Takashi Yamazaki's Space Battleship Yamato takes place in the year is 2199 where the human race would seem to be on its last legs as an alien race called the Gamilas has, for the last five years, laid a radioactive siege against the planet Earth. With most of the Earth's human population now living underground, things look dire but Susumu Kodai (Takuya Kimura), a former pilot, finds a strange capsule sent from the benevolent inhabitants of the distant planet Iskandar. Through this, he learns that the radiation levels can be reduced to the point where things can be safe again. Before you know it, an older bearded man named Captain Jyuzo Okita (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and his ship have shown up to rescue Kodai, who accuses the Captain of letting his brother, an Earth Defense Force pilot named Mamoru Kodai (Shin'ichi Tsutsumi), die in an altercation that took place on Mars.
Though tension remains between Okita and Susumu, soon Susumu, a former pilot himself, has re-enlisted to help Okita get to Iskander. It seems, according to what they've found in the capsule, that if they can rebuild and properly arm the aging battleship Yamato that they might just stand a fighting chance against the Gamilas. When they fend off an attack and arm the ship with the Wave Motion Cannon, Susumu and another pilot named Yuki Mori (Meisa Kuroki) will not only fight together but fall in love as the fate of the planet Earth winds up in their hands.
Based on the seventies anime series (known as Star Blazers in North America), Space Battleship Yamato, this revamped live action take on the material would seem to be influenced as much by Battlestar Galactica and the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie that did huge box office the year before as anything else, but that doesn't mean this isn't a whole lot of fun. Purists and devotees of the original series may take issue with some of the changes and updates that have been put into place here but judged on its own merits this is fine entertainment (and for better or worse, you never get the impression that Yamazaki and company are aiming for much more than that). The emphasis here is on action first and foremost and character development does take a bit of a back seat in that regard but we learn enough about our principal players to like who we're supposed to like.
In terms of the performances, Takuya Kimura is decent as the male lead and he's got enough charisma to carry the more heroic aspects of his character without having to shortchange the dramatic requirements. He has good on screen chemistry with pretty female lead Meisa Kuroki who herself is quite good as the spunky ace of a fighter pilot. Tsutomu Yamazaki tends to steal some of the scenes he's in as the grizzled captain of the ship and he shares some interesting screen time with Kimura and they play off of one another's strengths quite well.
Visually the movie is appealing and while some of the updates might irk those very familiar with what came before it, it's nice to see that the costumes from the original were obviously the source of inspiration for those used here. Much of the ship and weapon design pays tribute to the anime series as well. Most of the effects are done entirely with CGI, and that's going to rattle some viewers who may have hoped for a more traditional practical effects route but they are at least done reasonably well. There are a few spots where it's obviously a computer generated effect that we're looking at but thankfully we're not pulled out of the movie constantly by this. Ultimately this isn't a particularly deep film and there are definitely some times where it plays towards cliché but all in all, it's exciting, fairly fast paced and slick looking. This was a fun watch, well worth checking out.
Space Battleship Yamato: The Movie arrives on Blu-ray from Funimation in 2.35.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. The transfer is pretty solid overall. While there is a bit of noise in a few scenes for the most part the image is crisp and clean and detail tends to look very good here. The colors are reproduced with an impressive vibrancy without oversaturating things while the black levels are quite strong throughout. Some minor compression artifacts show up in a few spots here and there but outside of that, this is a nicely detailed transfer that is frequently impressive.
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks are provided in English and Japanese with optional subtitles provided in English only. The Japanese 5.1 mix is the way to go unless you've got an aversion to subtitles as it just suits the story better and obviously matches the cast. Both tracks boast some pretty solid channel separation, properly balanced levels and are free of any hiss or distortion. There are a few scenes where the directional effects really impress, using all channels in the soundstage to envelop you in the action. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion and there's good depth to the mix.
Funimation have supplied just over a half an hour's worth of material in the special features section starting with Space Battleship Yamato Pre-Visualization (25:21), a piece that shows how 3-D models were used in conjunction with green screen effects and an obviously live action cast to create much of what we see up on the screen. The VFX "Making Of" (12:17 )is an interesting piece that shows how the digital effects were created overtop of different pieces of footage while the one minute Local Yamato (1:22) is just a quick piece in which we see the ship flying around different landmarks. Also included on the disc are a handful of News Flashes (1:10 worth of material, basically quick little promo pieces) and some Premiere Announcements (0:49 worth of material, more promotional bits).
Rounding out the extras are two trailers for the feature, previews for a few other Funimation releases, menus and chapter selection. All of the extras on the Blu-ray release are in HD. As this is a combo pack release a DVD version is also included inside the case, which in turn fits nicely inside a slipcover.
Space Battleship Yamato: The Movie obviously omits or drastically compresses massive chunks of the series that inspired it but judged on its own merits, it's a pretty fun watch. The movie is heavy on effects sequences and action and as such it moves at a good pace. The cast all do pretty decent work here and the filmmakers have done a fine job of capturing the spirit of the anime in this live action adaptation. The Blu-ray release from Funimation isn't stacked with extras but it's got a few decent supplements on board, while the audio and video are both quite good. Recommended for those who appreciate epic science fiction!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.