Julian Ryall Sixty years after it was sunk, the Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Yamato is about to recreate her final journey on screens across Japan. And while the producer's target of 10 million viewers for the film is ambitious, an even harder task might be in convincing movie-goers in the rest of Asia that it is not a nationalistic work. 'I want this to be more than just a successful film,' says Haruki Kadokawa, producer of Toei's Yamato: The Last Battle, which opened in Japan yesterday. 'I want people who see it to have more energy and to live their lives with confidence. I want people to have more pride in Japan and a sense of responsibility.' The largest battleship in the world when she cast off from the docks at Tokuyama, southern Japan, on April 6, 1945, the Yamato had been an icon for the nation. In the last months of the conflict, however, the Japanese leadership preferred suicide charges to surrender and pressed the pride of its fleet into the most spectacular of kamikaze raids. Weighing in at 72,800 tonnes and able to bring nine 40cm guns to bear, the Yamato set sail against the American fleet off Okinawa. Allied radio intercepts and code-breakers gave advance warning of her approach and the Yamato was attacked by an estimated 350 US aircraft off southern Kyushu. It took 22 hours to turn the most powerful warship of its era into a smoking hulk that eventually sank with the loss of more than 3,000 crew. The vessel's last resting place, 350 metres below the surface of the Pacific, was only confirmed in 1985. 'We kept very much in mind the idea that we were not just making a domestic film, but an international film,' says Kadokawa, who spent more than US$20 million of his own money on the project after other potential backers turned him down. 'I still hope that will be the case, but I realise that the way people will react to the film will differ between countries. There were anti-Japanese protests in China at the same time as we were filming and even erroneous reports that we were building a full-size, real Yamato. 'I feel very strongly that the anti-Japanese demonstrators were acting without knowing about Japan and it was the result of government propaganda. That means it was very important to base the film on facts and not focus on the commanders but on the anonymous people, in particular the young petty officers. These were the nameless people of the war,' he says. 'I hope very much that when people in China and South Korea see the movie they will begin to truly understand Japanese culture.' Kadokawa had the initial idea for a movie about the Yamato 20 years ago, after meeting one of only 267 survivors out of a crew of 3,333. Mutsuru Uchida was interviewed as part of a book about the loss of the warship and took part in a ceremony for the spirits of his dead comrades above the site of the wreck after it was located on April 31, 1985. When Uchida died three years ago, he asked in his will that his ashes be scattered above the spot where so many of his shipmates had died. 'I was very moved by his final message to his family - 'Thank you so very much for enabling me to live for so long' - that I resolved to make this film,' says Kadokawa. The producer, who expanded his father's publishing company to form Kadokawa Production, eventually spent 2.5 billion yen ($160.8 million) on the film, of which 600 million yen - which would amount to the total budget of an average Japanese movie - went on the construction of a two-thirds-size replica of the Yamato at a Hiroshima shipyard. The 26 remaining survivors of the Yamato were consulted throughout the making of the film, Kadokawa says. 'They watched the battle scenes and were very impressed,' he says. 'Some of them were moved to tears but also great joy.' Actor Kenichi Matsuyama, who plays an anti-aircraft gunner, said making the film had made him understand how fortunate he is to have grown up in a country that is at peace. 'In the past I only studied the war through school books that had very brief explanations,' the 20-year-old said. 'I was born in an age of peace in Japan and before the film I had never really thought about the fact that the peace I enjoy today is built on the sacrifices of others and that my appreciation of that was not as deep as it should have been.' But not everyone in Japan believes the film is a harmless anti-war tale that conveniently coincides with the anniversary of imperial Japan's final defeat. 'I fear this movie is just another indication of the dangerous direction that this country is going in,' said Tsuyoshi Amemiya, a retired professor of military history at Aoyama Gakuin University. 'Japan is becoming more nationalistic, militaristic and right-wing - and the production of this movie is just another part of that. Regrettably, I feel that Japan is going back to the atmosphere of the 1930s and with all the talk about revision of the constitution, I believe we are in a very difficult situation at this moment,' he said. 'I fear that is especially the case since the Liberal Democratic Party's victory in the last election.' Kadokawa says he was 'shocked' at the suggestion that his work failed to examine the question of responsibility for the war and that some might see it as glorifying Japan's years of militarism. 'All of us who worked on the film had as our fundamental view that we never again wanted to experience war,' he says. 'I think that message was very clear.'