Directed by Takashi Yamazaki, a blockbuster filmmaker in his native Japan and a saccharine-y Spielberg clone to boot, Space Battleship Yamato is a film out of time. It was produced almost a full year before the meltdown at Fukushima, which makes its message of looking for hope in even the most hopeless situations that much more prescient. It’s also a highly unusual blend of sci-fi tropes, though so is the amiably cheesy manga it’s based on.
Equal parts Star Trek, Star Wars and pre-Ronald Moore-era Battlestar Galactica, Space Battleship Yamato follows a crew of space explorers tasked with nothing short of curing the world’s radiation sickness. The Yamato is made to venture out into a part of space where no humans have ever been able to venture before, whizzing past hostile aliens, in search of a whatsit that may or may not have the power to make Earth a viable planet again. Their journey is thus often grounded in a cheesy, can-do spirit of positivity, making Yamazaki’s film’s 138-minute runtime often feel interminable.
And yet, it’s also really exciting to see a big-budget action film totally eschew cynicism even during its darkest moments. For example, when the Yamato‘s crew loses a gunfight with aliens, and the crew’s situation is obviously dire, Yamazaki and regular screenwriting collaborator Shimako Sato don’t linger on that feeling of despair. Instead, they champion an indomitable fighting spirit that somehow even survives the film’s ludicrously anti-climactic finale. Space Battleship Yamato is corny and clichéd but it’s also pretty winsome in its idiosyncratically naïve way.