The Dessler of Akasaka

The legend of the powerful producer who made Space Battleship Yamato a success. Does he look like Leader Dessler?

by Tatsuji Nagano

Published January 15, 2021 by Magmix. See the original article here.

Yoshinobu Nishizaki, the producer who led the anime Space Battleship Yamato to become a big hit, liked to live a flamboyant life, driving around in a luxury cruiser and sparing no expense to make his work a success. He was also known as “Dessler of Akasaka,” but he contributed to the expansion of the anime market. Here is a look back at his turbulent life. [Translator’s note: Akasaka is an upscale business district in Tokyo.]

Yamato, the spark that ignited the anime boom

The first Yamato TV series, which aired in 1974, was the spark that ignited the anime boom that continues to this day. There was a strong rival program, Heidi, Girl of the Alps (Fuji TV) that kept it from achieving high ratings. However, the theatrical version, which was a re-edited edition of all 26 episodes of the TV series, was a big hit in 1977. Theaters were crowded with college students and working people, breaking down the conventional notion that “anime is for children.”

The theatrical release turned it into a social phenomenon, the forerunner of Mobile Suit Gundam (TV Asahi) and Evangelion (TV Tokyo), which also became big hits when they were released in theaters. Yamato, which is filled with the romance of the great universe, still has many deep-rooted fans. I’m going to get up close with the key person who started Yamato, which revolutionized Japanese anime and caused a huge boom.

A maverick in the anime industry; that’s why he brought about “change”

Earth is on the verge of extinction due to radioactive contamination. In order to save it, the Battleship Yamato, the former Japanese Navy symbol that sank during the Pacific War, is transformed into the Space Battleship Yamato. Susumu Kodai and the crew of Yamato set out for the planet Iscandar in the distant Large Magellanic Cloud.

There, Starsha, a woman who wishes for peace, has prepared a radiation removal device and is waiting for them. However, Dessler, the leader of the Gamilas Empire, stands in Yamato‘s way.

Dessler, a villain with his own unique aesthetic, has become very popular. But it was the producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki who gained a reputation for resembling Dessler. At the time, children did not understand what a producer was. But Mr. Nishizaki didn’t care, going around appearing in the mass media. A producer is in a position to take responsibility for all aspects of a film’s production, including collecting finances, creating the film, and generating publicity. Many people may have learned the word “producer” because of Mr. Nishizaki.

In addition to his sharp appearance, he had a suspicious atmosphere reminiscent of a charlatan. It seems that he was quite a maverick even in the anime industry. However, since he was not bound by industry conventions, he led a major change in Japanese anime.

A unique negotiation technique that moved even difficult projects

Originally, Nishizaki was not a resident of the anime industry. After working as a research student at Bungakuza, he graduated from Nihon University College of Art and worked mainly in the entertainment field as a performance producer. As a result, he had a wealth of knowledge about music and excellent negotiating skills. He was tall and handsome, his father was an elite from the University of Tokyo, and he was good at presentation since he wanted to be an actor.

Nishizaki’s foothold in the anime industry was with Mushi Pro Trading, a subsidiary of the animation studio Mushi Production established by the “god of manga” Osamu Tezuka. In the 1970s, both Mushi Productions and Mushi Pro Trading were in a state of crisis. Mr. Nishizaki, who had just joined the company, worked on Wansa-kun (Fuji TV) and Triton of the Sea (TBS) one after another. Mr. Tezuka was overjoyed.

Mr. Nishizaki used his unique negotiating skills, such as entertaining people in high-class clubs in Ginza and even gathering slush funds, to move difficult projects. His way of working was completely different from the calm people who had been in the anime industry up to that time. He had a fiery temper, but he also had the ability to recognize talented people.

Director Yoshiyuki Tomino, who made his directorial debut on Triton of the Sea and would later make a big breakthrough with Mobile Suit Gundam, was one of those people. It was also Mr. Nishizaki who asked composer Hiroshi Miyagawa to compose the music for Space Battleship Yamato. His passion for making his productions as interesting as possible was unmistakable.

A proposal from the last days of Mushi Productions

Nishizaki wanted to create a full-fledged SF anime, something that had never been done before. At his urging, a strong team came together to create Yamato: SF writer Aritsune Toyoda, veteran animator Eiichi Yamamoto, successful scriptwriter Keisuke Fujikawa, and popular manga artist Leiji Matsumoto. According to Mr. Yamamoto’s memoir, The Rise and Fall of Mushi Pro (Shinchosha), the proposal was written jointly by Mr. Yamamoto and Mr. Nishizaki. This was in 1973, the last year of the studio.

Mr. Yamamoto, who had supported Mushi Pro for many years, must have felt that if he could make Yamato a success by teaming up with Mr. Nishizaki, who had good business sense, he would be able to prevent the collapse of Mushi Pro. Unfortunately, the studio went bankrupt before Yamato could be made, and Nishizaki had to establish his own production office, Academy, to proceed.

The TV series was considered a ratings failure, but the theatrical version of Yamato was a huge hit. The main character, Susumu Kodai, is a reckless young man, but his captain, Juzo Okita, watches over him warmly and strictly. Mr. Nishizaki always had a deep respect for his father, a graduate of Tokyo University. Captain Okita, who supported Kodai and the younger generation, seems to have been an ideal father figure for Mr. Nishizaki.

Aiming for the Planet Iscandar, Yamato carries the thoughts and feelings of various people

Yamato and its sequel Farewell to Yamato became big hits and Mr. Nishizaki became a man of the hour. However, other than the Yamato series, he was unable to achieve any other hits. In 1997 and 1999, he was involved in criminal cases and was sentenced to prison. There is no other anime producer who has been so severely criticized and disgraced.

“If it weren’t for Yamato, there wouldn’t be any anime in Japan today. There would have been no anime fans and no otaku.”

Director Hideaki Anno said this in a conversation with producer Nishizaki (Weekly Playboy, Feb. 25, 2008). Since his office was located in Akasaka, Mr. Nishizaki called himself “Dessler of Akasaka.” If it weren’t for him, a producer who was as powerful as Dessler, the landscape of Japanese anime would be very different.

Read the entire 2008 article from Weekly Playboy here.

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