Space Battleship Yamato 2: Farewell Space Battleship Yamato
Have you ever had an emotional attachment that really wasn't good for you? Most of us have. Whether it's pining after the girl who wasn't really that into you and singing the first side of Pink Floyd: The Wall with a bag over your head or simply stalking your true love with highly sophisticated electronic devices, there are times when we are too close to something to be rational. This is the only explanation I can give for the Japanese love of Space Battleship Yamato. The first film had some major issues, primarily from being pieced together from a long television series. Given the right perspective, you can see why it was popular. But really, that same kind of perspective is the only thing that can salvage a showing of the second film in the series, known as Farewell (or sometimes Arrivederci) Space Battleship Yamato. It is space opera set to 11. While its graphics are a minor step up from the first film and the plotting actually is like that of a real movie, its glacial pacing and desperate sincerity makes it barely palatable now.
Kodai, the kid who made good during the original series, is back home on Earth with his friends. Having defeated the Gamilons, the battle cruiser Yamato is about to be put out to pasture. But when a mysterious SOS makes it through to our galaxy, Kodai and company risk mutiny by stealing the mothballed ship and taking it out to investigate. It's a good thing they do it, too, because the massive Comet Empire is obliterating everything in its path, and our solar system is next on the list! As Emperor Zwardar sends wave after wave of combatants to destroy the Yamato and the rest of the Earth fleet, Kodai must fight incredible odds as he, his girlfriend Yuki, and their crew are all that stand between the Comet Empire and doom.
Now no one who comes to a sci-fi film from 1978 should expect much in terms of look from Farewell, as it has many of the problems of other shows of its era -- giant yellow fireballs, a lack of interest in making technology look right, etc. The effect is not dissimilar to watching the old Star Trek series before they digitally enhanced the graphics. (A better comparison might be the Star Trek animated series, but since virtually no one has seen that, it's moot.) Musically, the movie is all over the map; while it is striking (particularly the organ music that heralds the Comet Empire wherever it goes), it isn't thematically memorable.
But perhaps what makes Farewell a memorably odd film is its wild inattention to logic. Stealing a starship for one's own personal use can be an interesting plotline, seen put to good use in Star Trek III and IV. But what made that storyline work were the very real consequences that became clear as the movies unspooled. Here, the theft of the Yamato is treated more with a nudge nudge wink wink. Nobody really seems to mind that much! But there are plenty more logical holes, from the anti-matter gal who sent the SOS in the first place to keeping dying crew members on the bridge so they can make their final speeches in public. The enemy employs the same kind of logic. The Comet Empire has destroyed hundreds (if not thousands) of civilizations, and yet the chief strategy seems to be, "They destroyed the last bunch we sent against them? Holy crap! Let's send out another fleet!"
What really causes problems, though, is the illogic used in pacing this film. The first few minutes are literally consumed with displaying an ever-enlarging comet while ominous organ music informs us that this is Really, Really Important. In fact, if you can make it through the first five minutes without blinking, you'll probably get through the rest. But there's an awful lot of time spent giving orders and carrying those orders out, even though it's not at all interesting. A really good version of this movie could exist at around 90 minutes, but there's a lot of filler. (Granted, there was a 2-hour dub version, but purists hated it and demanded the full 2 hour 20 minute version. While I thoroughly understand the sentiment, I can't say that longer is necessarily better in this case.)
For its failings, though, one can be more forgiving if you embrace this film as true space opera. We're not talking merely Star Wars-style space opera but something truly grand and epic and long, filled with bold gestures and grandiose villains and heroic deaths and noble sacrifices. It is over-the-top, but in a way that can be appreciated, if only as camp. And that's not to say that the characters aren't interesting. I actually found the characters of Kodai and Yuri and the ever-drunken Doctor to be compelling, enough so that I'll probably keep watching these films even through the weak moments such as this one. Are they enough to get us through the whole thing without a nap? No. But it's not impossible to watch if you're determined.
So why has this film become so well-known? It was wildly popular in Japan but also created a significant backlash. Simply put, there's nothing left to continue at the end of this movie, and so the creators created a second TV series to "retell" this movie without the cataclysmic events that made a sequel impossible. This film is, surprisingly, no longer considered canon within the Yamato universe. But the film does give us a hint of the Japanese mindset. With Yamato being an obvious stand-in for the nation of Japan, it can easily be seen as a story about Japan itself overcoming incredible odds. It reflects the "do your best" attitude that permeates Japan even during the midst of a long-ongoing recession. It highlights the concepts of nobility and honor. And it does so in a package that intended to hit the average Japanese person of 1978 right in the gut. That it did. And so, the legend of Yamato continues, even though it's very clear that (at least in this incarnation) the Japanese gave a whole lot more credence to this phenomenon than it deserved.
While I can't recommend Farewell Space Battleship Yamato as a movie today for Western audiences, I can recommend it as a piece of Japanese culture that reflects the nation's values and groupthink even today. If you are interested in that sort of thing, by all means, rent it. But for those of us looking for good sci-fi that works today, yeah, not so much.
Space Battleship Yamato 2: Farewell Space Battleship Yamato -- violence, brief and non-distinct nudity -- C