The week leading up to Age of Yamato‘s June 11 premiere gave us a wave of media interviews with cast and crew alike. Director Atsuki Sato spoke to both Gigazine and Mantan Web about his work as the director of the film and his experience creating the trailers we always look forward to.
Space Battleship Yamato: More than just a compilation!
Director Atsuki Sato, a master of trailers, talks about the “pleasure principle of images.”
Published June 10 at Mantan Web
Age of Yamato, a compilation of Yamato 2199 and Yamato 2202, will be screened from June 11. It covers human history and Yamato‘s voyages, from the 1969 moon landing to the 2042 arrival at Mars to the 2202 Battle with Gatlantis. It was directed by Atsuki Sato, who created trailers for 2199 and 2202, and also worked for Mamoru Oshii, Shinji Higuchi, Hideaki Anno, and others.
Some call him a “master of trailers.” We asked him about what went on behind the scenes in the production of this compilation.
Not only the skeleton, but also the fatty parts
The first Space Battleship Yamato TV anime was broadcast in 1974. Yamato 2, Farewell to Yamato, and Resurrection were also produced. Yamato 2199, a remake of the first series, was shown in theaters and broadcast on TV from 2012 to 2014. The sequel Yamato 2202 was shown in theaters from 2017 to 2019.
For the compilation, Harutoshi Fukui, who worked on the 2202 series, recreates the story from a new perspective. With new shots and new narration, the film is a record of battles etched in the history of mankind and space. This is not a mere compilation, but a documentary-style film told from Shiro Sanada’s point of view.
“Although the footage from 2199 and 2202 is enormous,” Mr. Sato said, “Mr. Fukui said from the beginning, ‘This is a documentary.’ If we look back at this history from Sanada’s point of view, it will not be just a compilation.”
Photo from a 2018 interview
Mr. Fukui composed, supervised, and wrote the script for the compilation along with Yuka Minagawa. Mr. Sato edited the video based on the script.
“When I first read the script, I thought there were too many lines, and it would be better to have some fat instead. We had a meeting to discuss this. It wasn’t a form of entertainment. It would be better to have some fat, such as action and romance. However, if it is 100% fat, it will give you heartburn. How to strike a balance?”
“While keeping the theme of the work in mind, I felt that it was necessary to have a principle of visual pleasure. In order to make it pleasant to watch, I had to match the rhythm of the images and music. I was trying to figure out how to control the waves. It’s a physiological thing. However, the first half of the 2199 part goes by very fast (laughs).”
The images in the compilation certainly have a feeling of comfort and ease. Mr. Sato has also worked on many trailers, including those for 2199 and 2202.
“The trailers I usually make are mainly an exploration of where the pleasure principles of film lie. For 20 to 30 years, I have been making images that make people want to go to the cinema. In terms of technology, this compilation may be an extension of that. I deconstructed the music, sound effects, and dialogue from 2199 and 2202, adapted them to the script, and connected them to the narration in a balanced way.”
The “master of trailers” talks about missing information?
Mr. Sato is a “master of trailers,” and the images he creates are all fascinating. What does he value in his trailers, and in this compilation?
“This isn’t relevant to the compilation film, but I believe trailers are a medium for missing information. The technology of editing has made it possible to convey complex things. By connecting different shots that are not connected at all, another meaning is created, which is called the Kuleshov effect.”
“This effect is a technique for making trailers in which parts of the information are missing. If there is supposed to be an ABCD, and you only have A and C, people will imagine B and D. That’s what I’m trying to use. It is important to control the amount of information, to balance what is shown and what is not. Give them room to imagine and make them want to see more.”
Space Battleship Yamato has been loved for over 40 years. What appeals to Mr. Sato in this work?
“I like the idea of a battleship. A battleship over 200 meters long fighting is a unique feeling. It’s different from robots and Marvel’s heroes, and it’s like an old naval battle movie, but with a different weight. It can be dull, but it’s good.”
“Also, Yamato‘s design hasn’t changed that much since the first TV series. Other anime would have evolved rapidly, but we didn’t do that. There have been a lot of changes in the past, and there was one designed by Syd Mead. It’s great, but in the end, it comes back to its roots. Even after 40 years, the design has not changed. That design is the charm. In a way, it may be a curse.”
