By now, every Yamato fan should know the name Studio Nue by heart. It was the pre-eminent SF “concept shop” in the 1970s, staffed by writers and designers at the cutting edge of the genre. They contributed to many projects for both screen and paper, and are perhaps best known as the mecha designers for both the first and second Yamato adventures.
Then and now, the Nue staff has four highly respected members: Writers Haruka Takachiho and Kenichi Matsuzaki, and designers Naoyuki Katoh and Kazutaka Miyatake. (Click on those names to see their impressive credit lists.)
In February 2022, Haruka Takachiho revealed a previously-unknown story in a lengthy thread on Twitter. It largely takes place in early 1978 and details for the first time how Studio Nue was hired to create the groundbreaking mecha designs for Farewell to Yamato. As you will see, it’s definitely a tale for the ages.
See the original thread here.
I’ll try to write about Farewell to Yamato, but first, I’ll start with the most innocuous preliminary stage, which leads to how I was assigned to Yamato. After that, I’ll examine the flow of the project.
Yamato [the original TV series] was a project brought to us by Kenichi Matsuzaki. He received a letter from Mr. Kazuaki Saito, a senior SF illustrator, who said, “I don’t think I am suited for this project. I wonder if you could do it instead.” The project was about the battleship Mikasa going into space. As soon as I heard about it, I thought, “Oh, come on.” At first, Matsuzaki-kun drew some image boards. I remember seeing a picture of the Mikasa surrounded by a rotating mass of rocks. I thought it was a bad idea.
See early concept illustrations by Kazuaki Saito here.
Then, after a while, the tide suddenly turned. Leiji Matsumoto joined the project. I heard that Mr. Matsumoto suggested that the Yamato be used instead of the Mikasa, and that it was adopted.
This was amazing. For a while there was a dispute as to who wrote the original story of Yamato, but regardless of that, I personally think the most important person who contributed to this project was Mr. Matsumoto. I felt that the project suddenly became more realistic when Mikasa was replaced by Yamato.
It should be noted at this point that an early ship design resembled Mikasa, but its name was never used. Also, the title Space Battleship Yamato was decided before Leiji Matsumoto joined the production. It was Matsumoto who changed the design to more closely resemble the original Yamato.
I don’t know much about what happened after that. The project was approved, and we agreed to clean up the rough designs drawn by Mr. Matsumoto. Yamato became an anime. This position was to have a lasting effect, and led to my involvement in the next project.
I will digress here…
There was an incident in which the skin color of the Gamilas aliens changed. According to what I heard, they were indistinguishable from earthlings, so the staff decided to change their skin color. It seems that this kind of thing was usually decided by a single word from Producer Nishizaki. It is not easy to do. But it was a good thing they chose blue, and I was impressed by his skill in this area.
Then I heard about Yuki Mori’s panty incident. Producer Nishizaki was furious because her underwear looked like an old lady’s bloomers when her skirt was pulled up by Analyzer. He ordered them changed to be scanty. I heard this from several staff members, so it seems to be true. I don’t know.
Yamato was broadcasted opposite Heidi and Monkey Army, I think. (I don’t remember well). It was quite powerful, but the ratings were not good. But later the theater compilation became a hit and there was talk of making a sequel.
Finally, here is the episode that I experienced myself, not one I only heard about. Let me state that I’m not writing this out of bitterness. It doesn’t matter who says what. I am just writing what happened. Please do not misunderstand me.
Humble beginnings: Studio Nue’s home in 1978 was a rented apartment.
One day, Naoyuki Katoh called me. He said, “A Yamato movie is going to be made. They want me to do the designs. But I don’t want to.”
I asked him, “Why not?”
He said, “It’s not worth it. Last time, we agreed to clean up Mr. Matsumoto’s roughs, and the fee was reasonable. But it turned out to be different. Mr. Matsumoto was too busy to do the roughs. The design of the TV version was 98% our original. Miyatake and I drew it all without a rough draft. That was a killer. We can’t accept the film under the same conditions. That’s why I want you to turn it down.”
“Ninety-eight percent, really?”
“Seriously. You can check. We did everything from scratch.”
