The Yamato Decade: Staff Interviews

Special feature 1

Each of the 10 Years

The history of Yamato is also the history of people involved with it. This first special feature focuses on the ten-year history of the staff and cast, to survey the flow of these ten years. Try remembering those days as you read it!!

Ten years of “Dessler”

A talk with Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki

A great producer who could be properly referred to as the “Dessler” of the anime and movie box office worlds! It can be rightfully said that Space Battleship Yamato, the “anime of anime” that set a number of records, is the work of this person. This result was achieved by introducing the full-scale American production system into the entertainment world of Japan. We ask “Producer” Nishizaki about this ten-year history!!

Ten-year period

Interviewer: This time, our “Each of the Ten Years” presentation is a conversation looking back at ten years of Mr. Nishizaki. First, please tell us the circumstances by which you entered this world.

Nishizaki: In my case, I look back before this ten-year period to the first ten years when I “expressed my own self” by studying literature in my late teens to doing plays, then commenting on jazz and carrying out stage promotions.

I took my first step as a producer when I was 26 or 27 in stage production. About 260 of them. I “expressed the performing arts” during this ten year period.

I went into anime at the age of 36 or 37. These ten years were based on the accumulation of the three major elements of theme, dramaturgy, and music to complete the composite art called anime. At first, a “warship flying in space” was the only concept for Yamato, and in this decade it was possible to deepen it. I could say that in these ten years, I “expressed comprehensive anime.”

From concept to Yamato

Interviewer: You just mentioned “theme, drama, and music” as the three major elements for anime. Please talk a bit more about that.

Nishizaki: These are the three major elements that form the comprehensive art of anime. Since animation was created in 1928 by Walt Disney, almost everything that could be done with animation was done over the next twenty years, by 1948. Double-framing and single-framing and other animation problems had mostly been solved. Take it as a “picture.” The life infused into that “picture” created a reality – the singular peak of this work, which was achieved in those twenty years.

This lead up to Fantasia, in which animation succeeded in bringing the “picture” closer to human beings and succeeded in bringing “music” closer to the “picture.”

If you look at the TV anime of Japan on the other hand, it was disinterested in that sort of thing. Above all, although there was “story” in anime, there was no “drama,” and this discovery gave me my vision of anime.

Interviewer: What’s the difference between “story” and “drama”?

Nishizaki: For instance, even in Girl of the Alps Heidi, at its foundation the tale is held firmly by the “story.” It doesn’t have the devilish appeal of “drama.” So I made the tying-in of picture and music my first priority in order to infuse the “drama” with passion. That’s how Space Battleship Yamato was done. However, it lost magnificently at first. (Laughs)

As a Producer

Interviewer: An American-style producer like you is still rare in Japan. What circumstances pointed you toward becoming a “producer”?

Nishizaki: In my head, there was a dim image of the occupation of “producer.” During my second ten-year period, I had the opportunity to go to Europe, to France in particular. It was from to 1964 to ’66 or ’67, and when I got to see it for myself my image turned out to be right, and I became confident that it was suitable as a man’s lifetime work.

Unlike in Japan, the social status of the occupation of producer was very high in other countries. Promoters, producers, entrepreneurs, and performers had a large social role with a network of contacts that extended into politics and capitols.

First of all, the core business of a producer is based on such connections, which are needed to combine assets and talent for the purpose of making new “works.” It doesn’t stop at just making movies.

Interviewer: If that’s what you learned in France, were you strongly influenced by a producer there?

Nishizaki: That’s right. There was a great producer named Rune Brenne. From him, I absorbed the origin of what it means to be a “producer” in a short time. The perspective that I obtained on a producer’s way of life is the backbone of what I’ve done since.

The way of producing anime

Nishizaki: A producer is involved with the content of a work, not just producing the pictures from a plan.

I think I acted in the true meaning of being a producer, making a product to meet and demand, and selling it. In addition to the anime, I pretty much played record promoter, sold calendars, planned and printed deluxe-edition books, and did marketing research from every angle, expanding the frame of what a producer does to create a huge project centered around a single production.

Interviewer: From where did you get hints about such strategic deployment?

Nishizaki: Of course, it originates in a producer’s way of thinking, but the know-how came from managing business affairs at Mushi Pro [Osamu Tezuka’s studio] for a year or two, where I learned the basics from agenting to editing and publishing books to raising finances.

It was a short time, but I absorbed the origins. It wasn’t until then that I got the idea for Yamato‘s deluxe books.

I still produce family calendars at West Cape Corporation, something I started at that time as an anime producer, but I couldn’t get by on that alone. (Laughs) So I couldn’t help but think about the commercialization of characters. I thought it would be another sales route. This buildup was helpful for rapid expansion later.

