It is the year 2199 and Planet Earth has been ravaged by an invading force from outer space which has left the world struggling to survive as the aliens' attacks have rendered the surface uninhabitable so what remains of the population must live underground. They are gradually giving up hope that they will ever succeed against the terror from the skies, and Earth's battleships have been suffering heavy losses as they take a battering from the aggressors' energy blasts. With the resources nearly depleted by yet another attack, one spacecraft gets away thanks to the sacrifice of its sister vessel, but things are looking bleak...
Space Battleship Yamato was a belated live action version of the nineteen-seventies anime known as Star Blazers in the West, one of those countless remakes or reimaginings affecting all sorts of vintage genre works. The original Yamato was a Japanese World War II vessel, the most powerful in their fleet, which gave rise to a minor controversy when some viewed this inclusion in fictional form as somehow endorsing Japan's fascistic powers that were defeated at the end of the war (as was the ship - it was sunk by the Americans). On the other hand, you could judge this as a rehabilitation of a symbol of dark forces, retooled as heroic.
Whatever, the end results did not bear much comparison to any actual events, though it did bear resemblance to other sci-fi hits, not just its official inspiration but big hitters such as the contemporary television remake of Battlestar Galactica or nineties behemoth Independence Day, with more than a nod to Michael Bay's Armageddon for the finale - they even recruited Aerosmith's Steven Tyler to croon the song played over the end credits (!). Before that happened, we had the main story for director Takashi Yamazaki (best known for Returner overseas) and his team to truly make a meal of, really, this was way too long for what could have been easily wrapped up in an hour and a half.
Certainly the source had a number of episodes to tell its story and that had to be taken into account, but brevity is the soul of wit and nearly two-and-a-half hours of this was spoiling us, or indeed spoiling what should have been a simple, or at least straightforward, plotline. Not helping the amount of time you had to spend with these characters - the leads played by pop stars, as if you could not have guessed - was how cheap it looked. Not in those epic battles in space, the effects budget had evidently gone somewhere and whenever the gunfire began the visuals were not bad at all, it's just that most of the rest of it took place on sets which appeared rather cheap and nasty.
In fact, what this looked like was a television series pilot, less Star Wars in the space opera stakes and more Andromeda or some other non-Star Trek Gene Roddenberry effort. Standing in for the Enterprise was the Yamato, resurrected much as the concept had been from the bowels of the earth (the title sequence of the cartoon more or less recreated) and refitted as a spacefaring craft to track down a cure for the radiation blighting the globe. They receive a helping hand from some mystery benefactor which gives them a warp drive, and so armed to the teeth they set off across the galaxy to the aliens' home planet. The main theme here was sacrifice, with many characters giving up all they hold dear for the greater good, in a "things have to get worse before they get better" manner, all very noble and adding a little depth to what could have been endless space skirmishes, but just a little. In the main, if you could put up with how long it lasted and the monotonous visuals, Space Battleship Yamato was perfect for addicts of such material. Music by Naoki Sato.