Treasure Island magazine, September 1977


Spaceship Yamato is a pioneer of space!

Leiji Matsumoto Interview

As a cosmic animation, it attracted a lot of fans during its TV broadcast. As a fan of the much-talked-about Space Battleship Yamato, I was excited to hear that it would be made into a movie and I went to the theater with great expectations. The screen was filled with the presence of Yamato, Captain Okita, Dr. Sado, and Susumu Kodai. They got the Cosmo Cleaner and saved the earth. But I felt something was different from what I had seen on TV every week. This was not the Yamato I saw.

I had to meet the author, Leiji Matsumoto, to find out why. I heard that a lot of effort was put into the film adaptation, but I thought the readers of Treasure Island would not be satisfied with it, so I decided to interview him in spite of his busy schedule.

When we met at a coffee shop near his home, Mr. Matsumoto looked somewhat like the main character of his manga. He was wearing a short-sleeved jean jacket over an orange T-shirt. Apparently, he doesn’t smoke. After a casual conversation about how bad the weather was, I didn’t want to bring up this topic out of the blue, but I mustered up the courage to ask him about the Yamato movie, since it was what I wanted to ask him about the most. I was surprised to hear the answer; “No, that’s what’s bothering me. I hardly touched the movie.”

I told him honestly that my impression of the movie was very different from that of the TV program. He began to talk with some reluctance.

“Of course, it’s strange to say the impression of the movie is different from that of TV. The movie was supposedly directed by Mr. Toshio Masuda, but when I worked on [the series] with Mr. Nishizaki, I was given the title of art director. There are many things about it, such as the generational difference, but I think the emotional differences are more important. So obviously it may give a different impression than the TV version.”

Yamato is very dangerous material and it bears a fateful quality that can be easily misinterpreted. I didn’t want to make a war story with Space Battleship Yamato, I made it as if it was ‘Spaceship Yamato.’ I took all the aspects into consideration for all 26 episodes. When the film version was made, some parts of it were reworked and rewritten without my knowledge.”

“It uses the same visuals, but because of this difference in thinking, there is a risk that it will have a different impression on the viewer. There are copyright issues and other problems, but I am not as responsible for the production of the film as I was for TV. If you feel differently after seeing the film, I apologize, and I hope you will forgive me.”

When Leiji Matsumoto told me that he was not involved in the editing of the Yamato movie at all, I was honestly relieved. It is true that the visuals are the same, but I had some doubts about the dialogue of the characters and the music playing in the background. The cosmic screen and the military-style song made me feel a sense of discomfort, and I thought the dialogue was more formal than it was on TV. So, I decided to concentrate on Mr. Matsumoto’s Yamato, the TV version, and asked him what the theme of this work was.

“Seeing the scene of space as the sea, it’s the ocean of the future. So, naturally, just as in the old days when humans met on Earth’s oceans, they got into a big fight. Whenever living creatures encounter each other, there is always some trouble that can’t be avoided. And if a creature cannot survive in such a situation, it will not be able to compete in the great ocean of the universe.”

“There are now various countries or groups of people on Earth that are subdivided into smaller groups. It’s my firm belief that countries without the means to navigate the oceans of space in the future, such as a space ship, will surely lose out in the competition. I wanted to create this work based on the idea that if we don’t have the courage and determination to wake up to the cosmic ocean and get out there at an early age, we will probably end up watching others do it while we die in miserable conditions.”

“So, to be honest, I don’t like the battleship part of Space Battleship Yamato very much. It’s ‘Spaceship Yamato,’ isn’t it? I wanted to depict people who embark on the sea of space as if it were the sea of a lawless era. I wanted to depict the human figure of the steel-willed voyagers who followed the captain. I wanted to carry that story forward. I think this came out quite strongly in the TV series.”

“If it becomes a battleship, it puts you on a path toward militarism and one small mistake could turn you into Hitler. I felt it painfully day and night, and tried to be more considerate. I took an unusual amount of care to avoid any misunderstandings.”

— So you intended something completely different from images of the navy, militarism, and war?

“Since the movie came out, people who saw it said that it’s nostalgic for the navy. I don’t know what they mean by nostalgia. It would be nice if we had a strong navy that didn’t make mischief in every direction. But if you make something like this just for nostalgia of the style of the old Imperial Navy, you should make it as a war movie, not a spaceship movie. I think spaceships are different.”

“I didn’t want to include the old naval image in the film. The Battleship Yamato is machine mania for me, and it’s a ship that I like as a hobby. I think Yamato itself is a great ship. It was the largest battleship on earth, and I think we should be proud of the fact that it was built. But there were people who died on board. If we failed to take such people into consideration, it would have been a very one-sided account. That’s why I wanted to emphasize it again and again.”

“Based on my beliefs and ideas, it could only be made as ‘Spaceship Yamato.’ If we let go of this, we’d end up with the Battleship Yamato. Even today, Yamato is still very dangerous material that must be handled with care.”

— did you still wanted to use Yamato as material?

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“No, I already had a plan for Space Battleship Yamato. At that stage, I was asked if I only wanted do the artwork. This is about the visuals, so it’s a lot of work. But I agreed to do everything, and I ended up taking on the role of general director.”

“As the general director, I was responsible for the outcome of the entire production, so it was very nerve-wracking. It took a lot of nerve, but I was able to put together the TV version. I didn’t choose Yamato as the theme because I like it. If I had been given free rein, I would have made something else. I would never have chosen to make a battleship, especially Yamato, fly in space.”

“I wanted to do animation very much, but when I was asked if I wanted to make an anime, and I heard the name Yamato, I immediately knew this was dangerous material. So I decided to do it as space opera, or at least as ‘Spaceship Yamato’.

— Are you a fan of science fiction?

“Ever since I was a child, I loved to fantasize and think about ‘machine mania’ and all that sci-fi stuff, so I guess I can be categorized as a maniac. [Translator’s note: the word ‘maniac’ in this context was eventually replaced by ‘otaku.’] I said ‘machine mania,’ but I was an astronomical telescope enthusiast and loved to stargaze.”

“My initial desire was to somehow see the mountains of the moon. I got my father’s reading glasses and my brother’s nearsighted glasses and made a telescope. I was fascinated by the stars, or rather space, when I was a child. I was in Kyushu, so I could see as many stars as I wanted. I had a childhood dream of flying in a space rocket. I still can’t forget it, or rather, it still persists. So I can’t help but draw space opera.”

Matsumoto hardly moved his body and his eyes remain fixed on one point on the table. He had been chatting for so long that there was no time for me to interrupt him. The topic of conversation shifted from Yamato to manga.

Recently, he was told, “your manga has a homosexual orientation,” and he said he was so shocked by this comment that he could not sleep for a night.

“What I want to depict is a friendship between men that is above suspicion. I wonder who made it a trend that if two men get along with each other, it has to be homosexuality. I want to be a person who, at the time of death, can at least look back on his life and say that he has no regrets, that he lived his life in his own way, and that he is satisfied with it and can die.”

Finally, I asked him what he wanted to draw most. The Adventures of Maya the Honeybee was the answer.

A small Kyushu boy, much like the main character in a Matsumoto manga. The expression, “a young man with many dreams” fits perfectly.

When we finished talking and went outside, it was still raining, unwelcome in the heat of mid-August. But I was so happy to find my Spaceship Yamato that I headed home without an umbrella.

Back to Vintage Report 7

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