Interviewer: What was the intention of a deluxe book?

Nishizaki: The point was to raise the standard, and my motivation was to provide a valuable keepsake of the work of Yamato.

Interviewer: The fan club?

Nishizaki: The fan club was spontaneous. With it, I established a central organization to return services.

Currently, when I do a local campaign, while we may charge a fee for the event, I have some sympathy for the fans along with the production. My feelings are that you should only take their money in direct connection with the film itself.

I feel sorry for the fans when I think about the character goods I put out all at once in 1978. It was too much. Before then, I had an unbroken attitude of choosing only good things, but I was forced to expand and it became impossible to manage in the end. I’m sorry about that.

[Translator’s note: Nishizaki refers to the unprecedented deluge of products that accompanied Farewell to Yamato; see the whole lineup here.]

Looking back on Yamato

Interviewer: What was the biggest turning point for Yamato?

Nishizaki: In the end, it would be Farewell to Yamato in 1978. It evolved not only as a movie, but also in terms of general publicity. I became an independent member of society. I was able to understand the position of a professional at any large company and talk to them on an equal footing, and in practice I could understand social infrastructures.

Interviewer: Anything you’re harsh about?

Nishizaki: Not holding my productions in high esteem. I wonder if I really don’t have talent. It’s in the nature of a producer for him to not accept his own anime, and that’s when the doubts start to nag at you. Even so, when that happens, I answer that I wasn’t wrong, and so I’ve managed to keep going until now. A producer must be one part creator, one part enterpriser.

Interviewer: Looking back, what do you reflect upon as a producer?

Nishizaki: There was a big fuss in the world over the “issue of tax evasion.” The simple explanation was nothing other than immaturity of both my company management and myself as producer, and I deeply regret making trouble for many people, and the many fans.

[Translator’s note: this refers to a press scandal from early 1979; read details here.]

However, I continued to make an appeal through my work: “At all times, never retreat. Never blame others. Don’t make excuses. Only rely on your own power. Train to be physically fit.” I always intend to practice such things.

From here…

Interviewer: What do you think about the next ten years?

Nishizaki: One thing stands out right now is that children of fans who watched Yamato will reach their twenties, and I’d like to make a movie of youth drama for children. Another is to make something world-class, to internationally surpass Rashomon and Tales of Moonlight and Rain. I also think about developing results like those of Mr. Spielberg. (Laughs)

Interviewer: I’ve heard of the nickname “Dessler of Akasaka,” and I’d like to hear a word about Dessler’s appearance in The Final Chapter.

Nishizaki: It’s a guest appearance. “Dessler of Akasaka” is the name of a child in the fan club, but it also describes a tyrannical producer, and there is a part that can be called that. If I am compared to Dessler, all I can say is “you have my height of gratitude.” (Laughs)

After all, Dessler must fight while carrying his nation on his back, and I feel sympathy for such chivalry. I think posing for effect may be the most important thing with me.

I actually wrote most of his lines. Therefore, “thank you” becomes “the height of gratitude.” (Mr. Nishizaki struck a pose here, even while sitting!) He may say a certain line in The Final Chapter, but this time he can be thought of as making a guest appearance.

Interviewer: What kind of words will he say? I’d definitely like to know.

Nishizaki: “Don’t kill Yamato! Yamato is the conscience of space!!” I’d love for him to say that! (Laughs)

Interviewer: How will he appear?

Nishizaki: You’ll have to enjoy it in the theater. (Laughs)

Interviewer: Thank you very much for all your time today.

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

[Battleship] Yamato to
[Space Battleship] Yamato

Leiji Matsumoto

We talked to Mr. Matsumoto about ten years in which he created many characters and enlarged his “family.” What continued for a long time must end gracefully. We asked for his thoughts about ten years of Yamato.

Interviewer: What was the first image of Yamato?

Matsumoto: Yamato itself. The real Yamato. Therefore, the design followed the form of the hull. It followed the image of the ship, including the cannon, and this was agreeable to everyone.

Interviewer: Did it carry out the role of a battleship of misfortune?

Matsumoto: Yes. Therefore, I think there were various problems. It came out in the TV program on the discovery of Yamato that it contained the remains of 2,000 people. In fact, I was stuck on that in the first series, whether or not I should put a scene of the original ship in the storyboard in which the remains are shown, and I have a memory of a shot along these lines being done. Still, I think that has to be addressed. So, by calling it Yamato, you can’t help but bring out a gloomy feel to it.

Interviewer: What about it being your first anime production?

