Sunday, April 20, 2014

Space Battleship Yamato and the Thundersleet

In 3rd grade, I was a begrudging fan of was a fan of Star Blazers. In truth, I was a rabid fan of Battle of the Planets, but one day, after a particularly lively sprint home to catch it at 3:30, I turned on channel 9 to discover the familiar brass fanfare inexplicably replaced by the martial chant of Star Blazers. Initially, I was crushed. The show’s operatic structure certainly didn’t sell at first, but when the Wave Motion Gun went off for the first time, the Argo began to appear alongside the Imperial AT-ATs I drew the margins of my schoolwork.

Star Blazers, or Space Battleship Yamato as it as known in its original Japanese format, is more iconic in Japanese culture than American.  Like its American counterpart, however, contemporary Japanese cinema is mining and reinterpreting the cultural capital of last generation's youth for large-scale adult entertainment. A big budget live-action version of Space Battleship Yamato was released in 2010, and actually, it is quite good.

I discovered this movie through its soundtrack, which I stumbled across during my research for the Superhero Theme Project. Way before I saw the movie, I ordered the CD, mostly due to the significant critical acclaim it garnered among more visible English language movies released in the same year. This positive reception is, I think, very well deserved.

Nakoi Sato’s soundtrack is particularly well-suited for the kind of high space opera that Space Battleship Yamato represents. In comparison to the majority of contemporary movie music Naoki Sato’s use of leitmotif-styled themes is relatively traditional. Given the show’s long history and reinterpretation over the past forty years, I find myself curious as to the sources of Sato’s thematic material. Echoes of the music of Star Blazers, which was the Americanized version of the show, reverberate throughout the album. It is possible that Sato, perhaps being more familiar with the material than I, could be pulling from the original series and its many sequels in other ways as well, which could potentially open up reservoirs of nostalgic meaning to the dedicated fan.

In any case, its juxtaposition of thunderous militancy and eerie menace was the backdrop for a memorable drive home in the increasingly unpredictable Texas weather.  In January, the media buzzword was the “Snowpacalypse,” but in this instance, Austin was bracing for the “Thundersleet," which is, I think, a much cooler term.

On the night of the Thundersleet (a term I reserve the right to use for some future artistic endeavor), I had a gig with Ethnos, a cross-cultural jazz ensemble I have recently been fortunate to play with. Outside, it was raining, windy, and well below freezing. Although I have publicly badmouthed premature school closings due to cold, but ultimately harmless, weather, this storm seemed to warrant concern.  Against all odds, however, we played one of our best sets yet - to a total of two people and the waitstaff.  Despite the weather keeping the surging crowds at home, I felt pretty satisfied with the gig and, perhaps more importantly, inspired.  As I drove home, the Space Battleship Yamato OST resonated satisfyingly as cold winds and disorienting lightning displays buffeted my car.

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