Japanese director Tezuka Macoto’s cult 1985 musical is granted a delirious and welcome encore in this re-release. Losing none of its joie de vivre, humour, or heart, The Legend of the Stardust Brothers is a broad, bonkers, and irrepressible mock-biopic cast in equal parts from the moulds of A Hard Day’s Night, Obayashi Nobuhiko’s House, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Who ever said that art films had to be serious affairs? The Legend of the Stardust Brothers is about as far from serious as its possible to get – a preposterous, childlike musical with all the comic sophistication of the Chuckle Brothers – yet its sheer commitment to silliness is utterly taken to the level of art. Opening in black and white, at the start of a stage show whose master of ceremonies promises his audiences something special, the screen bursts into colour as the curtains draw to reveal Shingo (Kubota Shingo) and Kan (Takagi Kan), the ubiquitous Stardust Brothers, in all their silver-jumpsuited glory, who tell us the story of their rise to stardom.
The film strings together the songs of Chicada Haruo’s record of the same name – whom Tezuka met while promoting a student film – into a bare bones, mock-biopic narrative. And that narrative is about as generic as they come, the delivery is anything but. The music is a hodgepodge of 1980s pop – mainly post-punk and glam-rock, while the non-diegetic electronic score elicits an almost sci-fi post-industrialism at ironic-comic odds with the film’s broadly glittery sensibilities.
The grainy, flat 4:3 video, too, has aged with an ironic beauty against our modern age of pristine digital equivalent. There’s a televisual, tactile immediacy to The Legend of the Stardust Brothers that confounds definitions of high and low art, not least with its lashings of slapstick comedy, the highlight being a pair of doofus security guards keeping the gates of the talent agency run by Minami (Ozaki Kiyohiko), whose mystery is matched only by his sense of ludicrous portent.
If the film seems to lull in the middle (and it does), it’s only because we are out of step with its barrelling forward rhythm: Stardust Brothers‘ dual commitment to silliness and to taking itself seriously requires that we get of at the next station or go with it to the end of the line. There’s no question that it’s an acquired taste, and it would be hard to argue that we’re plumbing the depths of human experience here. But if you can get on board with the daftness there’s heart, humour, and a true pop sensibility to be discovered aplenty.