Asahi Shimbun interview, June 2021

Harutoshi Fukui and Yuka Minakawa on Age of Yamato: “We’re depicting people, not characters”

By Yuka Abe

Born in 1992. After working as a director and editor at a web media company, she became a freelance writer in the entertainment and business fields.

Published June 8, 2021 by Asahi Shimbun
(see the original article here)

The anime Space Battleship Yamato is a masterpiece from the past, and has had a great impact on the creators active today. In 2013, a remake of the series titled Yamato 2199 was broadcast. In 2017, a sequel began titled Yamato 2202, based on Farewell to Yamato, a big hit in the history of anime films. The new series drew a great response not only from the fans.

A compilation film that reconstructs both series will open in theaters on June 11 under the title Age of Yamato. The film, which focuses on the story of 2202, chronicles the voyage to Iscandar and the battle of Gatlantis in about 120 minutes. It is not just a digest version, but a documentary film with new scenes and narration.

We interviewed the staff who took on the challenge of creating a new expression by capturing this epic story in about 120 minutes: novelist Harutoshi Fukui, who composed and supervised, and novelist Yuka Minakawa, who wrote the screenplay. They have been watching Yamato since they were children, so what are their thoughts on this film?

Harutoshi Fukui’s “axis” that resonates with Yuka Minakawa

Minakawa is the author of the 2202 novelization, and this is her first attempt at writing a screenplay for a film. She is also scheduled to participate in Yamato 2205, a sequel to that is scheduled to open later this year. Fukui, who has been working on the series composition and screenplay since 2202, explains why Minakawa was chosen to write the script for this film.

Fukui: “It was very noisy, to put it mildly. (Laughs) When I handed her the proposal I’d prepared for 2202, she gave me a lot of opinions from her unique perspective. I thought it would be a good idea to have someone like her on my side, since she would have a positive influence on my work later on. So we asked her to join our next project, 2205, as a staff member. In the process of working on 2205, I realized that Minakawa-san has a good sense of visuals, so I asked her to write the script for Age of Yamato.”

Ms. Minakawa smiled at Mr. Fukui’s words and said, “Mr. Fukui’s axis was solid, so we were in the same boat. If I hadn’t agreed with his idea for the story, I wouldn’t have been able to work with him. However, I’ve enjoyed his previous works, and I’m very happy to have met him. When I wrote the novelization for 2202, I felt such empathy for the plot that I cried unconsciously at the proposal. I thought that if this was a story created by this person, there would be no breakdown even if there were clashing opinions, so I decided to participate.”

“I cried unconsciously,” she says, because she was attracted to the “real people” that Mr. Fukui depicts.

Minakawa: “How do the characters face up to the larger society, and how do they act? I feel that kind of raw humanity in Fukui’s works. I was curious to see what would happen if Mr. Fukui created a story using Yamato as a starting point. And if I were to participate, I thought I’d complain from a different perspective than Mr. Fukui.” (Laughs)

When Minakawa-san said this, Fukui-san smiled and replied,

“In the production of Age of Yamato, I just accepted the ideas that came from Ms. Minakawa. If I had been working on it by myself, I don’t think it would have turned out as ‘literary’ as it did. My background is in literature, but since I’ve been involved in the visual arts for many years, I’ve often thought that I need to switch my focus. When Minakawa-san, who also has a literary background, joined in on the script, it gave me the courage to use phrases that I thought were cool. In the end, I decided to make it more literary.” (Laughs)

Ms. Minakawa said she struggled with her first experience writing a screenplay, but also talked about the fun of working as part of a team.

“It took me a long time to understand the image that Mr. Fukui had in mind. But I couldn’t have had this experience if I had been writing alone.”

A documentary touch to depict contemporary Japan

As the title Age of Yamato indicates, the main theme of this film is “the times.” To express this theme, a documentary touch was used.

Fukui: “The Yamato series is a work in which aliens attack at every opportunity. At the time, it was seen as a fantasy, but nowadays, I don’t think we should be surprised if aliens attack the earth. New disasters occur every year, and unprecedented events have been occurring since last year. Anything can happen in the modern world.”

“We have come to an age where Yamato, a story of surviving repeated hardships, can be portrayed as a mirror image of modern Japan. I wanted everyone who watches this film to see that head-on. So I decided to portray it from the perspective of a documentary.”

Social commentary has been depicted in this work since the first TV anime series. In 2202 as well, Fukui kept a strong commitment to portraying the mood of Japan and the Japanese people, which he always cherished.

Fukui: “In the first TV anime series, ‘postwar Japan’ was an important element. It did not argue against the war, but rather tried to make a point that should be considered. It was the first fictional story after the war that taught us how to prevent wars from happening. After the enemy was annihilated, the hero said, ‘Oh, what have I done? We should have loved each other’.”

“Japan had begun to see glimpses of a bubble economy that had matured after the pain of war. We felt sorry for the people who died. I think the movie Farewell to Yamato depicted that from the start. When I decided to remake it as a series, I didn’t want to tell the same story again, but I wanted to depict it in a contemporary way.”