Yamato‘s design is universal. That’s probably why it’s been loved so much. We’re sure this compilation will also allow you to enjoy the unique charm of Yamato.
Age of Yamato Director Interview, Atsuki Sato
The “Fleet Gathering” BGM has been newly applied to recreate the experience of the old series
Published June 8 by Gigazine
Age of Yamato, a special compilation based on Yamato 2199 and Yamato 2202, will be screened in theaters from June 11, 2021 (Friday). The director of this film is Atsuki Sato, who is in charge of video editing, VFX/CGI supervisor, and trailer direction. We asked him about how the “Yamato direct hit generation” completed this special work.
Interviewer: In this film, your credit is not “director” but “directed by.” Does this mean something different from “director”?[Translator’s note: this is a tricky one, since the original text contained the word “director” in kanji, then the word “director” in katakana. The translation above is the closest equivalent in English.]
Sato: In the true sense of the word, the director is Mr. Fukui. I’m more of a director who picks up what Mr. Fukui wants to do and reconstructs it in the form of images. Although I acted as a director where necessary, he’s the real director of this film. What do you think, Mr. Aoyama?
Mr. Sato on stage for the opening of Age of Yamato, June 12 2021
Producer Katsuki Aoyama: When Yamato 2199, A Voyage to Remember was released, the original series was directed by Yutaka Izubuchi. I thought it might be confusing to use the credit “director” for a compilation. So I offered Takao Kato the credit of “directed by.” I didn’t want it to be confusing this time, so we did the same. For us, it was a matter of consulting with you and Mr. Fukui.
Sato: For example, if Mr. Fukui and I had different opinions, we would have a meeting and say, “Let’s do it this way.” But we didn’t necessarily realize 100% of what Mr. Fukui wanted to do. Instead of making decisions as a director, it was more like, “I like it better this way, but what do you think?” We had a lot of discussions.
Interviewer: Do you feel that your position is a little different from that of a general anime film director?
Sato: To begin with, the way of making a compilation film is different from a normal animation film. In the credits, Mr. Fukui’s name is mentioned at the end. So I think he is the one who is in charge of the film.
Interviewer: When I asked Mr. Fukui, “What kind of person is Director Sato?” he said, “If you leave it to him, something good will happen.”
Sato: For Yamato 2202, when we made the trailers, we did something that went beyond the main story. At the time of the theatrical screenings, four episodes were combined into one film. The trailers were made to look like a single story by combining the four episodes. Mr. Fukui probably saw that and thought, “If I leave it to this guy, he’ll take care of the hard stuff.” (Laughs).
Interviewer: In an interview by Video Salon when you were a video editor, you said, “When you look at a work edited by someone else, it may or may not fit your vision. My job as an editor is to find the right answer in my mind.” What was the “right answer” in your mind for this film?
Sato: I have my own kind of pleasure principles in film. For example, I have a principle that says, “If I connect the lines like this, and the sound effects and music are thrown in here, and the lines fit together nicely, then it feels good.” That kind of thing. I think it’s a physiological feeling that every editor and filmmaker has.
In making this compilation, I have tried to be as faithful as possible to my own pleasure principle in filmmaking. Of course, it goes without saying that this is something that every filmmaker in the world does in his or her work.
Interviewer: I heard from Mr. Fukui and Yuka Minagawa about the time where you said, “I want to make use different music from Yamato.” I heard that some music was newly recorded. Did you choose these pieces because they made you feel good?
Sato: To be honest, it’s just my taste. (Laughs) Or maybe it’s something from memory. For the launch scene in 2199, I dared to use Gathering the Fleet as in [Episode 3 of] the old TV series. It was a replay of the experience I had when I watched it in high school. The fact that this music is played during that launch scene is a heavy part of the series for fans. [Hear it here on Youtube here, starting at 16:50.]
That’s how it went in the original version, and if you want to make a new version, you can play a different piece. But for that scene, I decided to keep it as it was in the original.
Interviewer: I see.
Sato: For that scene, I used the full-length version from 2199 with no cuts. Interestingly, when I put that music in, the end of the piece matched perfectly. I just applied the music that was given to me, and it fit really nicely. I could speculate that maybe Mr. Izubuchi was thinking of using that piece in the series.
