#192 : Farewell Space Battleship Yamato: In the Name of Love / Arrivederci Yamato

Certain anime we all fall in love with instantaneously and many titles leave us with an emotional bind that we will never forget. We jump for joy and many times shed tears watching those we love on screen go through hardship. Years ago when I was on my Space Battleship Yamato fix I would eventually come across the films of the original epic franchise that was perhaps the first otakufest of obsession in the world of anime. Their was a certain idealism in the late 1970 and 1980s and it is written all over Yamato, but at one time that idealism almost died and actually was planned as the finality. The initial sequel, Farewell Space Battleship Yamato: In the Name of Love (Arrivederci Yamato), is a large epic that defines space opera tragedy and is one of the most beautiful movies in the genre that also leaves you in tears.

FSBY_1After the success of the 1977 rebooted film version of the first Yamato series the combined power of Yoshinobu Nishizaki and Leiji Matsumoto would strike out again to create a followup that was bigger than the first and for the time a finality. Seamless would be the transition as we followup one year after Earth’s victory against the Gamilas Empire, which also cooresponds with Farewell Space Battleship Yamato’s release dat of 1978. The artwork is a little more polished this second time around and Matusmoto’s character designs and deep emotional idealism injected into the story are ever present again. Fandom was high for Yamato in the late 1970s, how would they respond to this followup film?

FSBY_2This new story of Farewell Space Battleship Yamato is a lot of redo from before, but in many ways it does not matter. A peaceful Earth that is under the threat of alien invasion to destroy humanity, the meeting of an angelic feminine goddess archetype who has a message for the people of Earth and the trials and tribulations of a converted WWII battleship that can navigate the openness of outer space is all familiar territory from the first Yamato story. Familiar faces like Godai, Yuki and the rest of the Yamato crew are back this time with a new captain, Hijikata, and a group of space Marines led by the likable Saito. And let us not forget our new enemy this time round, the Comet Empire, or the Gatlantis Empire, who also have in their service a familiar face. Remember Dessler, Yamato I’s chief villain? He’s alive and has one of the best redemption moments I have ever seen in all of anime. Dessler was in the end an honorable man.

FSBY_3Massively long, two and a half hours of clock time span this is a behemoth of a film and yet it’s the climactic last half hour where the epic of tragedy of watching our beloved friends, the crew of the Yamato, one by one fall to save humanity from the Comet Empire’s invasion. Personal sacrifices of those who give all that they have and give their lives for something greater than what is expected from society are true heroes. My eyes are never dry through this whole time and while some of the crew does survive, it does come at the expense of the beautiful Yamato herself. Many of us are told who to look up to in regards for the heroic, but real heroes are usually never recognized except by our own experience. I will never forget the crew of the Yamato.

FSBY_4Often I question which is my favorite story in the original Yamato franchise? This film is often at the top of the listing along with the alternate TV series retelling, Yamato II. Yamato I also ranks very high, but this film’s epic tragedy, which can be compared to other great films like Grave of the Fireflies and my beloved Windaria, are moments in time that have stuck with me like no other. Farewell Space Battleship Yamato: In the Name of Love is not considered proper canon anymore since the retelling as Yamato II, yet I consider this film one of the prize jewels of what Yamato once was and one of the best anime of the 1970s. … “Free at last, they took you life, they could not take your pride. In the Name of Love…”

#184 : Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo

Where does one begin with The Mystery of Mamo? Lupin III’s first animated cinematic adventure (a live action version came out previously) is a fun, wild ride traversing the entire globe. So many recent adaptations of Lupin III pay homage to the past, or retro fit a more rough sketchy line drawing to the production. Why not see the real honest analog version while it was in an appropriate period instead? I prefer the green jacket look of Lupin, but this time let’s go red with Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo, or is it Lupin III: The Secret of Mamo. … or maybe even just plain old Lupin III, which was the original title when released in Japan?

LIII_MoM_1Lupin III’s rise to success was a long one. The initial manga from the late 1960s evolved towards a failed pilot film, which gave way to a shortened TV series in 1971 (awesome!). Then all was quiet until 1977 with a relaunch of the manga and a new TV series that would run for several years. Hot on the success of this second wave a film would be released, namely The Mystery of Mamo. Of course the rest is history as Lupin III is one of the longest running and most successful franchises of all time in the world of Japanese animation. The Mystery of Mamo may be a good starting spot for those who are new to anime in general, or just new to older titles. This assumes one has achieved a little maturity. The usual gags of the quartet of Lupin, Jigen, Goemon and Fujiko are ever present, but this film is geared towards an adult audience because certain scenes and dialogue. A more general audience option would be the Hayao Miyazaki directed The Castle of Cagliostro.

LIII_MoM_2International is a great word to describe The Mystery of Mamo. Traversing Europe, Egypt and the Caribbean while escaping faked deaths, finding lost treasures, avoiding attack helicopters, out running giant semi trucks and meeting once dead historical figures from history sounds like a fun ride to be on. Add to that the main plot which revolves around a mysterious figure named Mamo, who has a preoccupation with eternal life, a fascination with obtaining the philosopher’s stone and also has the hots for Fujiko. Lupin is in his usual goofy sly mood, Jigen is always a crackshot, Goemon is stoic and always dishonoring his precious sword and Fujiko plays both sides between Lupin and Mamo to get what she wants… who else thinks Fujiko is the best character? And let’s not forget Inspector Zenigata, who is comedically always one step behind Lupin.

