Houchu Otsuka interview
“This narration and the speech for the final episode of Yamato 2202 are true treasures”
Interviewer: First of all, I would like to ask you if you have seen the original Space Battleship Yamato?
Otsuka: At the time, I had just come to the city from the countryside without really knowing why. I didn’t have a job, and I was at a loss. I knew that Yamato was in the limelight, but I was living in a tiny apartment and didn’t have a TV set, so I was so busy trying to make ends meet that even though I knew about it, I had never seen it. I had heard that Kenji Sawada’s song [from Farewell to Yamato] was a big hit, and I was curious about a film with a good song. I knew I had to see it someday, but I never got around to it.
Interviewer: So, what did you think about being offered the role of Shiro Sanada in Yamato 2199?
Otsuka: Takeshi Aono, who played Sanada in the original, was my favorite mentor. He often bought me drinks and took me to various places to hang out. I knew he had played the role of Sanada in the old series, and inheriting that role was a good opportunity for me to remember the greatness of my seniors.
Interviewer: What is your impression of Shiro Sanada?
Otsuka: I didn’t know much about the character until I got the role. I only knew that he was the second-in-command and a proper soldier. I’ve played a lot of “unusual roles” in the past, so I thought that Sanada was a strange person on that ship. That’s why, at the first audition, I did it in a slightly twisted or eccentric way. I was told, “That’s not right” and they explained how to understand the character. That was my mistake. (Laughs)
I think Sanada is a man among men, a man that every man would like to be like. But he’s the type you can’t be like, even if you admire him. He is strong, but kind and humorous. He is quick to judge and has a strong sense of determination. I thought about how I could play him as an ideal man who has everything.
Interviewer: When you were first offered the role of Sanada, did you think that it would become such an important role for the film?
Otsuka: No, I didn’t expect it. I knew what Yamato was going to be about. But I didn’t know the specifics of the character. I thought he was just a person who gave orders as a second-in-command, who pushed down his emotions and said things clearly. That was the image I had.
Interviewer: From 2199 to 2202, Sanada was a character who showed a lot of changes.
Otsuka: I felt that. I felt it especially in the last episode of 2202, where he talks about Kodai. Normally, he doesn’t show that kind of emotion, and he shouldn’t. But in that moment, he suddenly came back to himself or remembered the past. When he looked into the distance, he realized that he was living with a lot of thoughts and feelings in his heart. However, if he were to reveal these feelings on a regular basis, he’d become a softy. In the scene where he talks about Kodai, I felt that he was allowed to do so.
Interviewer: He’s usually very strict with himself, or rather, he’s very disciplined, isn’t he?
Otsuka: He’s in a position where he has to do that. But I know firsthand how hard it is to behave in a cool-headed manner. I think that’s what I was trying to express.
Interviewer: The process of gradually coming to accept Kodai was well expressed. By the time of Ark of the Stars, it seems like Sanada has already accepted him as a full-fledged member.
Otsuka: It’s not just that Sanada thought of him like a younger brother, but that Sanada recognized him as an equal. I think he came to feel safe in Kodai’s hands.
Interviewer: In this compilation, I found it interesting that he was a little concerned about being called a “computer person.”
Otsuka: On the other hand, that might make him easier to depict. I played (dubbed) an android named Data in Star Trek The Next Generation, and he was somewhat similar to Sanada. At first, he’s cold-hearted and lacking in emotion, but he gradually grows into a more human character. I felt something similar to that in Sanada.
Data yearns to be human. Data admires human beings, so he values the small details of emotions that ordinary people wouldn’t even care about. Sanada is a human being, but he is sensitive to each and every emotion. He can look at others with compassion. I became aware of this type of person during the process.
Interviewer: He keeps a book of poems given to him by Mamoru Kodai. He’s interested in human nature, isn’t he?
Otsuka: I guess he wanted to become a person who loves not only science but also literature. I think that’s interesting.
Interviewer: I am also interested in his relationship with Kaoru Niimi.
Otsuka: It has an adult atmosphere, doesn’t it? It’s a relationship that’s hard to find in this kind of anime. I feel Sanada’s humanity in that way.
