Almost unknown even in Japan and only now getting any play anywhere else, The Legend of the Stardust Brothers is a colourful, glitzy pop musical with a science fiction edge. It has thematic precedents in Privilege and Phantom of the Paradise, but its illustrate-an-album approach puts it more in line with prog rock efforts like Alan Parker’s Pink Floyd The Wall or Ken Russell’s Tommy, albeit with a more rock ‘n’ pop aesthetic. The kids’ show level effects – this is the other film you’ll see this year that owes a debt to The Banana Splits – and genuinely catchy soundtrack might find it a cult slot beside such ‘80s retro-tooled items as Forbidden Zone or Shock Treatment. Apparently, the project’s genesis was an album’s worth of songs from Haruo Chicada, which 22-year-old writer-director Macoto Tezuka strung into something approaching a storyline.
The Stardust Brothers are Shingo (Shingo Kubota) and Kan (Kanzuhiro Takagi), strangers with clashing styles who are brought together by sinister impresario Atomic Minami (Kiyohiko Ozaki, from this film’s ideal double bill partner, Nobohiko Obayashi’s House). Along for the ride are girl singer Marimo (Kyoko Togawa), who decides to be the pair’s biggest fan even before she hears them if only because her own ambitions to perform are (temporarily) thwarted by a sexist entertainment industry … while a potential rival/successor shows up in supercool androgyne Niji (Issay). The ride to fame, transcendence, disillusion, breakup and conceptual breakthrough is depicted via relentless, driving, catchy numbers that keep fizzing even if the enclosed, artificial, crayon-coloured world eventually starts to feel like a closing trap. When answers to the mysteries come along they turn out to be just more ‘what the … ?!’ moments in a film full of them. The version now screening has apparently been tinkered with by the director, so might count as a new 2019 movie rather than a reissue.