Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ytem is a science fiction anime film from the minds of Daft Punk and the man who created such famous space opera works such as Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Space Battleship Yamato in the 1970’s.
Such a collaboration sounds incredible today, and yet this film came out 17 years ago. And if you’re wondering, no, there’s no way to write that out without sounding old (believe me, I tried).
It’s hard to think of a band/duo that’s had more of an impact on my life than Daft Punk. It was because of them that I was able to discover the world and all the complex genres of electronic music.
The Daft Hands video (which is still impressive all these years later in its 480p glory) might have been one of the first examples of a popular viral video that I remember. Their work on Tron Legacy is a big reason why it’s one of my favorite movies.
I could go on and on about my love for Daft Punk and why if there’s anything on my bucket list it’s to see them in concert, but that’s not what this article is about. This article is about their 2003 foray into bridging mediums with a Japanese animated movie that tells a story using the tracks from their 2001 album, Discovery.
Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ytem
Discovery was a huge turning point for Daft Punk. This album focused on a different sound than their first album, and the result was a huge success. The track “One More Time” became a stand-out single that helped propel them to new heights in popularity. Discovery would become a defining album for many that heard it (it certainly was for me).
Although it was released in 2001, there were plans for it after its release. As explained in this interview, the duo had ideas for the music videos early on during the production of the album.
Discovery was a concept album about the relationship with music they had as children. It evokes sounds and genres from decades past.
This concept of nostalgia and innocence likely influenced their ideas for the music videos of the album. Both members of Daft Punk have fond memories of watching Japanese animation as kids, which was easily accessible in France.
And it was because of their love for Space Pirate Captain Harlock that they would approach the creator of said work, Leiji Matsumoto, in hopes that he would help them bring their idea to life. With Matumoto’s agreement, production would soon begin on Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5tyem (which is a super fun title to look at, but a pain to type out).
This animated space opera features no dialogue and minimal sound effects, instead relying on the music of the album to accompany the plot.
The story itself isn’t too complicated; a blue-skinned alien band is in the middle of playing a concert when a military-like force storms into the venue and kidnaps the band’s members (they managed to get in unnoticed because “One More Time” is in fact so damn good it distracted security). One of the security guards is able to send a distress signal out that is picked up by a pilot who’s daydreaming in his Gibson-guitar shaped spaceship.
The pilot (who is either a fanboy of the bassist of the group or is in an actual relationship with her) springs into action and follows the kidnapped band into a wormhole that lands him on Earth.
With no dialogue, it might seem difficult to talk about the film with no reference to the main characters beyond their roles in the band. Thankfully you don’t have to just refer to them as the drummer, the bassist, etc. These characters do actually have real names that are briefly shown in the film!
- Stella – The bassist of the band. Even though she plays a damsel in distress more than once, she’s always calm.
- Arpegius – The lead guitarist of the band. He’s the closest with Stella, whether they’re performing back-to-back or when he consoles her when she’s down.
- Baryl – The drum and tambourine player of the band. He’s clumsy and provides the most comedic relief, but he’s brave when it comes to helping his friends.
- Octave – The keyboard player and a vocalist in the band. He’s possibly the most emotive in the band, with great moments of anger and sadness (which is probably a good thing for a vocalist).
- Shep – The pilot who holds feelings for Stella, and follows them after the band is kidnapped.
- Earl de Darkwood – The antagonist of the film. He’s responsible for kidnapping the band and modifying their memories and appearance to look like humans. It’s possible the band’s name “The Crescendolls” and their own names were made up by him, or he may have translated their alien language to English.
Is it worth your time 17 years later?
The film is an entertaining watch, to say the least. It was made with the album in mind, and thankfully there is a strong cohesiveness between the audio and the visual. Even if you know of these songs simply from the album, they never feel out of place while watching the film.
I saw most clips of the movie thanks to the music videos for each song, and I’ve seen the music video clips many times after I watched the film, but I never think I’m simply watching a long music video when I watch the entire film.
It’s a testament to the ability of Leiji Matsumoto and all those that worked on the film that they could create a complete work with satisfying visuals and plot off of a music album.
Speaking of, the visuals are absolutely wonderful! The intro scene is a feast for the eyes as we’re brought into this colorful galaxy and the alien world that the protagonists come from.
While there are plenty of color choices that are natural and stand out (the shade of blue for the aliens’ skin contrasts so well with the colors of their hair and clothing), there’s also a great use of artificial lights (such as the flashing lights during concert scenes) that change the palette entirely.
Although the intro scene is my favorite for this very reason, it’s not as if the film lets up in this regard afterward. There are great colors and shading from the beginning to the end. Even in scenes when they look human and there’s little lighting, it looks fantastic! Whether in scenes with alien planets in the colorful cosmos or within the appropriately named Darkwood Manor on Earth, the film is a visual treat.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of the film is when the visuals match the rhythm of the song. Whether it’s something obvious like a character tapping their foot, or the film cutting to different scenes in tune with the beat.
The entire film isn’t synced up to every beat but considering how impressive it can be when a scene or a trailer does it, I can’t help but appreciate how a lot of the film manages to do this.
If you play this in the background as you go about your day, you can have a great time just listening to the album. If you have the time to spare though, I’d say an hour watching this is an hour well spent.
The art is wonderful, and although the story isn’t deep, it’s certainly unique. It all comes together to make a wonderfully retro-feeling anime film that’s as fun now as it was 17 years ago. And of course, the music is great.
The film is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video, but only with a subscription to Stingray Qello, a service that lets you watch taped concerts whenever you want. There’s also the Blu-ray, but your mileage may vary as it doesn’t seem to be compatible with all Blu-ray players.