Interviewer: Oh, I didn’t know that. Please tell me about your relationship to Space Battleship Yamato. Yuka Minagawa, who wrote the screenplay for this film, describes himself as a Farewell to Yamato fan. He said, “The first film is for older brothers and sisters.” What was your impression of that generation?
Sato: I was in junior high school at the time, and I couldn’t watch the show in its first run because my sister was watching Heidi.
Interviewer: Ah, the powerful enemy that always stands in the way of Yamato…
Sato: I knew there was a program that looked interesting, and when I could see it occasionally, I thought it was amazing. At that time, in the Tokai area where I lived, they were showing reruns of Star of the Giants and various other anime in the evenings. Tom & Jerry in particular was on heavy rotation, and I think it had been on for about ten years.
Interviewer: Ten years! (Laughs)
Sato: When we were in junior high and high school, the reruns in the evenings and during summer vacation were on at golden time rather than prime time. [Translator’s note: “golden time” was the term for a block of children’s programming just before prime time.] So I watched Yamato in the evening reruns.
It was the year when the first movie of the series was shown (1977). It may have been a publicity stunt. After watching it, I went to the cinema, but I didn’t line up the night before in a frenzy. I think I went to see it about the third week after it was released. The following year, I went to the theater to see Farewell, and enjoyed it so much I went two or three times. That was my experience.
Mr. Sato joins Harutoshi Fukui and Nobuyoshi Habara in an October 2017 promo video for 2202.
Interviewer: I see. I saw that you were playing in a brass band when you were a student. Did you do that at the same time?
Sato: I started brass band when I was in junior high school. When I was in high school, my best friend and I lived a dense otaku lifestyle, making doujinshi in the library at night. That was around the time of the reruns.
Interviewer: It was not the first step into the swamp, but something that accelerated the sinking momentum.
Sato: That’s right. I think I was in my second year of high school when Yamato was featured in the second issue of OUT.
Interviewer: That’s a pretty intense period. After that, you went into the video industry, but then went to another industry. Then you came back at a time when works using CG had just begun to appear in Japan. Were you inspired by the works of that time?
Sato: I don’t think it was any particular work that inspired me. I just thought, “I want to do this kind of work.” I also didn’t like the lifestyle of wearing a suit and tie and arriving at work on time every day. I thought I could do what I wanted in this kind of work.
Interviewer: You were the first person to introduce digital editing to the trailer industry with Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion in 1996. In an interview with Video Salon in 2018, you said, “We’re in a transition period.” How do you feel about the current state of editing software now that a few years have passed since then?
Sato: Nowadays, there are only two or three types of video editing software for PC. Is it okay to talk about this in detail?
Interviewer: By all means.
Aoyama: I’d like to hear it too.
Sato: In addition to Avid Media Composer, which has been used for a long time, DaVinci Resolve and Adobe Premiere are becoming mainstream. I’ve seen news that the beta version of Premiere optimized for Apple’s M1 chip is getting great scores. I heard that the same is true for DaVinci. So if you want to connect video on PC, these two should take the leadership role in the future.
Interviewer: I see.
Sato: Avid also exists as a separate mountain, so I guess there will be three. There was a time when Avid was the only one in the industry. Now it’s a three-way tie between Avid, DaVinci, and Premiere.
I had a chance to work on a trailer for a horror movie in Taiwan, and I heard that many people in Taiwan were using Apple Final Cut Pro. There are many people in America who use it. But in Japan, I don’t see it very often.
Interviewer: I heard that before, only Avid was accepted in the video industry, but it has become more diversified.
Sato: Yes, it is. When I worked on the Netflix version of Ju-On, I saw Daiei’s editing studio using DaVinci. It is definitely a powerful software that can be used in a post-production editing room, but that was the first time I saw it being used for pro video editing.
Mr. Sato gives a speech at the 40th Japan Academy Awards,
where he won the Best Editing Award for his work on
Interviewer: In an interview for the Shin Godzilla release in 2016, you mentioned that the remote editing process was difficult. Has this changed in 4 years?
Sato: Certainly there are many problems that must be overcome in remote editing work. However, the “remote work” done on this work is different in nature from Shin Godzilla. “Remote editing” means “working over a network.” Material was posted on a central network with the aim of being able to edit in various locations. The reality of the “network environment” prevented it. So we used a Dropbox-like system to sync data to each local device, and the work could be done in various places.
