Friday, May 17, 2013

Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem

Allow me to preface this review by saying that I am a big fan of the French House duo Daft Punk. I discovered this group around the release of the first DJ Hero, which lead me to listen to what their songs sound like unmixed. I ended up enjoying what I was hearing, exposing me to an entire music genre (Electronica) and have been exploring the realms of that genre, and Daft Punk memorabilia, ever since. As I was exploring Daft Punk's backlog, I discovered that their second album, Discovery, was adapted into an anime film released in 2003, the subject of this review. I remember liking it when I first saw it, and with the release of Daft Punk's fourth studio album, Random Access Memories, coming up, I decided it would be appropriate to review this film as a celebration of sorts. Now without further ado, let's take a look at Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem.

After a few briefs clips of Leiji Matsumoto speaking about the movie, the story begins on a distant planet populated by blue-skinned humanoids, most of whom are enjoying a rock band made up of four of their kind playing the song "One More Time", including the planetary defense unit. Meanwhile, a mysterious spaceship begins to spy on the planet, deploying groups of soldiers to kidnap the band. The soldiers prove to be successful, leading the defense force to send a distress signal to another, similar alien (named Shep in supplemental material), leading him to chase the mysterious craft back to Earth where he crashes. It is then shown that the alien band is being altered to resemble humans more closely, to the point where their memories are altered as well.

One thing I like about Interstella 5555 is that it manages to tell a coherent story featuring likable characters, interesting plot twists, and a number of emotional scenes, all without having any spoken dialogue whatsoever. Any "dialogue" to be found here comes from lip-syncing the characters' mouths to the music when there is any singing, but even then it doesn't happen that often. Even though there isn't any dialogue to give the characters a personality, the personality is all in their body language, somehow being enough to get you to feel for what the character is going through. This movie does have its own villain, but without any spoken word to make you get that they're the villain, the body language and animation are enough to get across their motivations and evil nature, which is truly spectacular for this movie and helps make them more memorable.

The main characters in their original form (from left): Octave, Baryl, Arpegius, Stella
The animation itself is spectacularly pulled off, being timed masterfully to the background music and managing to display any character's entire personality and emotional range. Leiji Matsumoto and the animators at Toei Animation did an amazing job especially with the more emotional scenes in the movie and getting you to care about the characters on-screen. I often found myself fascinated by what part of the visuals was timed to what part of the song (in a good way) and I especially praise the timing of the opening scene of the bands playing their song as it times perfectly with the music (something the Adult Swim cartoon Metalocalypse would later pull off with good results). The character designs are also nice to look at, being fairly realistic with just enough cartoonish/anime elements to be visually appealing and not uncanny.

The background music, primarily being Daft Punk's Discovery album, fits well with the story presented in the movie, written by Daft Punk (Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo), Leiji Matsumoto, and C├ędric Hervet; or is it that the story fits well with the music? Whatever the case, Daft Punk's album provides the perfect background for the movie, which I don't think could have worked very well without it. Discovery as an album is enjoyable by itself, and if you don't like it upon first listen, this movie might give you a new perspective on it.

Thomas Bangalter (left) and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (right)
Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem is not only an enjoyable anime film, it is one of the best animated features I have ever seen. The animation manages to things that most movies would need dialogue for and pulls it off splendidly while letting the music speak for itself. I'm not sure I would let a small child watch this movie, given that the story contains one or two heavy concepts as part of the plot. This movie may require an extra viewing to see the more minor details of the plot, but once you do it becomes easier to understand. I would consider this movie required viewing for Daft Punk and anime fans, though people who aren't that into either may want to think about giving it a shot anyway.

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