Screen magazine, November 1977 issue

Haruo Mizuno * Interview Series

SF Frontier Drama

It’s a big hit in theaters now. Space Battleship Yamato is very popular, and the creator of this film is the author of the original story. This movie is actually re-edited from the TV version, directed by Leiji Matsumoto. In other words, he is the creator of this movie.

No, his popularity goes beyond that. His Otoko Oidon and other manga and science-fiction manga are extremely popular among young people. I am also a big fan. His manga has heart and kindness. I met him, and he is exactly as I had imagined. His passion for his work and his gentle outlook on life made me even more of a fan.


[Translator’s note: understandably caught up in reverence, this writer overstates Matsumoto’s authorship of Yamato, as can be seen in numerous accounts on the genesis of the story.]

Leiji Matsumoto (Manga Artist)

Real name = Akira Matsumoto. Born on January 25, 1938 in Kurume City, Fukuoka Prefecture. While a student at Kokura Minami High School, his manga The Adventure of a Honeybee was published in the February ’54 issue of Manga Shonen. This led to the publication of his first feature, Insect World, in the summer of the same year.

In 1957, he moved to Tokyo and began drawing mainly for girls’ manga magazines. After Lightning Ozma and Sexaroid, Otoko Oidon became a big hit in 1971. He also developed his own unique world in science-fiction and directed the TV cartoon Space Battleship Yamato. A feature film was constructed based on that. His wife is Miyako Maki, a painter of immortalized girls.

Mizuno: Space Battleship Yamato is a big hit in theaters. Congratulations!

Matsumoto: Thank you very much. It was strange that when it started on TV, the ratings were very low. That’s why it ended after 26 episodes. But the mechanics of anime are very difficult for the engineers. That’s another one of the reasons why it ended after 26 episodes…

Mizuno: But I heard that the popularity of the series increased with each repeat.

Matsumoto: At first, because of the low ratings, I took the work in my own direction as much as possible.

Mizuno: As a result, it became very popular. That’s why I would like to ask you a rather awkward question. When I saw the movie version of Yamato, I had not yet seen the TV version. In the movie version, I saw that the emphasis was on the mechanism action, and the characters had no personality at all. And with the limited running time, I thought, “Well, that’s one way to do it.” But I couldn’t see any connection with the “ism” hidden in your manga, so it was strange.

Matsumoto: Animation is made by a large number of people, and the TV version had drama in every episode, so we could depict it at length. But in the case of the theater version, you have to follow the story and the focus is on the main scenes. If I had edited it directly, it might have been different. It might not have been as big of a hit. (Laughs)

Mizuno: Each and every one of your manga carries realistic joys and sorrows. The women treat the men very harshly, but there is a warm tenderness underneath, and they become unforgettable.

Matsumoto: In the case of Space Battleship Yamato, I wanted to create it as “Spaceship Yamato”. And I actually wanted to put a nearsighted, gangly man on the ship. (Laughs) People close to us go around doing their best while making mistakes. That’s what I wanted to show, but since it was for TV, they wanted a cool guy instead. (Laughs)

Mizuno: There is romance in “Spaceship Yamato.” But it must have been fun for you to work in anime, which you had longed for.

Matsumoto: That’s true. On the other hand, we had to meet a deadline, so everyone had to stay up all night. You know how hard it is when you have to do that. I’m always being chastised by magazine editors. (Laughs) Now I’m a writer, and I’ve experienced the editor’s wrath, but sometimes you might be watching a movie and you see what you want to do. It’s the joy of making it happen. That’s what it is.

Mizuno: Do you often watch movies?

Matsumoto: I grew up in a generation that was baptized in movies right after the war ended. They had a big impact on me. The manga artists and playwrights that grew up in my generation got a lot of influence from films of this era, didn’t they?

Mizuno: Most of our generation was influenced by films in the formation of our so-called juvenile mentality. I’m a typical example. (Laughs)

Matsumoto: My school took us to a movie called The Yearling. It was the first time in my life that I saw a color film. A bright world opened up and I thought about how beautiful it was.