“Why don’t you just ask Matsuzuki to turn it down?”
Note: at the time, Matsuzuki served as Studio Nue’s representative to Office Academy.
“It’s difficult. Because of the ties that have existed up to now, Matsu-chan can’t suddenly come on strong. So I want you, who had nothing to do with it, to refuse. You have a big attitude, and you’re arrogant.”
(I can’t deny it.)
“Anyway,” I said, “let’s make a plan. Wouldn’t it be nice if they said on the other side that they were turning us down? We should set conditions that are absolutely unacceptable to them. For example, demanding an outrageous design fee.”
“That’s a good idea. Also, we refuse to attend the meetings. Those meetings are useless and there’s no merit to them. Producer Nishizaki has his staff come up with all kinds of ideas, and then he makes it seem like he created them all. But we were only contracted to do design cleanup, and we didn’t receive a single yen for the ideas. After a full day of meetings, Matsu-chan would go to the other side of the room and never come back. Ideas aren’t free.”
“Then we’ll refuse to attend the meetings. What else?”
“I guess it’s the credit. If we’re going to do all the design work, we want to be treated as main staff members, not as assistants or something.”
“It’s a movie, so they should put us in the opening credits. They’ll never go for that.”
“Great. I’ll leave the rest to you.”
“What if they say yes?”
“We’ll deal with it then. If he agrees to it, we can consider doing it.”
So, we told Producer Nishizaki that I was going to take the assignment, and off I went to a grill (restaurant?) called “Jyurin” at Keio Plaza Hotel. I put on a suit and tie.
The Studio Nue craftsmen in 1978: Kazutaka Miyatake, Kenichi Matsuzaki, and Naoyuki Katoh
Buying songs is a hot topic, and Yamato‘s designs were the same. We were drawing with the promise of cleanup, so all the designs we did were bought out. There wasn’t a millimeter of rights extended to us.
The first rough sketch I saw of Matsu-chan’s was a pencil drawing, and I don’t think it has been published. It looked exactly like Mikasa. I don’t know how it changed after that, because I wasn’t in charge of it. I only heard that it became Yamato after Matsumoto-san joined up.
I will write this once again: my involvement with Yamato was only on Farewell, so I do not know the details before and after that. That’s why, when it was hearsay, I wrote “I heard this.” Please do not treat it as fact.
The early Yamato drawings that appeared in magazines are not what I’m talking about. I am referring to the very first rough pencil drawing by Mr. Matsuzaki. I don’t know anything about the other drawings. They are completely different. It jumped from there and became Mr. Matsumoto’s Yamato.
This may be called valuable testimony, but most of it is hearsay. Again, please do not consider this to be correct information. If I didn’t write from my own experience, it would be taken that way. That’s why I hesitated to write anything down.
Yoshinobu Nishizaki in 1978
I went to the Keio Plaza Hotel’s restaurant to negotiate with Producer Nishizaki for Farewell to Yamato. I gave him my conditions unilaterally. It was rude of me, but I was there to have our proposal rejected, so I couldn’t hold back. Of course, Producer Nishizaki listened with an astonished expression.
After I finished, there was a detailed exchange for a while. I said, “We will not negotiate. If you can’t accept it, please decline.”
Finally, Producer Nishizaki said, “All right. I’ll accept those conditions.”
I thought, “He’s going to do it?” I should have made the conditions even tougher, but it couldn’t be helped now.
We agreed, but we did not say yes.
“Then I want you to draw up a contract with these terms. After both parties sign the contract, work will begin.” I added, “Until then, we won’t do anything.”
We’d never had a written contract for anime work before, but we couldn’t accept a verbal agreement. The contract was agreed to and the meeting ended. I returned to Nue and reported back. The atmosphere was still, “Are we going to do it?” I thought the conditions were satisfactory, so we decided to wait for the arrival of the contract. Once the contract was signed, my work was done.
Farewell to Yamato.
However, the contract did not arrive. On the contrary, I received a request through Mr. Matsuzaki that we should start drawing soon. I ignored it. Even if we didn’t do the project, we would not be troubled even by a millimeter. I simply replied, “Just give me the contract as soon as possible.”
