Koichi Yamadera & Harutoshi Fukui interview: Age of Yamato and a man named Dessler
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Age of Yamato is a rebuild of the story depicted in two works, Yamato 2199 and Yamato 2202, based on the immortal masterpiece Space Battleship Yamato. It contains new shots and narration, and will be screened at 35 theaters nationwide for three weeks starting on June 11.
The film is a documentary that looks back on the “Grand Voyage to Iscandar in 2199” and the “Battle of Gatlantis in 2202” with the testimony of Shiro Sanada, who served aboard the Yamato as chief engineer and first officer. As the title suggests, it is a unique work that brings the “Yamato era” into relief by shedding light on 2199 and 2202 from different angles.
To commemorate the release of this film, here is an interview with Harutoshi Fukui, who was in charge of the composition and Yamato 2202, and Koichi Yamadera, who played Abelt Dessler, the highly popular rival of Yamato‘s fate. They talk about the intentions behind adopting a documentary format, Dessler’s more in-depth portrayal, and comment on Yamato 2205, scheduled for later in 2021.
The meaning of the Documentary format
Interviewer: Mr. Yamadera, what are your impressions of Age of Yamato?
Yamadera: At first, I thought it would be a compilation work. In fact, it is like a digest version of 2199 and 2202 in some respects. But I was very surprised by the structure of the documentary told from Sanada’s point of view. After watching it, I was very impressed with the way Mr. Fukui put together this work with a new perspective.
I also thought that Miyuki Sawashiro [narrator] was very active. (Laughs) Of course, we’ve worked together a lot. I know she is a wonderful actor and voice actress, but when she reads the narration, it sounds very real. It sounds like a news report.
Interviewer: Why did you decide to make the compilation a “documentary” with Shiro Sanada as the narrator?
Fukui: I’ll get to the heart of the matter. When I think about what kind of “age” the title Age of Yamato refers to, to put it bluntly, it’s “a time when aliens attack us every year.”
Yamadera: I (Dessler) was one of them. (Laughs)
Fukui: At one point, I criticized it for being too cartoonish, no matter what. But now I look at it from the perspective of 2020, a time when a new disaster occurs every year. That is to say, the present day. So far, no aliens have attacked us. However, when things happen one after another that completely defy conventional wisdom, I won’t be surprised if aliens attack next year. (Laughs)
Yamadera: That’s right. (Laughs)
Fukui: We have survived for more than ten years in a world where anything can happen. So the time has come to portray Age of Yamato as a reflection of modern Japan. In order to capture this head-on, and have all the viewers feel it firsthand, I decided to create a documentary from a slightly detached perspective. That was my intention.
Sanada has been a popular character since the original series, and he has a famous line, “This could happen…” In fact, I heard that he never actually said it on screen.
Yamadera: Oh, really?
Fukui: The legend seems to be walking on its own. (Laughs) But that’s how long he’s been in the role of a story commentator. In addition, in these two series, 2199 and 2202, a purely scientific character who is not good at communication gradually becomes more human. I had the impression that he was the only person who could tell the story of both 2199 and 2202 together.
Interviewer: What was at the core of the two series that you decided to combine into a two-hour film?
Fukui: Space Battleship Yamato is a story about Susumu Kodai. A story about what he saw, what he felt, and where he ended up. That’s what I wanted to portray without fail. However, if I were to tell the story from Kodai’s own perspective, it would be somewhat biased. That’s why I chose Sanada as a character who speaks from a detached perspective.
In terms of a documentary touch, there are certainly parts of the world that are perceived from a macroscopic perspective. However, it is not difficult to understand, because it is based on the human drama of “who did what?” I believe that even those who have never seen Yamato before can easily enjoy it.
Dessler’s new form
Interviewer: Throughout 2199 and 2202, Dessler, played by Mr. Yamadera, was not a stereotypical villain, but a character with depth. How do you feel about him in Age of Yamato?
Yamadera: Since the original series, Dessler has been more than just a villain. He is so attractive, it is said that no antagonist character has ever become as popular. In 2202, Mr. Fukui delved even deeper into this character. Of course, many other characters have been explored, but I was especially surprised by Dessler. I didn’t know this was going on.
It all made sense, or at least made sense to me. He was originally a younger brother who had doubts about his brilliant older brother. It was because he was carrying all that on his shoulders that he was so cold-hearted and ruthless for the sake of Garmillas. I was glad to know that. The scene in 2202 that depicts the Garmillas of the past really increased the pressure. But at the same time, I was very happy to play the role.
Even in 2199, it was hinted that they were not just invaders. I wondered if they had relationships and feelings for each other. There were also feelings for Iscandar and for Starsha. It was difficult to find a way to express them. However, the more difficult voice acting is, the more rewarding and joyful it becomes.
Interviewer: Mr. Fukui, what did you have in mind when writing for Dessler?
Fukui: Dessler is actually a character whose perception changes drastically from one point to another. In the first Yamato series, he was the “emperor.” The line “I’m fighting a war now, so please don’t interfere” is symbolic, but he was a larger-than-life emperor, beyond the level of ordinary people.
Of course, he had a sense of mission to save the planet Gamilas. That’s why, in Farewell to Yamato, he saw Susumu Kodai and his friends in their human form. In the last five minutes of his life, he realized that something in his life was definitely missing, and he became the man who died. In those five minutes, his reputation as a person exploded.
Yamadera: I see.
