The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers
"There's a lot of silliness here altogether but it works surprisingly well, Tezuka somehow managing to coordinate all the moving parts." | Photo: Third Window Films

You've heard of films based on books, films based on games and films based on amusement park rides. Macoto Tezuka was just 22 years old when he was commissioned to create a film based on an album - the work of pop star Haruo Chikada, who played with the Vibra-Tones in the early Eighties and later became a film composer. That was in 1985 and the result, Legend Of The Stardust Brothers, has recently been enjoying a revival on the festival circuit, with a recent screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival. It's a film that's at its best on the big screen, though it also has a natural cult appeal that attracts collectors.

The story, such as it is, revolves around Shinga (Shinga Kubota) and Kan (Kan Takagi), the egotistical singers of rival small time pop bands who persistently get into scuffles and try to out-pout each other backstage until they're brought together by mysterious mogul Minami (Kiyohiko Ozaki) of Atomic Promotion. He will make them into megastars, he says, but only if they agree to work together and be rebranded as the Stardust Brothers. Although reluctant, they both know they can't pass up the chance, and studio groupie Marimo (Kyoko Togawa) eagerly volunteers to organise their fan club. Soon they're clad in shiny silver suits and playing to stadium crowds, enjoying hit after hit. They're young enough and stupid enough to imagine it will last forever. They don't know much about rock 'n' roll.

Copy picture

Opening with a scene in which the brothers play a full colour set to an open-mouthed audience who are still black and white, Tezuka's film is as much about the impact of Western music on Japanese culture as it is about any one band. The ironies wrought by passing time, with Japanese culture - partly thanks to manga created by the director's father - increasingly influential in the West add an additional cachet. Some aspects of the film haven't aged so well but others can be viewed through a different lens. Our heroes' occasional recourse to homophobic jokes was played, well, straight, in its time but now invites viewers to wonder if they're trying to hide something, outrageously camp as they are.

Balancing the tension between them is Minami, who seems to have a bit of a thing with Kan but whose primary role is to be the sweet little sister type whom they both feel loyal towards. When she goes on to enjoy her own music career as their fades, they drift apart, but before long they must join forces again to defeat politician's son Karuo (Issay), a sort of evil robot Bowie with designs on the pop crown and on Minami herself - culminating in one of the silliest chases in film history.

There's a lot of silliness here altogether but it works surprisingly well, Tezuka somehow managing to coordinate all the moving parts. The costumes are spectacular even by the standards of the time and the cheesy music is well suited to the character of the piece. Various musical numbers are used in storytelling, not just for on-stage set pieces. The film relies heavily on the kind of slapstick comedy that's still wildly popular with Japanese audiences, and on culturally-specific humour based around embarrassment, but translates well enough for Western viewers and is likely to make this a favourite with anyone who sees it before the age of ten.

Though not quite in a class of its own, Legend Of The Stardust Brothers belongs to a select club of broadly successful camp pop musicals which rarely finds new members, so if you like that sort of thing and haven't caught it yet,, it's a must.

Reviewed on: 25 Jul 2019
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The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers packshot
A cult musical charting the rise and fall of a manufactured pop duo and their struggle to navigate fame, fortune and jealousy.

Director: Macoto Tezuka

Writer: Macoto Tezuka

Starring: Shingo Kubota, Kan Takagi, Kyoko Togawa, Kiyohiko Ozaki

Year: 1985

Runtime: 101 minutes

Country: Japan


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