Also known as Star Blazers in the Western World, Space Battleship Yamato remains one of my favourite childhood animated series, and I still proudly own a translated graphic novel that chronicled the crew's long voyage that serious fans never wanted to end. I was jumping for joy just to be able to watch the latest animated film installment Space Battleship Yamato: Resurrection in Hong Kong last year at the Hong Kong Filmart, and had eagerly anticipated this live action version to hit our shores after its debut in Japan last December. Space Battleship Yamato has arrived, and boy is it one heck of a ride that surpassed expectations, and had the guts to do a lot more with the beloved battleship and its crew.
While it is its own film with material drawn from its rich source content (the film is mostly based on its 1974 series), one cannot help but to see shades of JJ Abram's reboot of the Star Trek film franchise here. Granted there are many parallels between Star Trek and Yamato, for starters the legendary space ships are named after their equally legendary real world counterparts, and are the best of their fleet and make in the reel world (though one comes with seat belts that got seldom used), manned by the best crew that an ideology can supply, which the story takes some pains to introduce at least their core duties on board. It's also the story of the coming of age of a young captain, where in this case Takuya Kimura's Susumu Kodai is the equivalent of James Tiberius Kirk, possessing qualities befitting a captain that he needs to realize and grow into, with that level of hot headedness and past famed exploits to allow him some gravitas and stature amongst peers and crew members.
Then of course this film went for broke in its action sequences, beginning much like Star Trek putting the audience right into the thick of a big set action piece which culminates in a loss that will shape the events of things to come, and seriously, the way the space voyagers attempted to disable an enemy planet's defenses, was uncannily similar to the Star Trek one in its approach. I suppose if Yamato had beaming technology, then this would complete its Trekkie influence, but thankfully it held back on that temptation, making it a little more challenging each time it had to reign in crew outside of its hull.
Fans of the long running series will have to accept the fact that this is not something from our generation, since a translation to film means a huge amount of compression having to take place to tell something worthwhile, creating in a sense its own version of events. It's Year 2199, and Earth is plague by radioactive attacks by the alien race Gamilas, who are adamant in creating an atmosphere suitable for their race for a total takeover. Gone are Earth's greens, and it's up to the crew of Yamato, hastily assembled may I add, to travel to the planet of Iscandar to retrieve what could possibly be Earth's last hope to restore its environment. This sets off a round trip for Yamato's voyage, and along the way the crew will face various hostilities always threatening the ship or to extinguish the hopes of Earth.
The special effects are all detailed and intricately done, so much so that they really look like something to scale and real, making space dogfights in the various Star Wars films seem like a walk in the park. It's incredibly edge of your seat stuff as ships of different sizes battling it out, and if watched in a good theatre with excellent sound system, you can bet your last dollar of feeling every laser, cannon and even the trademark of the Wave Motion Gun round that goes off. Best part is, and I think some films and filmmakers need to learn from this, is that it's never shy of utilizing its best weapon in its arsenal whenever it can, avoiding plenty of the usual cliche pitfalls of saving the best for the last. Really, whatever for, when you have a threat in front of you that you need to neutralize, why not deploy the best you have on board?
Don't expect too much character development here though, because there isn't much time to jam pack so much into what's already close to 2 hours and 20 minutes. As such the first act suffered a little from the lack of a proper introduction on characters and their motivations, preferring to keep you in suspense as it slowly unravelled them, sometimes just through a one liner in passing. You'll soon acquaint yourself with the crew enough to know their core function, and most of them time everyone sticks to their one single function on board the ship. The end result is a rather choppy beginning just as Yamato finds its feet in its maiden voyage, before things smoothen out as the voyage progressed. With a new crew in a new ship also come the avenues for mistakes to be made, and one of the more telling one is how everyone let their guard down en route to base (common pitfall in the military), where one's guard should be up until you actually reach paradise.
The other issue I found wanting in a minor way, though it still worked, was Takuya Kimura's presence. He's such a big star, and is really charismatic on screen that my memory of the Kodai character pales in comparison, but like how Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible was, my memory of Yamato was that this was a group attempt and mission, which Kimura's star power inevitably made him prominent in every step of the way through the story as if it's solely a one man show, often overshadowing that of his co-stars such as Meisa Kuroki (who is a big name herself), Toshiro Yanagiba and Tsutomu Yamazaki, who plays the ship's Captain Okita, responsible for crafting the mission of hope that Yamato finds itself in. Throwing in a romantic subplot for good measure that was expected though hurried, and side characters such as Analyzer the robot was fun, but could have been better executed rather than a short supporting appearance.
Still, Space Battleship Yamato is one nostalgic guilty pleasure. It helps if you have a little bit of a background on characters and motivations, as the story hits the ground running at breakneck speed from the get go, and is a special effects romp that will wow even the most jaded of audiences who have seen one space battle too many. Space Battleship Yamato takes flight in Singapore on 24 March 2011, so don't miss this awesome deep space adventure!