Yaltus and the loss of innocence
By Miguel Coyula
HAVANA TIMES – It was the end of summer 1988, I was 11 years old, and Trianon was still a movie theater at the time. Darkness. The first image: The fog disperses as dawn breaks behind a lighthouse where the protagonist looks out at the waves: “The sea… It’s contaminated with radiation… Will it ever be blue again?” This is how the animated Japanese feature movie Yaltus begins, with Frank Gonzalez doing the voice-over for Marin in ICAIC’s Cuban dubbing. It was an uneasy movie to watch, with heartbreaking moments and a pessimistic message, which really left a deep mark on me.
Planet S-1 is contaminated with radiation. When a scientist builds a machine to purify the contaminated air, General Galvez orchestrates a coup d’etat and destroys the purifying machine, murdering the scientist. He lies to his people as a totalitarian Messiah. He declares S-1 uninhabitable and goes aboard a giant fortress with 100 million people to conquer a pure planet where they can live: Earth. A planet which is surprisingly similar to S-1, more backward technologically-speaking, but its Nature is still alive. Coincidence?
Marin is a pilot, the murdered scientist’s son. He longed to see the blue sea on his planet S-1 and he is fascinated by Earth’s nature. Resenting General Galvez (taking the voice of Julio Alberto Casanova), he begins to collaborate with the earthlings in their fight to protect Planet Earth. However, he never completely adapts: He is considered a traitor by his fellow Planet S-1 men and most earthlings are suspicious of him, especially of the other two pilots who fly the robotic spacecraft “Yaltus”. The other protagonist in the story is Astorga, General Galvez’s adopted daughter, the person who is leading the conquest of Earth.
Astorga has a love/hate relationship (more emphasis on the latter) with Marin, who she was once close to in the past, but not too much. A violent event has put them on opposing sides. Marin is responsible for her brother’s death. Taking the voice of Coralia Veloz, Astorga is a character who is hellbent on getting revenge and yet her contradictions turn her into quite an unusual tragic heroine. She really does fall short of being a heroine, but she isn’t your regular villain neither.
This story is fitting of the Cold War. Yaltus is a movie about what a relationship which never came to bloom could have been. It is also a movie about the futility of war and how impossible it is to stop: The destruction of cities. Unspoken feelings in tear-filled eyes. Sunsets over a dead ocean. The ruins of humanity under a radioactive sky. Trauma over the loss of loved ones. A lonely lighthouse amidst the fog. Yaltus suggests the possibility of a better world, but just a dream that can be wiped out by fatalism.
It is interesting how such a depressing movie was put on for a child audience in a decade when Cuban primary schools were foretelling the utopia of 21st century communism to their students. The movie ended and I left the Trianon movie theater completely depressed, along with the disappointed children who had hoped to watch a different movie full of simple and direct adrenaline like Voltus V.
I heard many negative comments about it at school. The super robot that gives the movie its name barely appears on screen, the pace of the movie was really slow, and to put the icing on the cake, there wasn’t a slither of hope for humanity. Eslinda Nunez gives voice to a character who summarizes this: “Parents who fight against their own children… The history of humanity says it: Hate overcomes love.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about Yaltus. I watched the movie once again, trying to make it change so I could reconfigure it in my head, trying to find answers to its pessimism. Maybe I hoped the ending would change. I drew its characters. I grew up with the movie. I would watch it every once in a while. First at movie centers until 35mm copies were slowly destroyed, then on TV, and finally on Betamax. The bitter aftertaste it left in the beginning became fascination, and finally, acceptance.
Space Warrior Baldios was the original name of Yaltus and it made its debut in Japan in 1981, after a TV series with the same name was cut because of low ratings. It’s not hard to imagine why this was the case.
The episode that made the series get cut tells us how General Galvez creates two artificial suns to melt the ice at Earth’s poles, triggering huge tsunamis. There were mass deaths in graphic scenes. This scene appears in the movie. Does anyone remember the image of a father running away with his young son on his shoulders, crushed by an avalanche? It would seem that the scriptwriters had a lot more serious ambitions, but the way they chose to portray this was by wrapping up their insistent story with a super robot. Surely the robot headed by Marin is the weakest element of the story. The fighting scenes aren’t very imaginative on the whole, and they pale in comparison to other blockbusters in the genre. Luckily, there aren’t very many of these.
The movie recycles scenes from the TV series, alternating them with new animated scenes to connect episodes and end the story. The quality of the animation series in 16mm for TV, is less than the 35mm movie version, which is a lot more detailed, especially in the expressive close-ups of the protagonists, while both belong to the Japanese school of limited animation. Backgrounds of exterior scenes aren’t hyperrealistic, but highlight the skies, evoking nostalgia for a lost world where pollution reigns.
However, the movie makes impact with its original science fiction story, its circular journey in time, where the inner drama of its protagonists plays out. The movie’s creators manage to sidestep hammering in the anti-war message with its complicated love story. Near the end, General Galvez has a brief humanizing moment when he stands alone before the horror he has created, but he tries to justify the disaster when he confronts Marin: “I couldn’t stop it… I fought like a soldier for the wellbeing of my people…”
Eight years ago, I came across an Italian DVD of the movie. I discovered that the version shown in Cuba had been edited and nearly 12 minutes had been cut. Many scenes of violence, nudity and even a bizarre and surreal representation of rape, were among them. The original version made the relationships between its characters even more complex. I was blown away.
Many questions I had sensed before, were now confirmed. Luckily, they were scenes with hardly any dialogue. My fantasy became reality: I could reconstruct Yaltus with ICAIC (Cuban Film Institute) dubbing, even with the missing scenes. I would relive my first experience at the Trianon movie theater. A journey in time, but with more information this time.
Then, I began the Japanese Blu Ray copying process in High Definition in panoramic format (thanks to Eliam M. Marrero). Thanks to Abel Molina Macias and his exhibitionary project “Childhood? Here!”, I learned that ICAIC had all the audio files of all the Cuban dubbing archived. Abel called Francisco Cordero, director of Technical Development and ICAIC Heritage, and Jose Galino, digitalized them. I got the masterized version of the dubbing (directed by Manuel Herrera) and I synchronized it to the high definition image, adding the missing scenes.
Yaltus is a movie somewhere between a space operetta and super robots, with more mature issues. While the result is different, with some whimsical dramatic solutions, the general plot of the movie is quite unusual. It is a flawed movie, but it is very daring, especially considering its target audience.
On the other hand, I have always been suspicious of clockwork works in art, where everything fits so perfectly that there is no room for doubt, without giving some room for chaos to exist. Yaltus is my favorite childhood anime. I don’t believe it is the best, but it was the most important in my personal development.
Today, children are coddled and protected from harmful audiovisual experiences. Yaltus really did crush me. But what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger. I am four times older now. The future is here and I am polluted. Yaltus continues to be what it always was. The anguish of its frustrated love story navigating the inevitable environmental disaster make this movie tread an unknown path where catharsis has been wiped out. The human race has no future in this story. The blue sea that Marin longs for, is nothing more than the nostalgia he has for all the things that never were. Only pain and frustration remain after the credits. This is it’s final beauty.
I didn’t know it back then, but Yaltus held the seed of the kind of movies I wanted to make later on in my life.