Mizuno: Nowadays, color is the norm in movies, but back then, technicolor was clearly building its own world. We think of it as realistic because it’s colorful, but it is not. It creates an ideal world, a dream world.

Matsumoto: During the war, I was evacuated to the mountains of Matsuyama, Shikoku. I spent my days running around in the mountains and climbing trees. After the war, I came to Kokura and was in the third grade of elementary school. At that time, The Yearling was a story about reclamation at a time when I couldn’t get used to asphalt. I was really moved by it. Especially the relationship between parent and child. The father was very strong-willed and tough. I like that kind of father figure. The image of a big, strong father. I also like Jeremiah Johnson.

Mizuno: When you read Otoko Oidon, this part doesn’t pop out, but from time to time the main character receives parcels from his father. Whenever that happened, it would warm our hearts. I can see this was influenced by The Yearling.

Matsumoto: Lee Van Cleef of macaroni westerns, such as Death Rides a Horse, is also an image of my father for me. The image of walking the soil of pioneer land with boots. What a great way to step into the dirt… (Laughs)

Mizuno: Expression is also an image of film. (Laughs)

Matsumoto: That’s right. I always say “Ta-daaah!” when I’m writing a manga. I like the lingering aftertaste of that sound. I write while humming the theme song of my favorite movie or something. But that wouldn’t make sense to a reader. (Laughs)

Mizuno: No, that’s not true. When I look at the last panel of your works, somehow it feels like a zoom out with thundering music and you really get the feeling of, “The End.” It’s just a one-panel picture, but there’s 30 to 90 seconds of romance condensed into it.

Matsumoto: Is that so? (Laughs) There was a movie called The Culpepper Cattle Company. When the main character is about to leave, his mother is patiently enduring it without saying anything. I like that kind of thing. In The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, there’s a scene where the father and daughter meet again at a bar. The daughter stares at the father without saying anything. I thought, “Oh, she’s a good girl.” (Laughs) If you had a daughter like that, you’d want to do right by her too. I guess that’s what it means to have a daughter like that. (Big laugh)

Mizuno: I’m gradually getting a grasp of what you’re really like (Laughs)

Matsumoto: I often burst into tears while watching movies. There was a movie a long time ago called Marianne of My Youth. In front of the hero, the beautiful Marianne steps out of the darkness. I felt as if I myself had been transported into the main character, thinking that someday I would have a beautiful woman like that. What a thought. It’s funny to say this, but I think I had that roman[tic] taste since I was a child.

Mizuno: Everyone wanders on his or her own journey in search of their own “Marianne of My Youth,” don’t they?

Matsumoto: Right around the time I saw this film, I had been fired from my temporary job at a newspaper company. I saw the movie on my way home. I guess the combination of my reality and my state of personal godhood made it even more so. I was inspired by this movie. I think that was the real start of my career.

Mizuno: The main characters were a nearsighted, gangly-legged man and a beautiful woman. So this was the starting point of your work. And what about coming to Tokyo?

Matsumoto: I moved to Tokyo in 1957. I came because I was going to make a series for a magazine. The reality was not so easy…in the daytime, I was just hanging out with my friends and making a lot of noise and didn’t have a care in the world. But at night, loneliness and anxiety come rushing in. I was afraid of being alone. In that situation, I decided to make an animation project, and I wrote a shooting script. Well, that passion has come in handy now…

Mizuno: That kind of passion has and will continue to support your work…

Matsumoto: Everyone goes through peaks and valleys in life. Of course, when work slows down, everyone gets frazzled and anxious. But those who take the time to watch a movie or two at such times are sure to make a comeback. The guy who stays flustered will eventually lose.

Mizuno: Films give us blood and nourishment at such times, don’t they?

Matsumoto: Keisuke Kinoshita’s Boyhood, for example. It’s not just a movie about adolescence, but a boy gritting his teeth and living with all his heart. I like that kind of thing.

