Nishizaki vs. Matsumoto, 2002

The story of the legal battle over Yamato‘s authorship is a sketchy one with many details still unknown more than 20 years later. But fleeting glimpses of it can still be found in the sparse media record of the time. This magazine article offers one such glimpse, shared here with the kind permission of its writer.

The Yamato generation suffers from a curse

Space Battleship Yamato authorship trial

(AERA article issued on the 15th of April in 2002)

The journey to Iscandar to save Earth. 28 years have passed since the first film, but trouble continues for this great anime. The captive generation is in agony.

by Hiroyuki Ota, editorial department

In the two-and-a-half-year trial over the authorship of Space Battleship Yamato, Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki (67) and artist Leiji Matsumoto (64) have had only one “direct confrontation.” This was during their oral argument at the Tokyo District Court on October 3 of last year (2001).

On one hand, Matsumoto is a leading figure in the manga world who would be awarded the Purple Ribbon Medal a month later. On the other hand, Nishizaki had declared bankruptcy and was on trial for two counts: possession of methamphetamines and smuggling a large quantity of firearms. Confined to a wheelchair due to chronic and worsening back pain, Nishizaki was in tears as he spoke.

“I would like to express my deepest apologies to all the fans for the damage I have done to the image of Yamato through my own misconduct. I hope to atone for my sins and have the opportunity to work with Mr. Matsumoto again in the future.”

However, it seems unlikely that their paths will cross again. Unlike original manga being adapted into an animation, Yamato was created from scratch as an anime project.

Can new works be released to the world?

“Before Mr. Matsumoto joined the project,” Nishizaki said, “The basic concept of Yamato had already been completed in the proposal. I was creatively involved in the entire process of creating the work. Mr. Matsumoto was only partially involved in the art, mechanics, and figure design.”

On the other hand, Mr. Matsumoto argues, “The proposal that Mr. Nishizaki brought to me was not really a story at all, so I rewrote it from scratch as my own creation. Of course, I was involved in the entire process of creating the work. I even storyboarded the first part of the series, because it set the character of the whole story. I couldn’t take my eyes off it for even a second.”

The March 25 ruling reads: “Mr. Nishizaki contributed to the overall formation of Yamato, while Mr. Matsumoto was only partially involved.”

Mr. Matsumoto has already filed an appeal. The ripple effect is not limited to the old Yamato. Currently, Matsumoto is leading the production of a new version of Yamato for TV and theaters. In an interview conducted in a detention center, defendant Nishizaki told this writer, “I am the author of Yamato, so of course I cannot approve Mr. Matsumoto’s new work.”

He said that he is considering taking some kind of legal action. He has not given up on his plan to produce his own new work, Yamato Resurrection, which he had been working on since before his bankruptcy.

On the other hand, Mr. Matsumoto states, “The trial only acknowledged Mr. Nishizaki as the author of Yamato as a visual work. It is clear that I am the original author of the story and settings before it became a visual work. There is also a contract and agreement with Tohoku Shinsha, the company that purchased film rights from Mr. Nishizaki. There is no problem with making new films.”

While continuing to be betrayed

While new anime and tokusatsu works such as Ultraman, Kamen Rider, and Gundam are still being produced one after another, Yamato has not produced any new works for nearly 20 years. A third video game was scheduled to be released in February of this year, but it was postponed due to a rights issue unrelated to the lawsuit.

Ryuji Ogura, 37, who runs a video store in Tokushima Prefecture, laments, “No work is as unfortunate as Yamato, and no other work has continued to betray fans in this way.”

The first Yamato was broadcast in the fall of 1974. In the year 2199, an alien attack threatened to wipe out the human race. The story was that the Space Battleship Yamato, a modified version of the battleship Yamato, traveled 148,000 light years to the planet Iscandar in order to save the human race from extinction due to an alien attack. However, the program ended after only six months due to poor viewer ratings.

It slowly gained popularity through reruns, and in 1977 a re-edited version of the TV film became a big hit when it was released in theaters. The sequel, Farewell to Yamato, was released in 1978 and became an explosive boom. Movie theaters were filled with the sobbing voices of boys and girls.

