Takashi Yamazaki | 139 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | Japan / Japanese | 15
A live-action adaptation of the popular, influential and long-lasting anime franchise, known in the US as Star Blazers (here’s a very good history of the series and its significance courtesy of Manga UK). Set in a future where Earth has been ravaged by alien assault, a nearly-defeated humanity learns of a device that might turn the tide of the war, but it’s located on the other side of the galaxy. The World War II battleship Yamato is retrofitted with spacefaring tech and its crew set off on a last-ditch mission to save mankind.
You can see how that setup is designed to fuel a lengthy series — it’s as much about the journey as the destination. Fortunately, the makers of this version haven’t gone all-out-Hollywood and attempted to launch a trilogy: without meaning to spoil the ending, the entire story is contained herein. It does occasionally feel like it’s been culled from a longer and more detailed narrative, not least in the abundance of central characters, but that’s not too detrimental. One distinct advantage (both of having a long-running predecessor and not aiming for sequels) is that nothing’s held back for future use — including characters. Not everyone makes it out alive, adding a genuine sense of peril that’s missing from most action-adventure movies. As someone not familiar with any previous version of the story, I can attest that this adaptation remains not only understandable, but very entertaining.
Some of the character arcs are a little on the predictable side — the maverick who comes to accept responsibility, etc — but there’s plentiful well-realised action to keep things rattling along. Some will moan about the CGI (as a space-based movie, there’s rather a lot of it) because it’s not mega-budget slick. But this isn’t a mega-budget production (Manga UK’s review refers to the “colossal ¥2.2 billion budget”, but that converts as only $24 million), so such criticism is misplaced. And it doesn’t even look that bad. Besides, if you only watch films for flashy CG spectacle, you shouldn’t be trying to venture outside Hollywood’s summer tentpoles anyway.
With a solid premise, engaging storyline, exciting action, likeable characters, and the bonus of telling an epic story in a single movie rather than forcing it to sprawl off (possibly-never-produced-)sequels, Space Battleship Yamato has an awful lot going for it. While a couple of niggles with its length and some amateurish-round-the-edges moments hold me back from giving it full marks, I greatly enjoyed it, and I think more broad-minded fans of action-adventure sci-fi will too.