TOKYO — Toon producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki, best known for his work on the iconic “Space Battleship Yamato” SF toon franchise, died after falling from a ship, named Yamato, sailing in the Ogasawara Island group on Sunday. He was 75.
According to the Japan Coast Guard, Nishizaki and several companions were on the Yamato, a 485-ton vessel registered under his company’s name, off Chichijima Island. Nishizaki was reportedly in a wet suit and preparing for a swim when he fell. He was taken out of the water by a nearby ship and rushed to a clinic on the island, but was pronounced dead of apparent heart failure.
Nishizaki graduated from the Arts Department of Nihon U. and found work as a manager for famed comic artist and animator Osamu Tezuka. In 1974 Nishizaki produced the TV toon series “Space Battleship Yamato” (released in the U.S. as “Star Blazers”) in association with animator Reiji Matsumoto and in 1977 a toon feature based on the show.
The pic, about the adventures of a teenage crew of a WWII battleship refitted for outer space flight, was a huge hit in Japan, generating four more theatrical pics and two more TV toon series, but after the saga concluded in 1983 with the feature “Final Yamato,” Nishizaki struggled to find an encore and in 1991 his West Cape Corp. toon company filed for bankruptcy. Nishizaki was later arrested twice for stimulant drug possession and fought a long legal battle with former collaborator Matsumoto over the copyrights to the “Space Battleship Yamato” franchise.
The two sides agreed to a settlement in 2003 in which they agreed to share the copyrights. Nishizaki later directed the toon feature “Space Battleship Yamato Resurrection,” which was released in Japan in 2009, but did indifferent business. Also, a live-action pic, “Space Battleship Yamato,” directed by Takashi Yamazaki, is set for a December bow and is expected to be one of the biggest domestic pics of the year.