Yamato pushed anime from children’s programming to a “youth subculture.” It was also a pioneer of “Japanimation.” However, the sequels that continued to be produced after Farewell were frowned upon by fans as being “opportunistic” with characters who were supposed to be dead coming back to life one after another.

It was Yamato that showed the world that “anime is great!” but it was also Yamato that became the target of ridicule, saying, “Anime is nothing more than this.” I was in junior high and high school during the boom, and those in their mid-30s to early 40s can now be called the “Yamato Generation.” TV was the most important shared experience for this generation, which did not have the political experience of the prior Zenkyoto generation.

“Through my TV experiences,” Mr. Ogura recalls, “I was able to connect with people I did not know. Yamato‘s boom taught me that.”

The roots of my experience are made up of TV programs such as tokusatsu and anime. I can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable about that, wondering if it’s okay, but dismissing it would lead to self-denial. Despite the continuous betrayal, fans continue to love Yamato. Or, they cannot escape the spell of Yamato.

The world after the oil shock

There are at least 50 Yamato-related websites on the internet that are voluntarily operated by individuals. Since its opening in 1996, Space Battleship Yamato Secret Base, operated by Mr. Dozaru (34), has been accessed nearly 500,000 times.

Yamato is a place for me to escape reality, but at the same time it gives me the energy to face reality,” Mr. Dozaru says.

According to a letter from Mr. Nishizaki, the background of the Yamato project was the dark social situation after the oil shock. People were pessimistic, and parents were obsessed with academic achievement, forcing their children to study hard.

“I wanted to create a work full of dreams, romance, and adventure for boys and girls at such a time.” (Defendant Nishizaki)

Mr. Matsumoto, 36 years old at the time, had a strong interest in animation production since he was a boy.

“I am still grateful that Mr. Nishizaki approached me back then. I put everything I had into it and gave it my all.”

Critic Toshio Okada also commented, “Everything in the work, every meter and even every chair on board Yamato strongly exudes Leiji Matsumoto’s personality. Without his presence, it wouldn’t have been such a hit.”

On the other hand, Yamato was a work that carried the shadow of “war” in its concept, “a sunken battleship of the former Imperial Navy that was converted into a space battleship.”

However, the first and second films have contrasting views of life and death. In the first film, the Gamilas, aliens who share the same roots as Earthlings but appear as enemies, bombard the Earth for the purpose of invasion and migration. The surface of the Earth is destroyed and turned red. Humans survive in underground cities, but in one year, radiation will permeate the Earth and they will be exterminated. A hopeless situation. It would not be out of place to draw an analogy between this desperate situation and the scorched earth of Japan at the end of the Pacific War.

“If you’re a man, you should fight and fight and fight, kill as many enemies as possible, and die!”

Okita, who would later become captain of the Yamato, admonishes his young subordinate: “Endure today’s humiliation for the sake of tomorrow. That’s what a man does!”

Okita tries to get his subordinate to choose to “dare to live” as he reveals his feelings, which are similar in spirit to those of the old Japanese army. Here, the moral of the creators was “not to glorify death in battle.” It overlaps with Matsumoto’s consistent message of “grit your teeth, believe in tomorrow, and live on.”

Poison hidden in the power of influence

Shinichi Takarada, 41, a corporate employee living in Niihama City, Ehime Prefecture, presided over the 200-member “Wave Motion” fan club. He described the theme of Yamato‘s first work as “The essence of battle and human nature.” Yamato destroys the planet Gamilas and kills most of the Gamilas people as a result of a terrible battle.

“The main characters hated them, saying, ‘An enemy who does such terrible things is not human.’ But they did something even more cruel ‘to save the Earth.’ I felt a strong message from the filmmakers.”

In the second film, Farewell to Yamato, the characters die one after another in the face of a powerful enemy. The protagonist, with his dead girlfriend in his arms, makes a suicide attack on a huge enemy battleship together with a wounded Yamato.

Kaori Kimura, 39, a temporary worker living in Yokohama, called this film “my number one best movie.” She says, “At the best time of my life, I was envious of the main characters, who were completely devoted to what they believed in without any impurity.”

