was here at last. Purely for the sake of tradition, I planted myself in front of the Shinjuku Picadilly theater, first show on day one, as I’d done a year before when Yamato Resurrection arrived. Both the weather and appearance of the place were the same, as if no time had passed. The line shown above left was there when I turned up a little after 8:00 am, but it didn’t stay short for long. The doors opened at 8:45 and by the time I reached the head of the ticket line, 90% of the seats had been pre-reserved online. That left me and my erstwhile companion Walter Amos with only front row center to choose from, a neck-craning experience all the way through.

The secondary attraction was Picadilly’s gift shop, which had been fully loaded with new, unseen swag the previous year. This time, Harry Potter swag dominated the room and Yamato was relegated to the single case shown here. In truth, the theater-exclusive merchandising is rather sparse compared to Resurrection: a pin set, pocket watch, pencil board, wall tapestry, and clear file were the only new objects; everything else shown here came out earlier in the year from Anime World Star. But, of course, there was a gorgeous full-color program book which will be presented here in the next update.

Something else new was a nifty uniform jacket for the popcorn-and-soda jockeys behind the counter. By the time of premiere day, a couple of these had already leaked out to the public via online auctions, a move that would almost certainly be frowned upon by theater management.

To my surprise and delight, I saw some familiar faces in the crowd. Above right are the exact same True Believers I met in line last year, and they also recognized me. This time they’d brought more of their toys to the movie and we actually got a little more acquainted via our mutual friend Ardith Carlton.

The tall fella’s name is Keisaku Kimura (no relation to Takuya), an independent filmmaker and author of Anison Baka Ichidai, described by Ardith as the quintessential book on anime theme songs. He and his pals make yearly treks to All Con in Dallas, Texas to entertain the masses with thousand-song anime theme marathons and generally behave like madmen. Ardith is shown above right with me, Walter Amos, and former Anime Expo Chairman Darold Higa. For some of us, the lethal combo of Tokyo and Yamato are impossible to resist.

Amassing as much new Yamato loot as possible (along with my own pilgrimage to the prop exhibit) was the drill for the rest of December 1, and as you can see here it was a rip-roaring success. But as I write these words, four and half more days lie ahead with plenty of people to meet and unknown treasures to stumble over, along with two more screenings of the movie itself. For now, however, that brings Part 1 of this travelogue to a close.

Continue to Part 2