Director: Macoto Tezuka
Screenplay: Macoto Tezuka
Based on a Manga by: Taiyô Matsumoto
Starring: Shingo Kubota, Kan Takagi, Kyôko Togawa, Issay, Kiyohiko Ozaki
Running Time: 101 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
The Legend of the Stardust Brothers is a film with an unusual and interesting story behind it. Whilst promoting an indie ‘student film’ he’d made that was quite successful, young director Macoto Tezuka (son of the great manga artist Osamu Tezuka, author of Astro Boy) met the musician and TV personality Haruo Chicada. They became friends and discussed working with each other on a project. Chicada later showed Tezuka an album he’d made called The Legend of the Stardust Brothers, the soundtrack to a film that didn’t exist, and suggested the director actually make it into a film. Tezuka agreed, and with Chicada down as producer and financing from a major department store in place, the pair brought this bizarre album adaptation to fruition.
With Chicada’s links in the TV and music worlds, they were able to assemble a talented crew and add a few well-known faces to the cast and their financing meant they could make something more ambitious than the low budget indie they originally devised. However, possibly due to the pop-culture-laced film being released a few years after its inception, it failed to find an audience. The film disappeared without a trace, making little impact in Japan or elsewhere.
However, somewhere along the 35 years since its completion, The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers has been reassessed as something of a minor cult classic, despite never being particularly well-seen. Due to this underground following, or simply through a love for his commercial feature debut, Tezuka directed a remake/sequel in 2016. There’s little information about this in English online, though I managed to track down a brief write-up and trailer here.
More recently, Tezuka went back to the original to tinker with the edit a little to create a ‘Director’s Cut’ and Third Window are releasing the 1985 The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers in a Dual Format Blu-ray and DVD package, complete with the soundtrack CD.
I’ve been enjoying some offbeat musicals recently and I’ve always loved the quirky side of Japanese cinema, so I thought I’d check out The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers for myself.
The film tells the story of Shingo (Shingo Kubota) and Kan (Kan Takagi), two young frontmen from competing small-time bands. They’re both brought to meet the mysterious big-shot boss of the Atomic agency, Minami (Kiyohiko Ozaki). He promises he can make them big stars overnight, but only if they ditch their bands and join together to form a duo, The Stardust Brothers. They agree, but only if they can bring along the wannabe singer Marimo (Kyôko Togawa), who they’d just saved from some security guard bullies, as the chairman of their fan club.
So Shingo and Kan become instant superstars, but their fame is fleeting. For one, Shingo starts living the rock star lifestyle, hitting the drugs and alcohol, but, also, shifty Government agents want Atomic to promote a more wholesome act, Kaoru (Issay), who’s the son of their boss. Whilst Shingo and Kan fall out of favour and Kaoru becomes the new flavour of the moment, Marimo also becomes a star and Kaoru has his eye on her. As he devises devious ways to entice her, we realise Kaoru isn’t as squeaky clean as his reputation suggests and the Stardust Brothers must come to their friend’s rescue.
It’s a fairly straightforward plot on paper, but on screen it’s anything but. On top of the regular colourful and wild musical numbers, the film takes some unusual tangents and is packed with creative and bizarre quirks. One of the song sequences, for instance, is built around Shingo’s drug/alcohol-induced nightmare, momentarily turning the film into a horror movie, with a range of monsters, aliens and zombies chasing our hero in ever more bizarre situations.
This ‘anything goes’ aesthetic means the film is very erratic, so won’t appeal to everyone and could easily be called a mess. However, it’s also the film’s primary charm. It’s got an infectious energy and zany style that throws in plenty of wild visual tricks to keep things interesting. The camera gets spun around, special effects range from surprisingly good to laughably and purposefully bad, the sets are continuously outlandish (if rather cheap-looking) and there are some 4th-wall-breaking post-modern touches here and there too.
The most important driving force of the film is its soundtrack though. I’m not usually one for J-pop, but the wildly varied upbeat music here by Haruo Chikada is incredibly catchy and packed with strange yet often satirical lyrics. My favourite might be “a computer is crying; or maybe it could be a fly!”
Yes, the film can be a little ramshackle – the performances are hammy, the costumes and production design are very much of their time, and the film could be tighter and more focussed. However, there’s an undeniable charm to the enthusiasm of all involved. An explosion of camp, bubblegum pop and an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ attitude, it’s a whole heap of zany, riotous fun.
The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers is out on 17th February, released by Third Window Films on dual-format (all-region) Blu-Ray and DVD, packaged with a soundtrack CD too. The picture quality is very good considering the obscurity of the film. It’s a touch soft perhaps but the colours come through nicely. The audio is a bit hit and miss though. The music comes through crisply, but I noticed a persistent hiss on most of the dialogue scenes. Again, with the film being practically lost, it’s still an impressive presentation though and any issues will be due to the source material. * See below
There are also a couple of special features included:
- Making of from the film’s original release
– New interview with director Macoto Tezuka
– Soundtrack CD
– Limited to 1000 units
The period ‘Making Of’ has loads of great footage from prior to and during production. You even get a look at some of the storyboards. I particularly loved to see how they did some of the practical FX and wild lighting. In general, the doc is loads of fun and makes it look like the set was a riot to be on. The Tezuka interview is thorough and illuminating too.
The soundtrack CD is the star of the show here though. It’s a tremendously catchy album. Some of the tracks in the third quarter lose a bit of steam perhaps but it soon picks up for a couple of belters at the end of the album. I can’t stop singing the chorus to ‘Crazy Game’ in particular.
So an enjoyable and well-loaded package overall, that comes highly recommended to those with a taste for weird and wonderful musicals.
Third Window tweeted me a bit more information about the restoration issues:
“Unfortunately, the film’s initial failure meant that everyone associated with it were traumatized and tried to forget it! So, there were no decent materials left to make a top-notch remaster. The film was shot on 16mm, but all that exists are a few original 35mm prints from its theatrical release in which the best parts of each were spliced together to make the best master possible for the remaster. The sound issue is that the song masters were available as originally released as a soundtrack, so the songs in the film were digitally remastered + re-released, so in the film it goes from the original sound master (which was not good at all) to the digitally remastered songs, so the levels do change a lot! Remastering 16mm old Japanese indie films a big difference from American or European ones!”