(Original title: HOSHIKUZU KYODAI NO DENSETSU)
We open to a monochrome scene set in a nightclub called The Saloon Callus. The audience all boast exotic fashions in a New Wave style. Then the host takes to the stage in heavy make-up and introduces the main attraction of the evening: pop duo The Stardust Brothers. As the stage curtains part, the screen explodes into colourful life and two men - Shingo (Shingo Kubota) and Kan (Kan Takagi) - burst into song, complete with shiny silver costumes and a sharp-suited backing band.
The audience remain in black-and-white, reflecting their disinterest in what's occurring before them. The duo are exasperated, to the point that they challenge their spectators and then offer to tell them of their story. They were full of promise once, you know ...
So, we rewind to a time when both Kan and Shingo are aspiring lead frontmen of bands performing at clubs looking for their big break into the music industry. Kan sings for London Boots, who sound a little like early Devo. The younger, eagerly fame-hungry Shingo fronts the more discocentric Super Cars. Despite their energetic performances, both fall flat with their respective audiences. And there's clearly a rivalry between the two of them backstage.
But, after their shows, they both receive an invite from a representative of Atomic Promotion - a talent agency renowned for breaking artists into the mainstream. The following day, both Shingo and Kan arrive for a meeting with the company's president, Minami (Kiyohiko Ozaki), at his palatial tower block premises.
On their way to Minami's office, this mismatched pair save eternal wannabe pop star Marimo (Kyoko Togawa) from getting evicted from the building yet again by Minami's violent henchmen. She can't sing for toffee but soon latches on to our disparate protagonists as a naive fan, following them up to their fateful meeting with Minami.
"I'll make both of you stars in a week" the mysterious Minami promises - on the proviso that they must perform together as a duo: The Stardust Brothers. Kan initially has more morals about him, whereas Shingo is openly desperate for the $500,000 contract that awaits them both.
Self-professed groupie Marimo vows to be their biggest fan, and curator of their fan club. Kan and Shingo shake hands, and sign their contract with the shifty Minami (shades of FAUST abound - especially when Minami instructs his budding superstars to forget their past and play to his tune in order to earn their riches).
Sure enough, fame and fortune come quickly for The Stardust Brothers. Marimo is happy to tag along for the ride as their fan club president for a time.
But, as the duo enjoys their success, they barely notice aspiring new artist Kaworu (Issay) sneaking up behind them, not only enjoying attention from Minami but winning heart of Marimo too. In the meantime, Kan enjoys the limelight while a drunken Shingo quietly seethes, insisting that it's his talent that keeps The Stardust Brothers thriving. Perhaps, he reasons to a groupie during one sozzled session, he should embark on a solo career ...
Up until this point, THE LEGEND OF THE STARDUST BROTHERS has been fast-paced, visually garish and a whole lot of fun. Daft, but visually sumptuous, and certainly conventional enough in terms of plot. But it's precisely at this juncture that Tezuka considerably ups the ante with a comical nightmare song sequence which manages to cram in marauding ghouls, strange creatures living in the back of someone's throat and even more absurd imagery. This is just the beginning of this epic oddity's mental latter half, where anything can and does happen. By the end you'll be quite exhausted, by what can vaguely be described as HAUSU-meets-PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. And yet, STARDUST BROTHERS really is its own entity.
The onscreen title at the beginning of this presentation is translated as being 1985 TOKYO: THE LEGEND OF THE STARDUST BROTHERS PROJECT. This is relevant to the genesis of this most peculiar film, as it indeed was a project propositioned to its young director - Macoto Tezuka, the son of esteemed Manga artist Osamu Tezuka - by musician Haruo Chicada, who at the time had just completed a soundtrack album to a fictional film. Having seen a couple of Tezuka Junior's early experimental films, he approached the 22-year-old man and asked if he could make a film to visualise his music. With Chicada producing, he picked up the gauntlet and fashioned this rather singular film.
