Captain Harlock hits screens in CGI spectacular
Four decades after his debut, Space Pirate Captain Harlock has never looked better than in this latest 3D-animated adventure opening tomorrow
Captain Harlock has been cruising the galaxy for nearly as long as Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.
The adventures of the skull-festooned pirate first blazed across Japanese TV screens way back in 1978, just a year after the debut of Star Wars.
While that original series may have lacked the game-changing technical wizardry of George Lucas' seminal space opera, its characters and story were every bit as compelling.
Perhaps even more so.
"I loved pirates from a young age and wanted to be one," said Harlock's creator Leiji Matsumoto. "Pirates can travel the seas as they like without anyone to answer to.
"Nationality, borders and age don't matter to them in the slightest. That freedom was the appeal of the pirate.
"Even in my childhood, I knew that the skull and crossbones on their flags weren't there to scare people - they represent the will to fight until only their bones were left. They live freely, but they take full responsibility for their actions," Matsumoto said.
From his humble beginnings in the 1970s, Harlock has gone on to be an icon not just in Japan but across Asia and parts of Europe, particularly France and Italy.
There have been many adaptations of his story over the decades, each quite different from the next, but there has never been anything like this latest project.
Space Pirate Captain Harlock, opening in cinemas here tomorrow, is a US$30 million (S$37 million) stunner that finally gives the eye-patched anti-hero a grandiose backdrop worthy of his intergalactic antics.
And that's not just our opinion. It won the prize for Best International Animated Feature at the 3D Creative Arts Awards in Los Angeles earlier this year.
It was also nominated for Animation of the Year at the Japanese Academy Awards in March.
"We wanted something we could be proud of," said producer Yoshiyuki Ikezawa.
He said that few animated films have the sort of widespread popularity and acceptance common to Hollywood films. But Japan's rich manga culture gave producers "a wealth of strong characters that have potential global appeal".
"Give such characters a story and theme that maximises their potential, add the advanced technology that Japan has to offer, and I was sure that we could create something that could wow the world," Ikezawa added.
Space Pirate Captain Harlock is both epic and intimate.
On the epic side, you have Harlock's mission to reset the Genesis Clock, which will give mankind a chance to start again after decades of war and regression.
But there is also intimacy in Harlock's tender relationship with his acolyte Yama, who joined Harlock's crew as a spy, but was won over by the charismatic captain.
Animation scholar Ryusuke Hikawa said that Matsumoto's work is characterised by an "artistic aesthetic" backed by extensive knowledge of the classics and the military.
"At the root of many of his stories are classic inspirations such as Wagner operas, medieval chivalry, Japanese legend or accounts of the Pacific War that are then flipped around to create new futuristic worlds," he said.
"His talent seems to house two minds - child and adult.
Of course, it should not be forgotten that, at the end of the day, Space Pirate Captain Harlock is just plain fun.
He's a space pirate.
He captains a ship with a giant skull on its prow.
His best friend is a green alien babe.
The film's director Shinji Aramaki puts it best: "Harlock is the coolest of all Mr Matsumoto's character by far."
- PHOTOS: SHAW ORGANISATION
She's a senior officer on Harlock's pirate crew and also the only human female on board. Her loyalty to Harlock is unquestioned as he saved life when she was a girl.
Kei is an expert fighter who can take down a dozen guys with her supreme pistol skills. Oh yeah, she might have a bit of a crush on her captain.
Played by voice actress Miyuki Sawashiro who began her career 15 years ago at the tender age of 14. She has since played characters in animated films such as Appleseed Ex Machina, Evangelion 3.0 and Ghost In The Shell: Arise, among dozens of others. Sawashiro is also a singer.
A blonde stunner, Kei wears a pink and black space suit that fits very snugly indeed.
Those who like a more dominant-type woman will adore the way Kei barks commands. For those keeping score, she has a very nice shower scene early in the film, which is very tastefully done.
The last of her race, known as the Niflung, Miime's people invented the dark-matter engine that powers Harlock's ship, the Arcadia.
She has a very close relationship with Harlock and serves as his adviser. While she has a gentle demeanour, she enjoys a good glass of wine. I want to be her boyfriend, please.
The voice behind Miime is Yu Aoi, who is a huge star in Japan. She has appeared in some fantastic movies including All About Lily Chou-Chou and Hula Girls.
This isn't her first voice acting gig. She lent her vocal talents to the super-cool Redline. Aoi's cool personality also suits her character very well.
Sorry, Kei, but this alien babe has the unfair advantage of being green. Though it might not sound very politically correct, everyone in the universe acknowledges the superior beauty of green-skinned, green-haired women.
Miime is also slender and graceful with cat eyes and pointed ears. She's basically my ideal woman.
ROUND ONE: IT'S A DRAW
Sorry, but it's impossible to choose. They're both so cool!
ROUND TWO: IT'S A DRAW
Though Aoi is the bigger star, Sawashiro is a pro in this field.
ROUND THREE: MIIME
THE WINNER: MIIME
Both these space babes are worthy of worship, but Miime has the emerald edge. Green skin for the win.
O captain! My captain!
Here are the movie captains we'd follow until the end, in order of charisma.
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Space Pirate Captain Harlock (2013)
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
SPARROW (Johnny Depp)
Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003)
Star Trek (2009)
Captain Phillips (2013)