Based on the 1974 anime TV series, Space Battleship Yamato is a live action adaptation directed by Takashi Yamazaki. In the distant future, the depleted forces of humanity lose a major battle to alien invaders the Gamilas, retreating back to a radiation-soaked, nigh-uninhabitable Earth. Man has one last shot at redemption, a toxin-killing device supposedly sent by a benevolent species, located on the distant planet of Iscandar.
Earth’s only hope is the giant star-cruising battleship Yamato, armed with a wave motion cannon capable of mass destruction. The Yamato is launched with an overly familiar ragtag crew of personnel, including angst-ridden hotshot Susumu Kodai (Takuya Kimura), Captain Birdseye Okita (Tsutomu Yamazaki), and super hot fighter pilot Yuki (Meisa Kuroki). The Yamato must race against time and across treacherous space to find the mysterious device and defeat the insidious Gamilas.
Not being familiar with the original series, English-dubbed translation (Star Blazers) or the many animated features released in the 70s, I’m coming in cold for this live-action debut. Having said that, there are elements of Star Wars, Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica to be found if you look hard enough. Citing influence on a modern sci-fi adventure movie smacks of 'cheap shot' though, and for the most part, Space Battleship Yamato beats to the sound of its own drum. The first thing that catches your eye (and rightly so) is the stunning effects. Some ships only have it where it counts, kid, but Yamato is one of the most impressive spaceships I’ve ever seen. The CGI isn’t perfect - ground assaults lack realism and the enemy robots are a little too glossy - but the dog fights and aerial encounters pack a spectacular punch.
Numerous though they are, the action sequences are perhaps a little too brief, occasionally lacking the riotous impact expected of modern day sci-fi fare. Takashi Yamazaki doesn’t always get the balance right, this being a Japanese production; it’s only natural to expect over-reaching sentiment and unapologetic emotion. Whether we should blame the director, the actors or the screenplay remains unclear, but much of the action feels soulless, entertaining in a superficial manner, but devoid of heart and drive. For all its technical whiz-bang, Battleship Yamato feels like a personality vacuum at times, with Takuya Kimura lacking the rugged charm associated with memorable space captains, and Meisa Kuroki making an impact based on looks alone - Yuki is also found guilty of lurching from whiny teenager to lustful heroine in seconds.
Takuya does occasionally get it right, which is why I’m reluctant to blame the cast members, but much like the romance that develops between the two leads, any attempts at drama lack depth. The actors can only work with what they’ve got, and from that perspective they do a great job, but they’re let down by a director who should’ve known better. Had he toned down the emotional blackmail in favour of actual storytelling, I may have cared about their plights more. The decision to indulge a faceless enemy is disappointing too; battling hordes of gleaming robots is fun for a while, but I’ll take fighting wretched hives of scum and villainy any day of the week thanks. Yamato is in dire need of a big bad - a reason to fear the darkness if you will - without it Yamazaki’s film lacks a genuine sense of peril.
Perhaps a follow up would put pay to these minor quibbles, and having done big business back home, the likeliness of a sequel appears quite high. If you like your sci-fi movies laced with Steven Tyler rock ballads and emotional downpours, Space Battleship Yamato hits the target every time. The over-reliance on wave cannons and warp speed suggests a lack of fresh ideas - as does the insistence on slow-mo and foolhardy heroism - but fans of the original series will find much to enjoy here.
If you’re looking for character, depth and emotion, you’ve come to the wrong place, but if its big-ass battleships with laser cannons you’re after, welcome aboard the Space Battleship Yamato. A fast-paced adventure with signs of something spectacular lurking beneath the glossy exterior. Yamato’s first big screen mission fails to break new ground, and the uninitiated run the risk of leaving unfulfilled, but if its popcorn munching fun you’re after you could certainly do far worse. AW