LIII_MoM_3Lupin III’s initial manga influence stemmed from inspiration from the satirical comic book Mad magazine. This humor is on full display in this movie as well as another influence, namely Pop Art. While not high art, The Mystery of Mamo creates a statement with popular culture and a style that may not be so much be Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein or Richard Hamilton, but a combination of three? Or that may be my observation as an art nerd. Again, this film is very international. And let’s not forget, The Mystery of Mamo, much like many titles of Lupin III also play up the fun of the James Bond experience with it’s own brand of wit.

LIII_MoM_4For those who are diehard original language track watchers with optional subtitles this may not apply, but for those of us who speak English we have a choice of dubbed versions. For real, like two? No. Really, three then? No. Well what then, FOUR!? Exactly! Very unprecedented, but a real treat as if four artists covered a popular song in their own way. From the start this film was meant for export by bringing the exploits of Lupin to a broader audience. The initial dub, with several character renames, originated from the film’s original release of 1978 making The Mystery of Mamo very accessible and again, very international. Pick your poison between these four, but I like both the ‘Streamline’ and ‘Geneon’ dubs.

The Mystery of Mamo is a nice tight package that encapsulates what Lupin III is all about. With that in mind this film was made during the heyday of the original Lupin III popularity wave and with Lupin III being a timeless design and concept, The Mystery of Mamo is forever unspoiled and is just as beautiful as ever. Also remember that The Mystery of Mamo is very international and speaks to all of us no matter where we come from. … I love that green jacket, but after this movie I think I want a red one now!

Special : Watership Down

WD_1This is the real real world… this is nature interpreted through an artist’s particular vision and, or vernacular. A veritable John Constable, or even at times a J.M.W. Turner landscape coming to life with all the lush blues, greens and browns that echoes a quiet summer’s day with a punch of yellow and orange. An organic world of basic survival, gut instinct and presence within the moment. Except our vantage point of view is not from our familiar human senses, but from those of the animals of the wild we commonly call rabbits. This is the epic of the heroes journey set in an honest portrayal, a grand adaptation of the original source material (how often does that happen?) and a story that will last for thousands of years. This is the original animated version of Richard Adams’ Watership Down.

I am totally, totally breaking the rules with this entry. Watership Down has absolutely nothing to do with Japan in either the source material, or the production. It is British in origin, British in terms of production and vocal casting and American with director Martin Rosen. The adaptation of Richard Adams’ novel technically should not be here… yet I MUST include Watership Down on this website. I love this film and draw so much inspiration from it. It may be perhaps my all time favorite animated creation. So much so that in one of my classes in college, I used Watership Down as visual material for one of my best design projects of my academic career. Watership Down is not just any other movie, it is my personal spiritual myth, my Holy Book.

WD_2Watership Down begins with a core element that is something we must all face, that of the unexplained. Fiver’s sixth sense of impending danger and Hazel’s trust in him to go on a great journey to find a safe land, paradise, Arcadia (Captain Harlock reference) is not of the rational. I often think sometimes animals in the wild have an intelligence that a portion of humanity has lost. A true deep connection to the universe that does not question the motives behind signs, or feelings. Call it whatever you wish, but to our lapine friends they put their trust to Lord Frith. For it was Lord Frith who bestowed the gifts of swiftness and cunning to El-ahrairah, the original chief of the rabbit race. With cunning, quick decision making, or trickery and a fast stride a rabbit can and does survive. Yet often we humans lose this ability to see and feel our true essence because of the conformity structures we try to belong to. When one “Let’s go and let’s God” (God as your personal definition) we become closer to those of the wild and in essence our truest selves.

WD_3Hazel is not the only one to believe Fiver’s calling. A group of deserters join including a former Owsla (Army) officer, Bigwig, to find this special land of safety. They must traverse unknown terrain, encounter obstacles and at times lose a comrade. They must learn just who to trust and keep faith that their journey is true even when deviation becomes tempting. With a gorgeous film score, exceptional voice acting (I became a fan of John Hurt immediately) and the natural style of the artwork, both characters and backgrounds, I often feel that I am outside in the world of nature and with our little friends on their quest. Sometimes fiction looks more real than fact? Watership Down is a masterpiece that took itself seriously and is a true labor of love. This movie can’t hide from the apparent details.

WD_4Animation and in particular the traditional painted cel has always been a source of joy and a personal sanctuary for me. Watership Down is a testament to this style. After the movie, I felt obliged to buy and read the book which I have gone threw a handful of times. Either medium provides the depth and assurance I sometimes need to know that I am one with this universe and that the cycles that we all live through are worth the ups and downs. Many talk about the so called violence in this film, but they are missing the true core. This is an honest and mature look at our lives and not some flashy over dramatization to appeal to a low common denominator. To Richard Adams, Martin Rosen, Angela Morley, the cast and production crew I heartedly thank you for giving all of us such a beautiful epic.