Friday, November 14, 2014

#777. Mock Squid Soup: Space Battleship Yamato

via Star Advertiser
The Mock Squid Soup society is meeting again to discuss Space Battleship Yamato, a 2010 Japanese movie based on a 1970s anime.  As always, Mock Squid Soup is, astoundingly, presented by a couple of people named Mock and Squid, but not by a mock squid.  That would just be silly.

This is the first selection of theirs that I had not previously seen.  I scrambled for a few weeks attempting to find a copy, and when all else failed I did what people have done for thousands of years: bummed it off the Internet for free.

A large swath of Space Battleship Yamato is right up my wheelhouse, which is to say it features significant portions of spaceships going boom! boom! boom!  I have an incurable knack this kind of movie, and an even worse impulse to like the result regardless of its overall critical merits, which include things like what everyone else says about it.

But Space Battleship Yamato has a secret weapon in that regard, in that it's not generally known among American audiences, who tend to hate even the things they like.  So I was pretty safe this time.

The thing about this movie, however, is that it owes more to fan films than to Hollywood.  That's okay.  I've watched my share of foreign productions.  In my first year of college there was a standing date when a new one would be screened every week (or whatever the interval was), movies like Earth (1998), The King of Masks (watch for the teapot!), and Dancing at Lughnasa (in which Meryl Streep convincingly plays Irish!).  

I've watched plenty of Japanese movies, too, including a bunch of anime, far too little Kurosawa, and probably the most similar experience to Space Battleship Yamato, the trippy Versus.  But I would probably call the most relevant experience Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima, the movie that made its predecessor Flags of Our Fathers instantly irrelevant in comparison.

If you've never seen Letters, you should correct that as soon as possible.  Outside of Tora! Tora! Tora! it's probably the only movie a classroom should screen regarding the Pacific Theater during WWII.  Ken Watanabe leads a cast that explores the face of the enemy in such a way that you can't help wondering...these guys were the enemy?  WWII wasn't exactly known as that kind of war (but then, what war is?), and no matter what Quentin Tarantino did with Inglourious Basterds no one will ever manage that with the Nazis (except, Christoph Waltz!), so that's a heck of an accomplishment.

Space Battleship Yamato is sort of that kind of experience, in that it relates the Japanese perspective of WWII via allegory via aliens and spaceships.  Watching it, you probably don't even realize the bad guys are essentially those dastardly Americans.  Although you have to admit, it's probably wrong to say "those dastardly Americans" so flippantly when you think that the only use of nuclear weapons in warfare on record was in fact by Americans on the Japanese.  Twice.

This is a grim movie in a lot of respects.  The actors talk almost uniformly in solemn tones, which makes for tough listening after a while (if you're looking for something other than one-note performances, this is not the movie you're looking for).  Putting the story in its proper context (the historic Yamato was Japan's last best hope for glorious victory, so to make a futuristic one carry the same role and to actually accomplish it is not just science fiction but wish fulfillment in a way you probably hadn't thought of before; it's not all Godzilla over there in terms of the national post-nuclear psyche) takes a lot of the wind out of its escapist sails.

I think I would have to watch it again to quit worrying so much about its implications and just lose myself in the experience.  But in all seriousness, that goofy captain's hat has got to go.


angryparsnip said...

hahahaha... but yes the Captains Hat is the Captains hat.
This was the 1970's remember when the anime came out.

cheers, parsnip

The Armchair Squid said...

Excellent review, sir. I love the design of the Yamato ship but was also a bit uneasy with the historical implications. I enjoyed the movie more than I expected to and am now very curious about the old cartoons.

Toinette Thomas said...

WIthout knowing the background of the story, the message of nuclear war on earth is pretty clear. It's hard to miss that. I just wish it had been hard to miss some of the acting. I like your reflections and observations. They make for a thought provoking and entertaining review.

Tony Laplume said...

parsnip, did everyone wear goofy hats in the '70s? If so, why am I just learning about this now? And do you have a time travel machine I can borrow?

The designs I loved (except the hat), especially the uniforms, Squid.

Toinette, like I said, it struck me as a fan film in regard to the acting. But at least they went one-note rather than bad-note.

The Armchair Squid said...

Apparently, the uniform jackets were big sellers in Japan. We joked during the film that the arrow was for helping them remember which direction to unzip them.

MOCK! said...

" but not by a mock squid.  That would just be silly."

Thank goodness we have a monk who knows the value of a good scouring!

Tony Laplume said...

I'm here to entertain my peeps!


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