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Space Battleship Yamato: The Movie Blu-ray Review

10 min read

Space Battleship Yamato Live ActionTo save the planet, one crew must go deep into the galaxy and sacrifice much.

What They Say:
The year is 2199. Mankind teeters on the brink of extinction as the Gamilas, a heinous race of alien invaders, wage an endless war for the right to inhabit the Earth. The last hope for humanity lies on the distant planet of Iskander, and the only battleship capable of attempting the journey is the legendary Yamato. Armed with the devastatingly-powerful Wave Motion Cannon, grizzled Captain Okita and the Yamato’s crew venture boldly into the darkest depths of space.

The Gamilas attack at every turn, but fallen hero Susumu Kodai and ace pilot Yuki Mori fight side by side for the future of their world. Together, these young lovers unlock the secrets of Iskander – only to face a harrowing voyage home that will change their world forever!

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this is quite good as we get the original Japanese language track with a 5.1 mix as well as a new English language dub in the same form, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The film works a pretty good design here between the dialogue and the action as each works well to highlight what it has to accomplish. With the dialogue, we get a lot of characters on screen a lot of the time and the forward soundstage is well handled in capturing this and giving it proper placement and depth. There’s some good movement across all of this and it hits some good notes all while coming across very cleanly. The action side of it covers a couple of areas since it has both the space battles, the more personal ones and the troop style pieces. Each of it conveys what it’s doing well and has a good flow and feel to it as they come across in a pretty connective way. The rear channels are used well for a lot of this as it gives it a lot more life and immerses you into the action nicely, particularly in the space battles.

Video:
Originally in theaters in 2010, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The film is one that was designed as a push towards competing more on the international market when it comes to special effects films and you can tell that there’s definitely a lot more invested in here. The feature has something closer to more traditional Hollywood films in its feel and design and that comes across well here with a lot of detail to be had in the whole piece, from the way you can see the small nods in the uniforms to the set design itself. The transfer captures everything really well here with no real problems that you can find with it in either the live action pieces or the CG animation space sequences. It’s definitely a solid looking film overall and the transfer brings it to life.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release comes with a standard sized Blu-ray case with a slipcover to it that provides the same artwork but has a layer of silver foil to it that brings it to life a little more. While this is a live action film, the front cover plays up its strengths in the visual department by making the Yamato front and center with an illustration that will get old school fans to realize what it is. It’s definitely an appealing looking piece with some good colors and is very eye-catching on the shelf. The back cover goes with a star filled background so there’s not a lot to that but it looks good and makes the text easy to read when it comes to the premise and the extras. The production credits are listed clearly and we get a clean breakdown of the extras themselves. The shots from the film definitely work well since the uniforms stand out and we get a good technical grid that covers everything cleanly and clearly. No show related inserts are included but we do get a two panel spread on the reverse side that has a larger look at the Yamato in flight in space.

Menu:
The menu design for this release is decent and goes about as I expected as it has a faux letterbox design along the top and bottom with an industrial approach to it. The bottom gives us the standard navigation strip that’s easy to access and navigate with decent sized text overall, but it has an annoying sound tied to it that when you make a number of movements across it while exploring it can have you reaching for the mute button quickly. Within the letterbox strips we get clips from the film playing throughout it that has the logo starting it all off and then going through the montage of character, action and set pieces.

Extras:
The extras for this release are pretty good though they’re more focused towards a making off more than anything else. This comes in the form of a nearly thirty-minute previsualization extra that shows the various stages of planning to reality that’s always really neat to see. The visual effects has its own segment that goes though what they did to try and really stand out here and compete as well as an array of Yamato news pieces along with the two main trailers that were produced.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Retelling aspects of the original Space Battleship Yamato TV series from 1974, the 2010 live action film is a big project that was designed to be a push to make better looking films in Japan that could appeal internationally. With the leaps in visual effects in the past decade and what can be done, you can come up with some amazing things in your own home and Japanese live action films have always lagged behind. Part of it is cultural, part of it is just the style of production, but very few films tend to migrate over and gain any real notice. I’ve long been watching a number of Japanese films and TV shows but production values have been weak at best for many of them. With Yamato, it has its moments of cheese where it looks more like a game, especially early on, but as it progresses you can really see the potential for what they can do here. Especially when you realize that it was made for just $24 million.