Fukui: At that moment, he went from being an “emperor” to a “prince in exile.” And although he died in Farewell, he survived in Yamato 2, and his image as the “exiled prince” expanded. So the starting point and the subsequent path are different. So, since the Dessler story of 2202 is portrayed after the starting point of 2199 is, it can be said that we are following the original story. In other words, I was trying to make it easier to understand.
Yamadera: No (laughs), but thank you for connecting the stories so well.
Interviewer: What do you feel is the most important aspect of Dessler this time?
Yamadera: As I said, it is exactly what happened in the past with Garmillas: his relationship with his brother, his relationship with his mother, his feelings for Iscandar, his feelings for Starsha. He’s living with all of the things that are deeply depicted there. And he was never a “strong person” by nature. I think that is the characteristic of Dessler this time.
Fukui: The Dessler in the original series had some complexities, but they were never depicted on the surface. He had a kind of resolute attitude, as if he was sitting on top of the world. However, in this day and age, I feel that it is becoming harder for people to sympathize with such a persona. That’s why Dessler’s base is the same, but the way he expresses it is different. Instead of portraying his weaknesses, I was hoping that by portraying him as a person who can face his weaknesses, I could make him more sympathetic to today’s audience.
Yamadera: It’s true that the way you portrayed him makes him a character that people can sympathize with. But there is no doubt that on the surface he is a ruthless and uncompromising man without blood or tears. I’ve come to understand Yamato in some ways, but there is no doubt that Dessler is the one who took the lives of 70% of the humans on Earth. In order to keep Garmillas alive, he has to be willing to take such actions.
Fukui: Yes, that is true.
Yamadera: Even though he is such a ruthless man, he has carried a heavy burden in the past. It’s because of this past that Dessler becomes more three-dimensional. That’s what makes him attractive and challenging to play.
The appeal of Yamadera’s Dessler
Interviewer: Mr. Fukui, what is your impression of Yamadera’s Dessler?
Fukui: Mr. Yamadera has been called “a man with seven different voices.” Whenever an original voice actor retires, Yamadera is always the first name that comes up. However, it is not because he is good at imitation. Yamadera’s Dessler is somewhat similar to the Dessler played by Masato Ibu in the past series, but basically, it is still Yamadera’s Dessler.
I think the difference is that Mr. Yamadera’s Dessler is more human than Mr. Ibu’s Dessler. It’s not that one is better than the other. I think it is a difference in the sense of distance. I felt that Yamadera’s Dessler [in 2199] was well-designed for the Heisei era. I tried to delve into the human side of the story in accordance with that impression.
Yamadera: Thank you very much.
Interviewer: Mr. Yamadera, Are you aware of Mr. Ibu’s Dessler, and do you have a Dessler of your own?
Yamadera: Of course I am aware of it, I love the original Dessler. I’m also a fan of Mr. Ibu’s. I didn’t want to change anything about it at all. But there’s only so much I can do, and there was no way I could do it exactly the same. It’s no use just copying the surface, so I just act as the script leads me. Earlier, you mentioned the “human touch.” It’s not about my acting. I think it means how Dessler was portrayed in the script.
Fukui: Mr. Ibu’s voice has an image that comes through smoothly when he speaks. But Mr. Yamadera’s voice, for example, has a quaver in the back of it, even when he says the same line. There are moments when I feel sympathy for that “quavering” and I’m moved by it. No one else can express that.
Yamadera: Thank you very much! I hope you’ll put that in bold.
Yamadera: But I really don’t know myself. It’s just that I can’t produce a deep voice like Mr. Ibu.
Fukui: No, no. The fact that you were cast as Dessler for 2199 meant it was a great pleasure for me to write 2202.
Toward a new voyage
Interviewer: After Age of Yamato, you have your next film coming up, Yamato 2205.
Yamadera: Yes, we’ve already started recording. From the very beginning, there was a bit of a “Huh?”
Fukui: At the recording the other day, Yamadera-san said, “Well…I’m mentally exhausted.” (Laughs) If I can reveal one piece of information, there was a place where I told him, “forget about Dessler for this line.”
Yamadera: Yes, that scene.
Fukui: There was a scene that we couldn’t do with [regular] Dessler, so I asked him to throw everything away and make it really empty. In other words… Dessler is going through that. (Laughs)
Yamadera: Yes, that’s right. In the past, in scenes with only one person, in a monologue, or in scenes from childhood, I’ve been able to make people think, “Oh, Dessler was originally a weak person with his own complexities.” But there were times when I felt that if someone else had been there, he would have had to be Dessler, and in 2205…that’s how big a deal it is.
Interviewer: So will we see a new side of Dessler in 2205, or a side that he may have always had but never showed?
Fukui: I’m sure Dessler fans will be satisfied.
Yamadera: In order to enjoy it, I would like you to watch Age of Yamato now. People who haven’t seen Yamato before can also enjoy it as an introduction to the series. If you loved it before, you’ll feel the excitement all over again. I think you can watch it with different feelings and enjoy it. I hope that everyone will see this film.
Fukui: It’s fun to watch, and at the same time, watching it can change the way you look at reality. You can reconfirm or reconsider, “Is this what reality is like now?” This is the appeal of fiction. 2199 and 2202, which are the basis of Age of Yamato, were made before the Corona disaster started. In other words, it reflects the mood of Japan in the ten years after the Great East Japan Earthquake. And now, something even worse is happening.
As for the question of how to survive in a time of continuous anxiety, 2205 delves deeper into this issue. It is a story that reaffirms the weight and importance of the word “hope,” which tends to spin out of control these days. I hope you will enjoy it.