The Legend of the Stardust Brothers (1985) Review

The legend of The Legend of the Stardust Brothers is that this is one of cinema’s best kept secrets.

Directed by Tezuka Makoto (son of Astro Boy creator Tezuka Osamu) Stardust Brothers began life as a soundtrack written by famous (apparently) musician Haruo Chikada for a film that didn’t exist. Tezuka, a film student at the time, took it upon himself to write a story that would the fit the music and Stardust Brothers became his directorial debut. Never previously released outside of Japan until now, the angle distributor Third Window Films are taking is that here is a cult film that was just waiting to be discovered.

The titular Stardust Brothers are a manufactured pop act, whose rise and fall is ostensibly the main narrative thread. Shingo (Shingo Kubuta) is the front man of apparently terrible band Super Cars who dreams of being ‘advertised on trains’, and Kan (Kan Takagi) his far cooler rival who seems to be not bothered by much, really. Aided by the mysterious Atomic Promotions and their number one fan Marimo (Kyôko Togawa ), the duo are plucked from obscurity and made overnight stars.

However, as is often the case with these sorts of things, fame proves to be a fickle mistress and before long rock star excess and government intervention lead to the boys firing. Their replacement? An androgynous singer called Karuo – played by real life popstar Issay – who steals every scene he’s in as a magnificently flamboyant Bowie-esque crooner. Oh, and he’s also possibly a robot, reacts badly to alcohol, and I won’t spoil the identity of his ‘powerful father’, but needless to say you won’t see it coming, and it’s worth the wait.

That the plot sounds thin and predictable is irrelevant, the narrative acting as the coat hanger on which Tezuka drapes increasingly bizarre comic vignettes. Zombie dream sequences, an animated trip around the body, slapstick guards in bondage gear, a landslide of deadly potatoes that are quickly eclipsed by a runaway ball of mushed up henchmen and a bride (!), the constantly inventive visual language moves so quickly that you aren’t left with time to get bored of one concept or another. Imagine Richard Lester’s sixties Beatles films as reimagined in eighties Japan, with a healthy dose of anarchic Young Ones-esque behaviour thrown in, and you’re halfway there.

The songs are entertaining throughout, various slices of ‘80s synth-pop that are catchy in their own right, but also enhanced by lyrics that range from the mundane to the absurd and back again, often in the same sentence. ‘Got milk from the fridge / It looked just like tomato juice’ is the repeated chorus of one of the film’s stranger numbers, and leaves you wondering whether the translation was too literal, or whether this all sounded as insane in the original Japanese.

Only some mild homophobic sequences date the film in a negative way, and the political stance against bland uniformity and the sterility of manufactured culture is as relevant today as it was when Stardust Brothers was produced. Ironically, the careful positioning of the film’s rerelease as an unearthed gem ripe to be accepted as ‘cult cinema’ feels a little forced and arguably works to the film’s detriment.

This isn’t a classic, neither bad or good enough to be played ad infinitum. Instead, it is a singularly bizarre vision from a time long passed that is irresistibly charming with its non-stop assault of slapstick comedy and enthusiastic soundtrack. A fun 90 minutes, but a cult classic? I suppose time will tell.

LEGEND OF THE STARDUST BROTHERS is available on the ARROW streaming service now.

Movie Rating: ★

★ ★ ☆ ☆ 

Trailer:

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Sam Draper

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