Mizuno: I agree. The most important nourishment we can get from films is the question of how we should live our lives. I know this is a sudden digression, but there are movies about Jews, for example. It is said that because Japanese people cannot understand the Jewish issue, they will never understand the true meaning of these movies.

This may be true, but I believe there are always commonalities in the way people live, even if the history and the places in which we live are different. Therefore, no matter what kind of film it is, there is always a chance for understanding. That’s what makes movies interesting.

Matsumoto: That’s why I want to see movies in good conditions. When a movie is shown on TV, sometimes the colors are off. Why is that?

Mizuno: It happens when there are only old prints, or when the lab has made a mistake in baking the film. But we make the utmost effort to deliver a print that is as close to the original as possible. For example, in the case of Gone with the Wind, we ordered two 16mm films, two videos, and a 35mm film to make sure it was perfect. I feel a responsibility to pay close attention not only to such big films, but to any kind of work.

Matsumoto: I want to see films in a theater with excellent projection and beautiful music. When I saw River of No Return, I was first attracted by the title and the beautiful sound. I never liked Marilyn Monroe. At that time, there were many American soldiers in Kokura because of the Korean War. The women who were with the American soldiers wore bright red lipstick. For some reason, that unpleasant image was transplanted onto Monroe…

Mizuno: My memories of movies inevitably overlap with my own memories of my youth.

Matsumoto: At that time, Maureen O’hara was very popular, wasn’t she? But I couldn’t help but think of her as an old lady. Even in Ulysses. I couldn’t understand why the hero Ulysses was attracted to an old lady like Silvana Mangano. At the time, all the great actresses looked like old ladies. But lately, when I rewatch them on TV, they don’t necessarily look like that. They look beautiful and pretty. (Laughs)

Mizuno: The viewer gets older and older, but the movies stay the same. (Laughs) That’s why you can find your own youth in the screen.

Matsumoto: In Beneath the 12 Mile Reef, the sound was really refreshing. Such films leave a lasting impression on me.

Mizuno: At that time, it was the early days of Cinemascope. The magnetic four-phone sound system developed by Fox was also very effective.

Matsumoto: The same is true for the screen. Movie fans want to cherish every little detail of the film.

Mizuno: Out-of-focus images are absolutely unforgivable.

Matsumoto: When I see a faint image on the black curtain at the side of a screen, I think, “Ah, there’s a picture there, too.” What a waste. I wish they could spread it out and show me everything. (Laughs) I enjoy watching late-night movies with my friends, while talking about such things with them. On the other hand, I definitely want to watch Marianne of My Youth alone. If I can’t watch it alone on TV or something, I’ll tape it and watch it later by myself and cry. (Laughs)

Mizuno: That is one aspect of movies. The evaluation of a film depends on the history and character of each person who sees it. Of course, you also watched animation…

Matsumoto: I have seen all the Disney films, Gulliver’s Travels and Hoppity Goes to Town, of course. I sigh in admiration at the beauty of Technicolor’s bright color. I swore to myself, “I’m going to make a manga movie, too!” (Laughs)

Mizuno: As a result, Space Battleship Yamato became a big hit.

Matsumoto: As people get older, they lose the basis for their initial beliefs. I wondered what my beliefs were when I came to Tokyo. But I wanted to keep that in mind.

Mizuno: When I read Otoko Oidon I see that there is a great belief underlying the story. That is the human condition and a genuine way of life. How do these beliefs relate to SF like Yamato?

Matsumoto: No matter what the future holds, there will always be some things about human beings that never change. People with many flaws will try their best. And we do our best to die without regrets. This should be the same in the future. Science-fiction is a kind of frontier drama. Now, there is no frontier on Earth anymore. There is a frontier in the world of science-fiction. It’s a frontier for all the aspirations of mankind. It is a frontier with omnipresent aspirations.

Mizuno: I see, the old man in The Yearling was connected to Captain Okita in Yamato. Please continue to show us human kindness in your dream of great pioneering.

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