The result is a refreshingly high-octane, often surreal marriage of comedy, musical, horror, sci-fi and drama infused with a shitload of pop-art colour and editing. It's a mental film which holds the viewer's attention by virtue of its "what will happen next?" insanity factor. Ironically camp (I say that because there are some unfortunate of-the-time slurs in the dialogue which in this day and age would be construed as homophobic: there's an innocence to the action which hopefully suggests this was down to naivety), relentlessly bouncy and imbued with one of the most entertainingly catchy soundtracks I've heard, this film is nothing but fun. The camerawork is consistently inventive and energetic, keeping the film as lively visually as it is aurally (these songs will embed themselves into your brain, whether you want them to or not).
Around a quarter of the film looks like MTV music videos from the 1980s but, placed in the context of a madcap film about that industry, they fit in surprisingly well.
Barely known even in its home country of Japan, THE LEGEND OF THE STARDUST BROTHERS has never been released in the UK before. Following successful screenings of the film in 2019 at festivals such as FrightFest and Fantasia Film Festival, a domestic release (the version that exists today has had minor nips and tucks added to it by Tezuka) is now upon us.
STARDUST BROTHERS comes to region-free blu-ray courtesy of our friends at Third Window. Given the film's scarcity over the last three decades I didn't hold out much hope for much in the way of restoration, but aside from a little print damage during the opening scene this looks very good indeed. Presented in its original 1.37:1 ratio, the print is clean but very organic in look and feel. Colours are profound, deep blacks are free from noise, motion is smooth ... everything looks disconcertingly good, without unnecessary cleaning or digital tampering.
The film is presented uncut with a running time of 100 minutes and 37 seconds. Housed as an MPEG-4 AVC file with full 1080p HD resolution, it really looks great here.
Japanese DTS-HD Master Stereo audio is clean and clear consistently, while optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read at all times.
The disc starts up with an option to view its menus in English or German. Call me conventional, but I opted for English. Actually, for the sake of completion, I also took a cursory look at the German menu: unsurprisingly, it's in German and it also proffers the option of removable German subtitles on the main feature. However, the bonus features (explored below) bear the benefit of English subtitles only. While the English menu opens with the Third Window imprint, the German variant opens with that of Rapid Eye Films.
From there, an animated main menu page pops with colour and funky pop sounds. Pop-up menus include a scene selection option allowing access to the film by way of 24 chapters.
Bonus features begin with the film's original trailer. This pillar-boxed affair runs for an enjoyable, fast-paced 2-and-a-half minutes, and is suitably insane in its depiction of the main feature. It comes in its original language with the benefit of English subtitles. Amusingly, the onscreen Japanese text is translated as describing the film as a "nonsense movie".
This is followed by a new 25-minute video interview with director Tezuka. Questions are presented in white English text upon black caption screens, while the filmmaker sits in a mixing studio and seems at ease speaking of how he made his first 8mm student film at age 19, how he became enlisted in translating Chicada's imaginary soundtrack to the screen, how he was able to attract recognised names from the worlds of film, manga and music to the project, and so on. Tezuka smiles often and speaks at an enthusiastic pace, making this a fun accompaniment to the main feature. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read, albeit smaller than the ones provided for the film itself.
My favourite extra by far is an archive 45-minute Making Of documentary entitled "How To Make A Movie", which is a sheer joy from beginning to end. It's pillar-boxed and looks to be high-grade VHS in terms of quality, but the way it's presented, paced and edited - and the sheer amount of fun behind-the-scenes footage it manages to cram in, along with very informal, jovial cast and crew interviews - is a pleasure. I found this to be almost as entertaining as STARDUST BROTHERS itself. This is presented in its original Japanese audio with optional English subtitles.
This stunning release also comes with a CD containing the film's annoyingly catchy soundtrack, and a slipcase. Neither of which were available for review purposes.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Third Window Films|