Interviewer: What are your favorite scenes and lines?
Otsuka: In the end, it’s the speech in the last episode of Yamato 2202. In the middle of talking about Kodai, he says, “He is you. He is one of the unknown people living in this age, an alter ego of you and me.” I thought those lines were really good. Sanada may have lived his whole life to say those words.
Interviewer: Was it a challenging scene for you as an actor?
Otsuka: I was looking forward to it from the moment I received the script. I was also excited on the morning of the recording. It’s often a small group of people working separately. But at that time, since it was the last session, all the cast members were there. It was just like that speech. I was half nervous and half comfortable. It’s not every day that I get to have such a happy time. I’ve never done such a long monologue in an anime production before, and it was a dream come true for me as an actor.
It starts out plainly. “Let me tell you a story about a man…” But gradually I felt myself getting excited. During the rehearsal, I had been trying to keep my voice down, but during the actual performance, I became more and more passionate. I felt that his thoughts naturally came out in his expression.
Interviewer: When [writer] Harutoshi Fukui heard that speech, he was convinced that your voice could carry this film.
Otsuka: It was very fortunate that I was able to do it.
Interviewer: And now you’ve done a movie.
Otsuka: I heard that it would be a compilation. At first, I thought I would just add a few lines to the missing parts. I didn’t expect that the film would be narrated by Sanada.
Interviewer: In a sense, he is the main character.
Otsuka: First of all, I was surprised, and I was also scared that I had taken on a huge responsibility. I thought I would have to read the script over and over again. But I was also excited to go to the site as soon as possible. I wondered if I could start recording the way I started the 2202 speech. I thought I could be Sanada again this time, and I was able to do so. The fact that I was able to do that speech and this narration is a true treasure.
Interviewer: The history of Yamato is told from Shiro Sanada’s point of view. What kind of thoughts did you have when you recorded it?
Otsuka: When I read the script, the first thing I felt was that I had been given a very important job to do. In the film, it is a response to an interview, and from the introduction, it is just a plain speech. But strictly speaking, it is not a narration, and it’s not so-called ordinary dialogue. You have to be aware of how to present the reality of “a man who knows everything and tells it” in the form of a monologue. The seriousness of it.
I felt the responsibility and pressure of the work. I thought a lot about what to do, and talked with the director on the day of the recording. I was groping at first, but gradually I started to understand how Sanada would talk in this situation, and what points he would make. I felt like I was able to put myself in Sanada’s shoes and tell his story, because I had been playing the role for a long time.
Interviewer: What are your impressions looking back on the two works in this way?
Otsuka: My first impression was, “Yamato must have had a tough time…” Both Yamato and humanity have gone through a lot. The encounter with humanoid intelligent life forms made me imagine that we might meet them someday.
Interviewer: What is the appeal of Yamato from your point of view?
Otsuka: First of all, I think it’s wonderful that Yamato comes out of the water and jumps into space. It’s so majestic that I feel the overused words “dream and romance.” Just depicting that is an amazing idea. It showed us something far beyond our imagination. I think that’s the appeal of Space Battleship Yamato.
Interviewer: Please tell us your impressions of Age of Yamato.
Otsuka: It’s a very high quality documentary, isn’t it? It’s also a wonderful entertainment that condenses the whole of Yamato. Romance and love are inserted like jewels scattered all over the place. I think it’s a very well-made documentary in terms of both composition and adaptation.
If you don’t know Yamato yet, you can understand what it’s like. If you’ve been watching it for a long time, it’s made in such a way that you can discover something new and exciting. It’s a work of such high quality that it will stay with you. I would like to recommend this film to those who haven’t seen it yet.
Interviewer: Lastly, what are your hopes for your new work, Yamato 2205?
Otsuka: I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited to see what will happen. I wonder what kind of enemies will appear, what kind of difficulties Yamato will encounter. Will there be a new couple? I’m also curious about Sanada’s relationship with Niimi. (Laughs) I hope everyone can look forward to that kind of excitement.