Advanced Review: SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO

Posted on 03 August 2011 by Rich Drees

Last December, the live action adaption of the classic anime series Space Battleship Yamato, known as to US audiences as Starblazers, opened in Japanese theaters. Although no US distributors have picked the film up yet, we’re giving you this advanced review of the film.

From the opening moments of Space Battleship Yamato, a live action adaption of the long-running Japanese anime franchise that was imported to the US in the 1970s as Star Blazers, it is apparent that this is not your father’s cartoon series.

It is the year 2199 and a ragtag fleet of battleships representing the last vestiges of the Earth’s forces against an alien attack mount a desperate but ultimately futile defense near Mars. An explosion on one of the ships first hurtles a helpless crew member down a hallway who is then sucked out into the vacuum of space through the resultant breach in the ship’s hull. While there was death in the original animated series, it was never as up front as this scene in the film’s opening moments. And the film keeps up the body count to a point that could upset many of the franchise’s long-time fans by the time the credits roll.

It’s been five years since the aliens known as the Gamilas suddenly appeared and began bombing the Earth. In that the time the planet has been reduced to a radioactive wasteland, forcing the survivors into underground cities. But after receiving an offer for help from an alien race, the military decides to take a desperate gamble and send their last remaining battleship, the Yamato, to retrieve the offered technology that restore the planet.

By necessity, the film version is a rather compressed telling of the original animated series. There series creator Yoshinobu Nishizaki, had 26 half-hour episodes to tell its story while this film only has a little over two hours to cover roughly the same material. As such, it pretty much barrels along from its first frame to its last as its cast race across space to retrieve the technology that will save humanity.

The film does deviate from the text of the source material especially in its second half. As noted, there are a number of character deaths, to the point where I suppose a comparison could be made to JJ Abrams’ recent reboot of the Star Trek franchise, if he had gone off and killed a number of the well known bridge crew of the USS Enterprise. Other changes include the depiction of the invading Gamilas, the gender of two characters and a few other things that would be too spoilery to reveal here. Still, the film does manage to remain true to the original animated series’ spirit and themes of honor, duty and sacrifice.

Director Takashi Yamazaki shows a much stronger hand at handling genre material in comparison to his last science-fiction film, 2002′s The Returner. The use of handheld cameras throughout the film may remind some of the style the recent version of Battlestar Galactica, which seems only fair as the original Galactica television series featured elements first seen in the animated series. There’s also a minor plot point that seems lifted from Galactica as well.

The script does a good job of sketching out a number of relationships between various members of the crew. However, it tries to pay off a number of those relationships in one scene in the film’s climax. However, since that scene is in the midst of the final battle to save Earth, the net result is that it stretches things far longer than is credible.

But on the whole, Space Battleship Yamato is still an entertaining, if somewhat darker, adaption of the original anime. Hopefully an American distributor will pick up the film  soon so States-side fans can enjoy it.

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