Nishizaki, who was involved in the project since its inception, wanted to show “Yamato disappearing into outer space with the main character.” However, he had a heated confrontation with Mr. Matsumoto, who insisted that “young people should survive.”

If Yamato is the ideal hero that survives and saves the Earth, then when Yamato scatters gracefully, it also strongly strikes a chord with the Japanese sense of beauty. Yamato encompassed these two opposing views of life and death, and yet was able to penetrate into the hearts of young people.

A 37-year old office worker from Tokyo said, “Captain Okita is still a source of emotional support for me.” In 1987, when he was a student away at university, he once went to see Shoko Asahara, who was still unknown at the time.

“I didn’t join [his cult] in the end, but I was appalled to learn that Aum Shinrikyo had created a ‘Cosmo Cleaner,’ named after Yamato, and was attempting to train activists who called themselves ‘Soldiers of Love’.”

In terms of generation, the core members of the Aum Shinrikyo group overlap with the Yamato generation. How did the heroic image of Yamato become so distorted?

“Aum’s teaching of ‘saving humanity from extinction’ overlaps in part with the concept of Yamato. Perhaps there were many people like myself in Aum.”

Is it possible that a work that has such a strong influence and binding power to sustain human existence inevitably also contains “poison” within it?

A newspaper published January 18, 1998. Red text on
the right side reads “ARREST” and “Large narcotics
possession.” Nishizaki is labeled a “perpetrator.”

A brief timeline of relevant events

1993: Yamato 2520 and Yamato Resurrection begin preproduction

February 21, 1994: Video documentary The Quickening profiles 2520 and Resurrection

December 1994 – August 1996: Yamato 2520 volumes 0-3 released

August 16, 1997: Nishizaki simultaneously files for personal bankruptcy and the bankruptcy of his company, West Cape Corporation

September 1997: Bankruptcy is granted, West Cape Corporation ceases operations

October 8, 1997: Focus magazine article: The Extravagance of Yamato’s Bankrupt Producer (read it here)

December 2, 1997: Nishizaki’s first arrest

May 1998: Article published in Comicbox vol. 107
(Publisher: Fusion Product)

1998: new Yamato merchandise appears with Leiji Matsumoto as the copyright holder

February 1, 1999: Nishizaki’s second arrest

February 17, 1999: Focus magazine article: Yamato Producer Arrested, “Fully Armed” (read it here)

February 2000: Matsumoto’s Great Yamato manga debuts

October 25, 2000: Nishizaki incarcerated

March 2002: Leiji Matsumoto loses the Yamato copyright, full ownership is reclaimed by Tohokushinsha Film Co. Matsumoto converts Great Yamato into Dai Yamato Zero-Go.

April 15, 2002: AERA article published: The Yamato generation suffers from a curse

February-May 2004: During his incarceration, Nishizaki works with Group Tac to develop New Space Battleship Yamato.

May 2004: Tohokushinsha awards partial rights. Matsumoto is given limited visual rights and manga reprint rights. Nishizaki is named as creator and is restored the story rights.

August, 2008: Following his parole, Nishizaki resumes preproduction of Yamato Resurrection

December 2008: Tohokushinsa wins copyright lawsuits against Dai Yamato licensors and the property is discontinued.

December 2009: Yamato Resurrection premieres

2 thoughts on “Nishizaki vs. Matsumoto, 2002

  1. Hold on. I thought Nishizaki set up Voyager Entertainment to manage Yamato/Star Blazers, yet he was in prison from the late-90s-early 00s. No wonder this franchise is updated so sparsely.

    • There are several threads to this. The US office of Voyager was set up in the early 90s, before the legal troubles began. It essentially ran independently to serve the English-speaking market until it was shuttered in 2012. In Japan, there were several different rights-holders that could make their own decisions. The most visible was Bandai, which held video rights during the transition from analog to digital formats (they still hold those rights today). The master rights holder was Tohoku Shinsha Film Corp, which granted all sorts of licenses for products. In other words, merchandising was taken care of by entities other than Voyager Entertainment.

      Meanwhile, Nishizaki did actually develop a sequel (New Space Battleship Yamato) while incarcerated, but it never went into production. When he was paroled in 2008, he re-activated Yamato Resurrection and kick-started the renaissance we’re in now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *