Space Battleship Yamato Review

Space Battleship Yamato (Takuya Kimura)

Space Battleship Yamato is a two hour long, live action space epic based on the fantastic 1970s anime series of the same name. Pulling in a big production budget for any Japanese film, it completely excels in achieving its large scope vision of a beautifully detailed space adventure, but does suffer in a couple of points from its condensed running time compared to the anime and its less than perfect casting of one of the leads.

Around 200 years in the future, the Earth is attacked by an alien species called the Gamilas who blast the planet with radiation, driving humans underground and paving the way for their invasion and takeover of the planet. In a last ditch attempt to restore the Earth before humanity completely dies out, the planet’s final battleship is sent out into space, not with a group of survivors to colonise a new planet, but a staff of volunteers with military or aeronautical experience in search of a distant which may hold the key to Earth’s survival.

The film is surprisingly accurate and faithful to the setup and themes of the original series, adapting it in a way which manages to tell the story much quicker with minimal things cut. There’s the occasional small plot hole and the film does run at over two hours making it fairly lengthy, but it’s one of the better shortened adaptations available.

Space Battleship Yamato features some truly spectacular, huge scale battle sequences which are some of the highlights. Featuring huge energy beams, massive explosions, entire squadrons of space fighters and scenes of the main bridge of the Yamato commanding each of these into effective battle strategies. The camera avoids the common issue of either being too shaky or cutting away too soon to really enjoy the action, so you get to see every bit of the visual splendour that other films might leave to the viewer’s imagination.

The sets and costumes are both really strong too, developing a ship that felt like it had more history and depth than the film explicitly shows and standing up nicely with the top notch in-combat visual effects. The soundtrack also deserves a mention, as it’s one of the best sweeping orchestral space scores I’ve heard recently. It covers everything between subtle music emphasising the scope and empty blackness of space, to highly dramatic pieces almost as over the top as the visuals.

In much the same way as early action centric shonen anime, the dialogue has a highly dramatic and often less nuanced style to it. Characters will talk through their thought processes, making every decision something important that needs to be focused on. It may not be ideal, but it works in the context of the film’s over the top nature.

One problem it does suffer with is the chemistry and balance between the two leads. Takuya Kimura does a fantastic job in his role as the male lead Kodai, portraying a character who deals with a series of complex emotions while managing to make each of those and the transition between them believable. However, the female lead Meisa Kuroki as Mori is much less developed, often changing her entire personality on a whim. Kuroki often fails to capture the sense of urgency or the strength of emotion the character is meant to be experiencing. The lead pair also seem to be oddly one-sided, with Mori seeming only to serve as an exposition target or emotional touchstone for Kodai as a character.

Space Battleship Yamato also features a whole host of references that put an anime inspired spin on western sci-fi franchises. From the crew of the Yamato having several parallels to the original Star Trek supporting cast, to the Star Wars inspired droid and ship designs, there’s even the odd reference that brought to mind series like the Mass Effect games.

While Space Battleship Yamato may not be perfect, it is a fantastic refresh for an anime series that in many ways was showing its age. Sure there’s a disappointing lead actress, but the film’s enormous scope and the skill with which it’s handled more than make up for this. If you’re a fan of large scale space adventures, there’s an awful lot to enjoy here.

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