I enjoy watching Japanese content with my wife, who speaks the language and spent many years visiting Tokyo annually while immersing herself in their culture. Like a human director's commentary, she's able to tell me why certain themes are significant, or about how the star of 'Space Battleship Yamato' used to be a boy band pop star, or how accurate '47 Ronin' was in terms of cultural details like its adaptation and costumes (funny enough, despite its flaws, that movie did a lot more things right you than you may imagine, or have noticed).
Based on the 1970s science fiction anime television series, which I have not seen, this 'Space Battleship Yamato' movie is basically one part 'Star Wars' (a Han Solo type main character and World War II influences) and one part 'Star Trek' (warp drives and such) with a splash of 'Ender's Game' (the alien villains) and 'Prometheus' (an invitation to coordinates unknown), all seen through the tonal lens of 'Pacific Rim'. Does that even make sense? For the record, I'm not actually trying to knock the movie; it clearly predates some of the movies listed above, and so-called "originality" -- or as I like to call the term, "it's new to you but might not be to everyone" -- is much less important to me than how a story uses character, theme and, for action movies, thrilling setpieces.
On that front, 'Space Battleship Yamato' is set in the year 2199. An alien race called the Gamilas has been at war with mankind for the last five years, launching meteorite bombs that have irradiated the Earth's surface. In the opening sequence, the Gamilas are about to destroy the few remaining Earth Defense Force (EDF) space destroyers, but at the last minute, the valiant Mamoru Kodai sacrifices his ship to save Captain Okita's ship and crew.
Back down on Earth, Mamoru's brother, Susumu Kodai (Takuya Kimura) is a scavenger who was once a famous pilot, but quit the EDF after his heroic action inadvertently took the lives of his parents and pregnant wife. Kodai is out looking for scrap metal when a falling object explodes nearby, revealing two startling things:
1) the object contains coordinates to the distant planet Iskandar, some 140K light years away, along with schematics to build a WARP drive and a weapon that can finally match the Gamilas superior technology.
2) Kodai should have died from radiation poisoning, but miraculously, mysteriously, has not.
Human civilization is on the brink of total annihilation. We can't continue fighting the Gamilas. But Captain Okita believes, due to the strange circumstances of Kodai's survival, that Iskander and whomever invited us to go there, are the key to saving mankind. And the only ship that could possible get us there (thanks to the new alien tech)? Yup, the last space battleship: Yamato.
When a call for volunteers goes out, Kodai reenlists while openly resenting Captain Okita for his brother's death. Also on board, we have badass pilot, Yuki Mori. She hates Kodai not only because he is reckless and doesn't follow the rules, but also because she thinks he is a selfish quitter undersving of his fame and general goodwill from other crew members (she doesn't know about Kodai's family).
If mankind is to survive, the Yamata must battle its way through the Gamilas to the outer reaches of our solar system, and then across thousands of light years. They now have a weapon to fight back against the alien scum, but it and the WARP drive can't be used at the same time, which sets up a series of close call skirmishes. Along the way to Iskander, we get to know the crew, while Kodai and Yuki learn to respect one another and, spoiler alert for those who have never seen a movie where two attractive movie stars start out hating each other, maybe even fall in love.
'Space Battleship Yamato' is a movie for your inner geek, for your inner teenager. It's an uproarious adventure with space dog-fights, tons of twist and turns, thematic moral dilemmas, and a goofy sense of Japanese silliness -- Kodai's iPhone-esc communications device is a smart ass. All of this is balanced well with clear character arcs, particularly the simple story of Kodai learning what it means to be a leader. In fact, the only real issue I had, story-wise, was a pacing issue during the climax. I won't spoil the plot specifics here, but Kodai starts monologing, which is fine for his character's arc, while also ignoring the ALL IMPORTANT THREAT RIGHT OUT THE WINDOW (AH!).
That being said, 'Space Battleship Yamato' is that type of kitschy, fun movie you'd discover on cable one random Saturday afternoon, and while its visual effects can't compete with modern blockbusters, if you go into this expecting 'Doctor Who', 'Stargate' (the series), or 'Battlestar Galactica' style visual effects, you know what you're getting. It's a lot of fun. Definitely check this one out if you love geeky stuff, or know anything about the original anime series (though to be fair, I have no idea if this is a good adaptation or not).
The Blu-ray Vital Disc Stats
Available internationally for the last couple years, 'Space Battleship Yamato' debuts in North America (Region A locked) courtesy of FUNimation Entertainment as part of a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack. One trailer pops up before the Main Menu, a Danny Trejo revenge movie entitled 'Bullet'.
'Space Battleship Yamato' warps on to Blu-ray with a strong, but flawed AVC MPEG-4 encode framed in the film's original 2.39:1 aspect ratio.
For the most part, 'Space Battleship Yamato' looks great. The interior sets on the ship and in the underground bunkers are clear and crisp, as is a majority of the space action. Colors are bright and engaging, including the various costumes and CGI laser beams and explosions. And black levels are genuinely strong in space sequences. But once our heroes leave the ship for an underground exploration of Iskander, image quality falls apart. Black levels gray out, shadow detail is non-existent, world resolution drops, and characters appear as rudimentary flat cutouts against cartoonish backdrops. And while there are no signs of artificial sharpening or noise reduction, there's a slight hint of banding in some explosions and engine thrusters.
Overall, 'Space Battleship Yamato' is a pleasing high definition experience (CGI limitations aside) with only a few bad sequences.
Much like its crisp HD video, 'Space Battleship Yamato' has a rocking 5.1 Japanese DTS-HD MA surround soundtrack. An English dub is also available.
While this track isn't going to the top of anyone's demo list anytime soon, it's commendable for a low budget sci-fi flick. File it under "a pretty good episodic TV show sound mix." There's plenty surround panning laser blasts and explosions. The dialog is always clear (and often shows up in the surrounds). But there's virtually no LFE to speak of and the overall fidelity -- this track's ability to create full immersion -- was lacking for me.
While not the most in-depth package, FUNimation has included a little over 40 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes, mostly concerning visual effects and pre-viz, and marketing materials.
'Space Battleship Yamato' Pre-Visualization (HD, 25mins)
VFX Making Of (HD 12mins)
Local Yamato (HD, 1min)
News Flashes (HD, 1min)
Premiere Announcements (HD, 1min)
Trailer 1 (HD, 2mins)
Trailer 2 (HD, 2mins)
'Space Battleship Yamato' is a movie your inner teenager will love (assuming said teenager loves somewhat goofy and action packed space operas). The film mixes exhilarating action with goofy tonal shifts and some interesting character work. However, audiences used to a higher caliber of visual effects may be put off by the CGI used to complete this production.
As a Blu-ray, 'Space Battleship Yamato' looks and sounds terrific. I would imagine many who know the series will have already imported this Blu-ray, but if you have not, fans should be pleased. If you are new to this anime series (as I was) and are a fan of the similarly toned 'Pacific Rim', I would definitely recommend checking this Blu-ray out at some point, at least as a rental. It's a lot of fun. Overall, it's not a movie for everyone and the Blu-ray is good, but not great. Worth a Look.