STARRING: Takuya Kimura, Meisa Kuroki, Toshirô Yanagiba, Shiro Sanada, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Shin'ichi Tsutsumi, Maiko

2010, 131 Minutes, Directed by:
Takashi Yamazaki

When space aliens are about to blow up the Earth out of sheer spite you make haste to stop them!

The protagonists in this live action movie version of the influential 1974 anime series however take their sweet time and somehow manage to fit in long drawn-out teary farewell scenes.

All very fine, except audience members will probably find themselves nodding off by now and you’ll be wondering why the aliens are so polite so as to wait for the heroes to get their goodbyes in order and not just blow the damned planet up and get it done with! Yet, they do so, politely wait for their scheme to be thwarted. Maybe it is the heroes’ secret plan to bore the aliens to death.

The biggest problem with Space Battleship Yamato is that it lacks urgency. The many CGI space battles may be quite impressive for the film’s “measly” $14 million budget, but they never truly excite and tend to blend into each other. They also sometimes lack flow and coherence. Did the squadron already make it to back to the Battleship? Who knows? The same goes for certain aspects of the plot, which comes across as muddled – perhaps deliberately so as to “surprise” the audience, but still vague on certain aspects.

It is the year 2199 and Earth is under assault by a superior alien race that bombards the planet with an endless barrage of meteorites. A last ditch mission involving the titular spaceship is launched, ostensibly to save some human from extinction, but it should come as no surprise that their mission becomes one to wipe out the aliens before they wipe us out. Along the way our hero Kodai Susumu played by Kimura Takuya discovers that it isn’t always so easy to be a leader of men in wartime. They have no dental plan for starters. (Er, just kidding.)

As we’ve said, the effects and sets are impressive for the small budget (it cost less than the original Star Wars more than 30 years ago!) but other aspects grate. A voiceover narration dumping huge lumps of exposition into our laps may be in the spirit of the original anime, but here it comes across as simply amateurish. Also grating is the broad strokes of emotion and overacting. It may be fine in anime (no, not really) but in live action it works on the nerves and make the characters seem like buffoons.

Minor details niggle. The visual look is inconsistent. There are loads of lens flares in the space fight scenes, but none in the interior scenes involving live actors. We weren’t expecting another Star Trek, but still. In the subtitles a character refers to her boyfriend as “Mister” which is a rather literal application of the Japanese san honorific.

However, it has been a while since sci-fi fans have been treated to some major space battle scenes (Revenge of the Sith and the Battlestar Galactica remake?) even though the retro WWII vibe has a whiff of the doomed Wing Commander movie adaptation about it. Desperate genre fans will however lap it up. But the sad truth is that one often wishes that all the impressive sets, effects and costumes had been done in service of a better story. Space Battleship Yamato could easily have been twenty minutes shorter and have been all the better for it.


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