The Legend of the Stardust Brothers (Japan, 1985) [SDAFF 2018]

The Legend of the Stardust Brothers is about Shingo (Shingo Kubota) and Kan (Kazuhiro Takagi), lead singers of two rival bands playing the Japanese club circuit in the mid-1980s. Shingo is typical for the time, but Kan is a bit more punk. They have caught the attention of an entertainment mogul who wants to put the two men together as a duo and promises to make them superstars. Their rise to stardom is meteoric, including for Marimo (Kyoko Togawa), the president of their fan club, who they met while she was trying to get her own chance at stardom. Along the way, jealousy and the typical excesses of fame begin to take their toll. The Stardust Brothers are eventually out, having been replaced by a demented David Bowie wannabe.

Written and directed by Macoto Tezuka, the son of manga legend Osamu Tezuka, this film is definitely interesting. At times, it feels as though you are watching a weird Japanese game show with a little (okay, a lot) of MTV thrown in. Tezuda uses dream sequences, hallucinatory sequences based on the drugs and alcohol used, and glorified music videos to help tell his story and there are a couple of scenes that reminded me of a few American movies of the time. I really enjoyed the satire and how the film exposes the entertainment industry in Japan for what it always has been – an industry that churns out pop band after pop band while keeping very tight control over those bands and individuals. There is also a really cool conspiracy theory about how much influence the entertainment industry has in the Japanese government, which involves the father of Kaworu Niji (Issay), the David Bowie wannabe who replaces the Stardust Brothers but is really a terrible person. He tries to attack Marimo in a hotel room and as she makes her escape Kaworu seems to transform into something akin to a vampire.

I have mixed feelings about The Legend of the Stardust Brothers. I admit I didn’t particularly like Kan and Shingo, although Marimo is a cute, likeable character. At times I found both Kan and Shingo to be somewhat annoying with an over-emphasis to their words and actions. While some of the film’s visuals were a bit too frenetic, others were quite cool, including the whole opening sequence where the Stardust Brothers are together singing and telling their story to a club full of snobs. The club is in black and white, but the band is in color. And the end of the Stardust Brothers’ story is a total riot. Overall, there was a bit too much filler. It’s not a film I would necessarily watch again, although there is a sequel that has piqued my interest. At times, I felt I was watching an anime (not necessarily a bad thing), which didn’t surprise me, considering Tezuda’s pedigree. If a comedy like Phantom of the Paradise (1974) is your thing, then you should enjoy The Legend of the Stardust Brothers, which has the potential to become a cult favorite.

The Legend of the Stardust Brothers is showing on November 12 at the San Diego Asian Film Festival.