NZIFF ’11: Space Battleship Yamato

nziff ’11: Space Battleship Yamato
dir. Yamazaki Takashi | Japan | 2010 | 131 mins.

Space Battleship Yamato is the most fun, ridiculous thing I’ve seen at the festival thus far. Directed by Yamazaki Takashi (who also did the ace visual effects), the film revolves around Earth—or Japan at least—being under attack from large alien creatures called Gamilas, and a last ditch attempt by Earth to find an anti-radiation device on a planet outside the Milky Way. It sounds silly, and it is, but the filmmaking skill on display makes it a genuinely worthwhile watch.

It takes massive cues from Battlestar Galactica, visible in the minimalist production design for the sparse Earth scenes, to the interior of the titular battleship and even some of the characters. (The grizzled captain Okita, for example, bears more than a passing resemblance to Adama from Galactica.) It doesn’t go nearly as far as that show in making an incisive social commentary, but it doesn’t skimp on the large-scale battle scenes in space.

Although this didn’t have the budget of a Hollywood special-effects epic, the designs of both ships and aliens here are inventive and interesting. The “Yamato” itself particularly stands out; if you ever wanted to see what a WWII-era battleship would look like if it were upgraded for space fighting, look no further.

The film suffers from a lot of things that routinely blight action-oriented science fiction films, namely some contrived plot developments—including a troubling one where the lead female character is straight-up objectified—and a few perfunctory characters whose only purpose is to spout one-liners and perform narrative functions. However Space Battleship Yamato delivers on what its title promises, and it is an immensely satisfying sci-fi action film with a boatloads of dazzling craft on display.

The New Zealand International Film Festivals began on July 14 in Auckland, and finish there this weekend; they started in Wellington yesterday, and travel to Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North, and Hamilton throughout August, then Nelson, Tauranga, New Plymouth, Hawke’s Bay, Greymouth, Masterton in September and October, before finishing in Kerikeri in November.

Full information on all films in the programme is at the festival’s website.

For more reviews, browse the “New Zealand International Film Festivals 2011
tag on this site, and check the Twitter hashtag #nzff.