Matsumoto: There were a lot of things I wanted to do with it, and while I may have been self-important, I was passionate about it. I think I’m glad about that. The thing is, on that note, there were a lot of oarsmen steering this vessel, going this way and that, so it ended up being different from the original conception.

Recollection of ten years

Interviewer: What were these ten years like, leading up to The Final Chapter?

Matsumoto: There has been an overheating of anime since Yamato, in which anime has created its own genre and there are audiences who come to watch it, so in that sense these were ten valuable years. However, 3-4 generations [of viewers] have come and gone just from Yamato, and since the question is whether or not these successors will stay with it, I think the next ten years will be difficult.

Interviewer: What were these ten years to you?

Matsumoto: It was ten years in which I created various characters and enlarged my family. In that sense, it was a fun ten years. In the case of Yamato, although some characters died along the way, I think about all of them from the last ten years, and I haven’t forgotten even one guest character. So in The Final Chapter I’d like them all to get on the ship together and bring it to an end.

Interviewer: Do you have a particular fondness for a character?

Matsumoto: Yes, in every area, but I have a special fondness for Okita, Kodai, and Shima that has continued all the way from the first series.

Interviewer: It seems Captain Okita is likely to revive…

Matsumoto: Okita should not have been allowed to die. I hated letting Okita die in those days. After all, the family doesn’t work well without such a great captain. I think killing Okita thinned out the backbone of Yamato.

A graceful ending

Interviewer: Although it finishes this time, will it finish really?

Matsumoto: For one thing, it lasted well for ten years, and I think it’s a good time to bring it to an end. Well, it should actually have finished with Farewell. But since a story is a living thing once it begins, it shouldn’t be broken off lightly no matter what its condition may be. And something that continued for a long time must end gracefully. I think those two things are important.

Interviewer: Is there any point that’s an absolute “must do” for you in this Yamato production?

Matsumoto: Since there was originally a part to Yamato that shouldn’t be touched, I intend to return it to that in the last scene.

Interviewer: Back into the sea?

Matsumoto: I cannot say, but I’m thinking of returning it to the [battleship] Yamato itself. And though I want to include the remains, I won’t go there.

To a new decade

Interviewer: Please talk about your ambitions for the next ten years.

Matsumoto: No, I don’t know. It’s like a mystery train. (Laughs)

Interviewer: What do you want to do?

Matsumoto: I’d like to do a short 30-minute piece on Maya the Honeybee as a universal fantasy anime. Because I recently spent a severe six months on one movie, I want to take it easy.

[Translator’s note: here, Matsumoto refers to My Youth in Arcadia, released in summer ’82.]

Interviewer: Finally, please say your message to the fans.

Matsumoto: I think that since this is the last work, it needs to be memorable, and so since this is goodbye, please come to see it.

From Salaryman to
“Earth Defense Forces design manager”

Mecha Designer Katsumi Itabashi

Debut with a battle satellite

Interviewer: What were you doing at the time the first Yamato series was broadcast?

Itabashi: I was an ordinary salaryman. I was an assistant to Mr. Matsumoto during my school days, so when I saw it on TV, my first thought was, “I’ve seen these pictures.” I watched Farewell to Yamato in a theater standing up. (Laughs)

Interviewer: How did you enter this world?

Itabashi: Matsumoto-sensei invited me to help him with Galaxy Express 999. The battle satellite in Yamato 2 was my first design. I also designed the female-type robot who played opposite Analyzer. It only came out a little bit. (Laughs)

Interviewer: You centered on designs for the Earth Defense Forces from the start.

Itabashi: I redesigned the interior of Yamato for Be Forever and was in charge of design for the ship in Yamato III.

Interviewer: And this time, as “Director of the Earth Defense Forces design division,” you designed the Earth fleet.

Itabashi: (Laughs)

Interviewer: What is the strongest of the previous designs?

Itabashi: Dessler’s new battleship. [From Farewell and Yamato 2.]

Interviewer: What is the point in that design?

Itabashi: Basically, because there are limitations in the hull, it’s still the one that’s most like a spaceship.

Interviewer: Its linear silhouette is one reason. What kind of design do you want to try?

Itabashi: Something with a still stronger image of a spaceship. For example, I think it’s good to have the propulsion unit protruding from the body.

Interviewer: Thank you very much.

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

All things Yamato chart • Check table 18 x 8

Yamato produced seven works in ten years. This table was made to compare the concepts for each story in the series. Let’s all do this continuation together!

[Translator’s note: The name of each production from Series 1 to Final Yamato runs down the chart at the far right. Moving left over the chart, individual elements are listed such as release dates, mission, distance traveled, space goddess, enemies, TV ratings, rival anime, etc.]

Continue to the next part: Cast Interviews

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