Interviewer: I see.
Sato: In the case of this film, based on the script that came from Mr. Fukui, we created a movie for review by cutting the images together. I showed it to Mr. Fukui and the others, and after gathering their opinions, I made revisions. This process was repeated over the network.
Before the Corona pandemic, I had planned to have everyone gather in the editing room of my office and discuss the visuals while looking at them, but we couldn’t do it under the those circumstances, so I sent them what I made, and they sent it back. It was a repetitive process.
Interviewer: Oh, that’s how it was.
Sato: I didn’t make everything from the beginning and send it to them. At the start, I sent them the first ten minutes of the compilation for 2199. I asked, “Is this pace okay?” Mr. Fukui replied, “It’s fine.” It was like that. I felt relieved and said, “So that’s the pace.” But I was also careless, and later I suffered from the scale overrun…
Interviewer: (Laughs) If you had met face to face, you could have checked and fixed things on the spot. It must have become more difficult to make it when the review time increased.
Sato: I think that was a good thing. I was able to think carefully about the finished edit and say, “Okay, let’s do this.” Normally, the editing process for a compilation like this takes just a couple of weeks, but this time it was a more gradual process. In hindsight, I think that might have been a good thing. It gave me time to think slowly.
Aoyama: The fact that Mr. Sato had an environment where he could work at home because of Corona was also a big factor. He and Mr. Fukui were able to proceed with the work together.
Sato: In April 2020, I stopped coming to the office. I stayed at home all the time. I only went to the office by bicycle to pick up my belongings. I did all my work at home.
Interviewer: Did you have the same kind of environment at home as at the office?
Sato: Before the emergency was declared in April, I was working on a 13-inch MacBook Pro at home. But I felt that it was a bit inefficient, so I bought a hanging Mac mini from Bic Camera in Hachioji. I did all my work on it.
Interviewer: On a “hanging Mac mini…”
Sato: I used 32TB of storage. When they asked, “How much capacity do you need?” I was worried about it, so I bought a big one, but as it turns out, I didn’t use that much. I thought I would use about 10TB, but I only needed 6TB. It’s a RAID with two HD drives, but I was able to edit full HD material without any stress. That’s the way it is now, isn’t it?
Interviewer: After working on this project, what did you think was the best part?
Sato: I had a hard time deciding whether or not to use vocals in the music direction.
Aoyama: on Great Harmony.
Sato: I had to be very careful about how to use that song in the climax. The script said to “use Great Harmony here” (laughs), but there’s a lot of conversation going on, so I was told to use an instrumental. But I couldn’t resist, so I ended up using the vocal part. The producer was in a hurry to get the rights processed.
Also, the main title comes up one more time at the end. I spent about a week worrying about the right timing for it to appear.
Interviewer: You put a lot of thought into the way it appears. The last question has nothing to do with Yamato, but I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what Shinji Higuchi said about you. He called you the “trailer scammer.”
Sato: That’s right (Laughs).
Interviewer: I know you are friends, so I knew it wasn’t an insult. When Avalon was released in 2001, Mr. Higuchi wrote in Weekly ASCII, “Mr. Sato, our CG director, is now active as a trailer scammer.” Is this something that Mr. Higuchi said in connection with Gamera 2 or something?
Sato: I once worked on a TV spot for a sci-fi horror movie. When director Shinya Tsukamoto, who was also writing for ASCII, saw the commercial, he said, “That looks really interesting” and he went to see it at a theater. But in reality, it wasn’t very interesting.
Sato: I don’t know… (Laughs) I guess that happened a lot.
Interviewer: You’re not calling yourself that, are you?
Sato: I don’t mean to be a fraud at all. It’s just that there are some works where I tried too hard and did too many things. I tried to show my own originality and used music that was not in the series. I thought, “Hey, how about this? It will look interesting if I do this.”
There have been times when I have gone to the extreme, but I’ve gradually come to realize that if you go too far, people will be wary and it won’t be well received. In particular, a well-made work should not be overly twisted or contrived. I try to make trailers that allow the viewer to taste the ingredients themselves.
Interviewer: Sorry to ask such a weird question at the end. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Yamato. Thank you very much for your time today.