This is an updated version of an earlier review.
Dear The Legend of the Stardust Brothers, where have you been all my life? Seriously, this lost Japanese musical oddity from 1985 fills a gaping chasm in my soul I didn’t even know was there. It also has maybe the most WTF twist I’ve ever seen, and this is a movie that’s basically non-stop WTF moments from one end to the other.
Manufactured by Marimo (Kyoko Togaway), a Jim Jones looking record executive, two musical rivals, the punk rock Kan (Kan Takagi) and the egotistical crooner Shingo (Shingo Kubota), become The Stardust Brothers, a poppy new wave duo who rocket to superstardom. This contains all the usual music industry narrative markers: success, drugs, partying, a rise and fall arc, strife, jealousy, and on and on. Also weird brain-sucking monsters, stop motion creatures, psychedelic cartoons, giant hypodermic needles, and nods to everything from Grease to “Thriller” to the French New Wave.
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The result watches like A Hard Day’s Night filtered through the retro-dystopian stylings of The Apple, or Phantom of the Paradise spliced with Rocky Horror. Directed by a 22-year-old film school student, Macoto Tezuka, son of celebrated Manga artist Osamu Tezuka, Stardust Brothers is bug-nuts crazy, full of a dude being cooked like an egg, Japanese hipsters, slapstick-y, Benny Hill-style physical comedy, and more unhinged nonsense than you can cram into a silver bodysuit.
Campy and over the top, Stardust Brothers has a chaotic, brink-of-disaster, barely-clinging-to-sanity energy. It teeters on the edge of combustion for 100 minutes, and you can’t look away from what feels like impending, inescapable collapse—whatever happens, glory or disaster, you want to bear witness.
But it never falls apart, and maintains that manic energy—maybe it’s simply too crazy to fully fail. It does fart around in the middle for a time and lose velocity, but the sheer spectacle is hypnotizing as cast and crew throw in every disparate, off-the-wall idea and concept just to see what the hell will happen next. There’s a giant political conspiracy for god’s sake, it really does have damn near everything.
Conceived of when Tezuka met musician and TV personality Haruo Chicada, who had written a soundtrack to a movie that didn’t exist, wall to wall new wave bangers propel the film. They’re catchy and forceful and urgent and, true to form, weird as all hell. There’s one made up primarily of what I’m certain are the sounds of burps and gargling run through a synthesizer.
The Legend of the Stardust Brothers is just banana-pants gonzo insanity of the highest order. If any of this sounds like bizzaro fun, do yourself a favor and track it down where you can. Witness this recently restored slice of madness with a rowdy, raucous, preferably late-night crowd, and prepare to shake your head in confusion and joy in the same moment.
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