Ink & Paint XVI: Interstella 5555

Somewhere across the vast reaches of space, there’s a band playing a concert that’s rocking an entire galaxy. A mysterious fireball plunges toward the alien planet, disgorging a team of commandos who gas the crowd and capture the musicians, whisking them away to a secret laboratory on…Earth.

The aliens are cosmetically-altered, mindwiped, and repackaged as a new hit musical group, the Crescendolls. They rocket to the top of the charts, but the endless procession of concerts and merchandise signings seem more like indentured servitude than the rock star lifestyle. Despite their fatigue and amnesia, they begin to sense they’re entangled in something unnatural and very wrong. Their shadowy abductor has a plan for world conquest, and the Crescendolls will play a key part, willing or not.

Meanwhile, an astronaut from their homeworld alerted to their plight has followed them to Earth. Can he rescue them? Can both our worlds be saved? Can the universe once again be made safe for rock and roll?

Interstella 5555 – The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem is a feature-length imagining of the album Discovery, by French synth-pop duo Daft Punk, in collaboration with legendary Japanese animation artist Leiji Matsumoto, the driving force behind such classic anime as Space Battleship Yamato, Arcadia of My Youth, Galaxy Express 999, and Captain HarlockThe film began as a series of music videos for individual tracks of Discovery that were subsequently linked and expanded into a single story, released in 2003.

Matsumoto’s style is distinctive and a perfect fit for this project. Everything is long, flowing lines and vivid color. Delicious little details and in-jokes abound, and there’s a whimsical sense of humor displayed throughout, such as an early scene where an astronaut polishes the exterior of his chrome-plated, guitar-shaped space cruiser…with a floor buffer. The depictions of the alien world, the rock and roll venues, and the menacing commandos are simultaneously futuristic and familiar. If you’re a fan of Captain Harlock or Galaxy Express 999, you’ll feel right at home. There’s very little dialogue aside from the song lyrics, but I think it all works much better that way, and there’s no trouble following the story.

One thing I enjoyed about Interstella 5555 is the way it turns the whole “alien abduction” trope on its head. This time, it’s the aliens who are abducted and exploited by a nefarious villain from Earth. Of course, they’re not terribly alien—a change of clothes, a coat of spray paint, and there’s no trouble passing them off as human.

When the Crescendolls are freed from their masquerade, they fear the people of Earth will reject them. Instead, they receive an overwhelming groundswell of love and support. That’s also one of the underlying messages of Interstella 5555: music has a power to make our differences seem trivial, even, perhaps, across distances that seem intergalactic. It’s not the final solution to prejudice, but it helps.

I’ve always thought there was something a little “not quite human” about rock bands. This would explain a lot of things—David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Bjork, Yoko Ono, Gary Numan, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Siouxsie and the Banshees—the list goes on, not to mention Daft Punk themselves.

Anyhow, this is a fun and creative synthesis of energetic electronic music and science fiction, brought to life by one of the Grand Masters of anime. At a shade over one hour, it’s an easy watch and a treat for the eye and ear. You can pick it up from Amazon for about $15, and I recommend that. If you’re cash-strapped, you can view it at lower fidelity on vimeo.com or piecemeal on YouTube, but that’s like watching through a dirty window while wearing earmuffs. By all means, support the artists by buying the product if you can.

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