An “objective” portrayal of Susumu Kodai, mirror image of the Japanese people

Another highlight of the film is the character Shiro Sanada, who flies with the protagonist Susumu Kodai on Yamato and plays an active role as his second-in-command. He becomes the narrator and describes the historical turning points of 2199 and 2202.

Mr. Fukui said that the original TV anime series and the movie Farewell are stories of the main character, Kodai. On the other hand, while Kodai is still the protagonist, 2199 and 2202 do not focus on a single character, but on everyone who appears in Yamato. That made it difficult for Kodai himself to tell this story objectively as a storyteller. Fukui was concerned that it would be too subjective, pessimistic, and ego-driven.

Fukui: “I think that people who watched the original series had a vague impression that Susumu Kodai is a hero. However, Kodai is a very ordinary person. If you look closely, you will see that he has a lot of regrets. I think he is a mirror image of many Japanese people who have been forced to live in a different future from the one they expected. It is the same as the Japanese people after the collapse of the post-war bubble and the Great East Japan Earthquake (2011). I created the 2202 story from this idea.”

In order to tell the story of the world itself, the world that Kodai has lived through, and the person Kodai is – who is no different from us, the viewers – it was necessary for someone who has been watching over Kodai to tell the story. Shiro Sanada was the one who could play this role.

Fukui: “Sanada, who is a different type of person from Kodai, has also lived a life of uncertainty. And in Sanada’s case, he always limited himself by thinking, ‘I can’t stay here, so I won’t get involved.’ Then he met Susumu Kodai. The story of how Sanada, a purely scientific person who is not good at communication, gradually unravels and becomes more human is depicted through the stories of 2199 and 2202. I wanted to make sure that it comes out clearly.”

It’s not just a digest, and it’s not just a documentary.

Minakawa-san said, “I thought it was a new invention. There are roughly two types of stories: stories in which the main character changes, and stories in which the main character changes someone else. In this work, Susumu Kodai’s growth is portrayed objectively with Sanada, a supporting character, in the middle. On the other hand, it is also a story of Sanada’s human growth from 2199 due to Susumu Kodai.”

“In 2199, Sanada had a personality that didn’t show much emotion, and Kodai called him a ‘computer person.’ However, in this film, there is a scene where he reveals his feelings about the death of his best friend, Susumu Kodai’s older brother Mamoru. This was an idea from Mr. Fukui. If I had written the script on my own, I would not have come up with that.”

I want people to use their imagination based on appearance and behavior

Since starting on 2202, Mr. Fukui consistently focused on expressing “who did what and what they thought” through images and theatrical performances, rather than writing them as lines. This is because Yamato is not about characters, but about people.

Fukui: “I feel that the world today is looking for works that are easy to understand rather than uncertain. Works that can be grasped in five seconds. For this reason, there are a lot of works in which the characters themselves over-explain their thoughts and feelings.”

“However, Yamato is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The characters in this work are not characters, but people. I want you to use your imagination to decide what kind of people they are based on their appearance and behavior. I want the audience to imagine what this person is like. That’s how I have been presenting the 2202 series.”

Age of Yamato shows “who did what and what they thought” via Sanada’s lines, but it is only objective. The audience receives Sanada’s message and interprets it in their own way; “Maybe this is who he is.” Some will sympathize with him, and others will gain insight.

Minakawa said that the value of “depicting people rather than characters” must have been rooted in the staff involved in this film, as well as in the predecessors who created the original Yamato series.

Minakawa: “I want the audience to feel the history that is not depicted in the film. Just because we don’t explain it all, doesn’t mean there’s no history. It’s the same with people you meet in the real world. Their personalities are not created the moment we meet each other. A personality is built by accumulating years of experience before meeting. In Yamato, the history of every person is not described in the story. However, they all have a past. I want you to imagine what kind of life they lived. What do you feel or imagine when you see them in fragments in the story? What will you feel or imagine based on what Sanada says about them? I hope you enjoy it.”

“It’s a work that can be easily understood by people who have never seen Yamato before,” Fukui says about the film. As he said, this work can be enjoyed by people of all ages, even Yamato beginners. I’m sure that’s because, as Fukui and Minakawa say, “it’s a story about people, not characters.”

Fukui: “I’d like people who have may been avoiding the new Yamato, or who think it looks lightweight because it’s based on current anime styles, to watch it without disliking it. If you liked the original, you may understand why you liked it after watching this work. If you think it’s a lightweight, it’s probably heavier than the old one. (Laughs) I created a human drama that focuses on who did what. It’s a documentary touch that gives you a bird’s eye view of the world. It’s not difficult to understand, so I hope you will enjoy it.”

Minakawa: “It’s a work that looks at 2199 and 2202 from a different angle. It’s not a work that can be dismissed as a digest version. If you watch this work and find a scene that sticks in your mind, I hope you will watch the TV series as well to enjoy the rest of the story.”

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