I love Daft Punk and I love Leiji Matsumoto, so how could I not love their collaboration in Interstella 5555?! In fact, it was through this movie that I became a fan of both of them 6 years ago! There are plenty of good reviews out there: ANN calls it the Holy Grail, T.H.E.M. gives it five stars, Nick writes up a lovely review about its art, the list goes on.
The movie is set to the music in Daft Punk’s Discovery album, without any rearrangements of any kind. We go literally from the first track on the album through to the last seamlessly. The animated story involves an alien music band called The Crescendolls that is kidnapped by a music producer for Earth and forced to work for them…
Here I’m going to cover some points from the point of view of a Matsumoto fan.
1. Matsumoto’s Dream
At the very beginning of the film we see grainy footage of what looks like a press conference with Leiji and Daft Punk [did this actually take place? I’ve looked for it on the Net and haven’t seen it; if you know something let me know!!!]. Anyway, Matsumoto says that a musical collaboration like this was something that he had dreamt of since he was child.
Now, we could simply take his word for it and move on, wondering why he didn’t produce any videos in Japan all those years… More likely, the dream was dormant or was, possibly, actually in the future! That is, the dream was triggered on being approached by Daft Punk to do this movie, so that the dream was in his future when he was a child, but as the future in Matsumoto’s philosophy loops back into the past this means that he now already possessed this dream in his childhood.
I know it’s hard to understand, but Matsumoto does believe in this sort of thing :) To give an explicit example, he claims one of his inspirations for his character Maetel is a woman whose picture he first saw about 20 years after Maetel was conceived… Retcon, pretty much.
2. Matsumoto’s Involvement
Matsumoto is credited as Visual Supervisor. Essentially, the work was produced by other people, but all of them were looking to Leiji for inspiration. Daft Punk themselves were big fans of Harlock (Albator in France) since childhood, and they had done most of the music and written most of the story before Japan was ever contacted.
Character Design was done by Hiroshi Kato. This is significant. Mr. Kato is an Art Director by profession (ANN file here), not a character designer. The reason an expert designer wasn’t needed is that Kato’s job was simply to adapt Matsumoto’s design to the needs of the story. Apart from the blue skin (they’re aliens) these characters do look straight off of a Leiji show.
In my opinion, and I don’t have the sharpest eye around so you should see for yourself, Kato based himself on the later Matsumoto designs. There’s a general sense among fans that Classic Matsumoto (70s, early 80s) is better than Renaissance Matsumoto (late 90s and thereon). I like both styles, but here’s a nice setup with pictures supporting that “decline” view: link in French. Kato is probably best known for his work on the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise, BTW.
One thing that all of the reviews I’ve read share is the sense of wonder at how seamlessly the music and the animation have been put together. Of course, the animation was made to fit the music, but still, how do you deal with the breaks between each 3-5 minute song? And the fact that often the tracks next to each other are extremely different rhythmically??
The animators employ a lot of nice tricks to get this done. One example: the second track “Aerodynamic” is mostly a fast paced guitar solo, whereas the third track “Digital Love” is a sugary love song with equally sweet vocals. During the “Aerodynamic” section, the Crescendolls are chased and kidnapped by a mysterious armed group. The excitement of the scene matches the music perfectly. The scene ends (along with the song) when a guard manages to send a distress signal to Shep, the hero of the film.
At this point, the music for “Digital Love” kicks in. What we see is Shep on his spaceship, minutes before the distress signal will come through, as he daydreams of dating the Crescendolls bassist, Stella. Toward the end of the song, finally, the distress signal comes through and Shep becomes aware it. “Digital Love” ends and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” begins. By going a bit back in time, the tracks are joined and the story is developed nicely…
4. Stella’s Fashion
Compare Stella’s outfit to Millennial Queen’s:
Definitely more revealing to go along with the times! This sort of dress with tiara is very commonly seen on Queen Promethium in her many incarnations. Incidentally, Millennial Queen’s assistant in the Millennial Queen movie has exactly the same shirt design as Leopard’s assistant in Space Symphony Maetel, which is this:
I don’t know anything about this design, which looks like an altered “King” character (王) but it’s neat how two very minor characters in shows that came out about 20 years apart, still share this link… Stella’s outfit works in the same way.
5. Memory Manipulation
“Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” plays in the background as the Crescendolls are brainwashed into believing that they are Earthlings who have been living in Earth all along. The process involves recording their memories onto a digital disc, altering them on a computer, and then transferring the new data to the victims’ brains. Although the use of the digital disc chimes with the musical nature of Interstella 5555, viewers should realize that memory manipulation is one of the key technologies in the Leijiverse.
P.S. I’m already at a thousand words here, so I’ll stop. I imagine I”ll post on this film again real soon…
P.P.S. The pics are from animegalleries.net. I own the DVD but it doesn’t allow me to screencap it.