Andromeda design by Kazutaka Miyatake
One day, I received a phone call.
“This is Tatsu Yoshida, the producer in charge of Yamato at Toei. I’d like to meet and talk with you.”
I was surprised. Tatsu Yoshida was the producer of the Showa zankyo den series, which I respect the most of Toei’s films.
I thought to myself, “This is not good.” But I couldn’t refuse him, so I decided to meet him at a coffee shop.
Mr. Yoshida said, “If Studio Nue doesn’t do the designs for the film, we can’t set a schedule. Will you do it?”
I told him what was going on, and said that as soon as we signed the contract, the work would start.
He looked straight at me and said, “Okay, I understand your situation. I understand that this is Producer Nishizaki’s problem. However, I want you to do something about it because we’re in trouble. If you don’t trust Producer Nishizaki, please trust me and my team here at Toei. I will be responsible for delivering the contract.”
This man was a living Showa zankyo-den. I wonder if this is how he faced [actor] Ken Takakura. I don’t dislike this kind of thing.
I said, “Well, I’ll trust you, Mr. Yoshida, and we’ll get to work.”
And so, without any choice, the design work began. I didn’t supervise the actual work, but Matsuzaki-kun did. I heard later that he was involved in the meeting where the assignments were given. I don’t know. Well, it was acceptable. Probably.
EDF Battleship design by Kazutaka Miyatake
Production progressed rapidly, but the contract never came. Those of you who have seen the film know how much Nue designed for it. Just when I was beginning to wonder what to do, Tatsu Yoshida contacted me again, and we decided to meet again.
As soon as we met, he said, “I’m sorry. I underestimated Producer Nishizaki. I didn’t expect him to be like this. I can’t give you a contract. I will be sorry about this for the rest of my life.”
He bowed deeply. This was no joke. If it was a yakuza movie, I would have said, “cut off your fingers and then come back.” But if I said that in the real world, I would be arrested. So I had no choice but to back down.
I thought it would be worth it in the end, but we got about half of what I asked for. However, the amount was so large that we would see a profit even at half the price. That’s how negotiations are done.
Farewell was successfully completed. At this point, my memory is a little hazy. The preview was held at Toei Studio in Oizumi. I met Producer Nishizaki there for the first time in a while. We shook hands firmly, glaring at each other. That’s where the problems started. The name “Studio Nue” was not listed in the opening credits.
I don’t remember if I found this out before or after the preview. Anyway, the promise of the name in the opening credits was broken. Money is a mundane bargaining chip. But credit is a matter of pride for the designer. I did my best work. It’s a matter of acknowledging that. I don’t give up easily.
As expected, I lost my temper and called Producer Nishizaki and said, “I can’t accept the fact that our name is not included in the opening credits. Tomorrow, I will file a request with the court for an injunction to stop the premiere of the film on the grounds of breach of promise. I don’t know if it will pass or not, but I’m sure it will be a good publicity stunt to file the request right before the film’s release.”
I really did say that, and then I slammed down the phone. It was the middle of the night. I was wondering if I could ask Sunrise to refer me to a lawyer or something. The phone rang. I answered it and heard, “This is Leiji Matsumoto.”
Reflexively, I thought, “That’s right. Producer Nishizaki doesn’t come by himself. He would leave it to someone like Tatsu Yoshida or Matsumoto-san, who I would care about.”
Matsumoto-san said, “I’ve heard the story. It’s not good that Producer Nishizaki neglected his promise. However, it is impossible to redo the opening now, and even if it’s just in the end credits, we can make it stand out. Can you please help me out here?”
No one can remain a hardass when asked something like that by Mr. Matsumoto. I was no different. So I gave in again. I had no choice.
At that moment, my assignment on Farewell was over. As you can see, this is a memoir of my disastrous defeat at the hands of Producer Nishizaki. I lost spectacularly. It felt good. He was a strong opponent.
As I wrote before, this is not a grudge. This simply happened. It’s just a story that’s a bit nostalgic now. That’s the extent of it. It was a good experience for me. Thanks to this job, Studio Nue still seems to be involved with Yamato even now.
Design Cooperation: Studio Nue