Taking place in the early 23rd century, Space Battleship Yamato takes us to a time where the Earth has been under siege for five years by an alien race called the Gamilas. They’ve basically been launching meteorite attacks on the planet in order to devastate it and change its atmosphere while increasing its radiation level and that’s pushed mankind to the edge. What’s helped to stave things off somewhat is that there is a decent sized space fleet that’s been fighting back against them, but as we see during an attack in 2199, the Gamilas have figured out how to protect themselves well enough and the Earth defense forces are completely overwhelmed. Only one ship survives thanks to others sacrificing themselves, which leaves the already legendary Captain Okita even more noteworthy. But the battle is one that marks the end of days for mankind as they have nothing left that they can throw at the Gamilas at this point.

But fate does intervene as a different alien race has managed to get through a device that provides some key information for humanity. Coming from a planet a great distance away called Iskandar, the device is found by a young man named Kodai, the brother of one of the other captains that sacrificed himself for Okita. The device provides schematics and plans that can help humanity reach Iskandar with a promise of a device that will help them deal with their radiation problem. This sets the wheels in motion as Okita insists that the last remaining battleship, the Yamato, be repurposed from saving a few elite that were going to escape into space to spending their remaining time to seek out Iskandar and bet everything on hope for saving humanity.

For anime fans, this is a familiar enough storyline and one that definitely set the tone for science fiction anime for quite a few years. I had never watched the original in its Star Blazers form when released here as it was a bit before my time, but I was always aware of it and had read much about it. This adaptation of the property into live action form really does work very well. While it has some traditional Japanese style pacing here and goes on probably about twenty minutes longer than it needed to and some of the characters are a bit flat, which is to be expected based on the size of the cast, it’s a film that brings to life this classic kind of science fiction in a good way. Part of what slows things down at first is just the way the pacing and passage of time is handled, but once they get to the Yamato being set to head into space and Kodai joins up, the film progresses well from there as it leaps ahead and starts being proactive rather than reactive, as is expected. What really works in its favor in an even bigger way though is that we get some really smart adaptations of the costumes into live action form. The original suits are certainly iconic for many people that grew up with the TV series and seeing them brought to life like this shows that they know they had to get so much right here. And that works across the film in its designs, from the wave motion gun to the ship itself and certain actors with how well they resemble the originals.

While this film won’t win me over to strong Japanese acting skills, the cast here does a good job with what they’ve got. Tsutomu Yamazaki definitely fit the look and gruffness of Captain Okita in a way that I wasn’t sure could be realized in this form. Similarly, Toshiro Yanagiba definitely had the perfect look for Shimada with just about every nod. You could see him stepping off the anime character design page into reality like this in a way few other characters could. A lot of what the film has to make work though is the lead role of Susumu Kodai, played by Takuya Kimura. Kimura’s an interesting choice as he skews older in age, being about 37 when this was filmed, as it’s easy to envision much younger actors for this role. But he has a youthfulness about him and due to his various previous roles and time in SMAP he certainly has a presence that works and makes him an accessible character. He also manages to play quite well against Meisa Kuroki as Yuki, the main female presence (among many supporting characters) and the eventual romantic interest. She was about 21 at the time this was filmed so there’s a good age difference there, but it’s not all that noticeable and the two do have a certain chemistry.

As a special note, I love that they brought in a couple of the voice actors from the original TV series to do voice over roles here. Isao Sasaki has a lot of fun doing the narration here and considering his involvement before with doing the opening sequence vocals back in 1974, well, it’s just a great nod. Similarly was Masato Ibu as he played Desler in the original and returns to the role here as well. Add in other voices from the past with Kenichi Ogata as the Analyzer and Miyuki Ueda returning to play Starsha/Iskander and it’s the kind of approach that really does speak well of the production team in making sure that those that love and adore the past, which includes likely a great deal of the production team here, acknowledges it and pays homage to it. And with most of those actors in their late 60’s and early 70’s, it brings them back to a big part of their past that has been with them for decades.

In Summary:
While I’ve never seen a full, uncut and original Space Battleship Yamato TV series or any of the movies, it’s a property I’m certainly familiar with over the years and have a kind of reverence and love for even still. The original work is one that defined anime for a generation of fans, many of whom are still part of fandom today. This film takes the best parts of the original work and with a bit of compression and careful editing gives us a film that at over two hours pays respects to what came before, breaths new life into it and shows that Japan can stand tall with making a big special effects and generally just has a lot of fun as a space opera film. It gives me hope that we can see a few more things like this being made over time. What we get here is definitely a very fun and engaging movie that while superficial in some areas, has a solid approach to it and ticks all the right boxes. The release here does a great job of bringing it to life with a good number of extras for the behind the scenes fans and a strong transfer all around. Fans of the property, new and old, will definitely love this experience.

Features:
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Space Battleship Yamato Pre-Visualization, VFX “Making Of,” Local Yamato, News Flashes, Premiere Announcements, Original Trailers

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Giant Ape
Release Date: April 29th, 2014
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 138 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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