In 1985, a legend was born. Except, in the western world, it’s a legend you never encountered. And, to be fair, it wasn’t encountered much in the eastern world where it originated.
Released in Japan that year, The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers is a terrific musical comedy, with horror and sci-fi trappings, that premiered to not-so-terrific critical notices and box office, seeing virtually no release outside of East Asia. In the 30-plus years since, the film has developed a cult following, to the extent that its writer-director was able to make a semi-sequel, The Brand New Legend Of The Stardust Brothers, in 2016. Thanks to the efforts of distributor Third Window Films, the original Legend is premiering on UK home media in a dual format, region-free Blu-ray and DVD set, having undergone a full restoration.
Director Macoto Tezka has gone on to a career of further live-action films, animation and teaching, but in 1985, he was primarily known for being the son of Osamu Tezuka, the man considered the Japanese equivalent to Walt Disney. Tezuka’s best known manga series include Astro Boy, Black Jack and Kimba The White Lion.
“I wasn’t hesitant,” Macoto Tezka says of his own career starting in live-action filmmaking. “I didn’t have any bad feelings about going into the animation industries. But my father, Osama Tezuka, was this leading figure of animation, so I thought, ‘I’m going to leave that animation side to my father and I’m doing live-action.’ That’s why I concentrated on live-action films. But my father passed away at quite a young age, so I had to take over his business. Then I started tapping into the animation industries too.”
The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers chronicles the rise and fall of a manufactured pop duo, and has some incoherent creativity. But we mean that as a compliment. The curious backstory behind the film suggests why it sometimes feels like the songs were written before the plot: because they were.
At age 22, Tezka met musician and TV personality Haruo Chicada, who had composed an entire soundtrack for a movie that didn’t exist. Tezka adapted this concept album into a film from the songs already written. For a comparison, think Ken Russell – who Tezka cites as an influence – adapting The Who’s Tommy for the screen.
“When I was in high school,” Tezka says of his directing career’s start, “I’d already made a film and I submitted it to many festivals. And [legendary Japanese director] Nagisa Oshima was one of the judges at the festival to which I submitted my work, and he liked my film. Then he started introducing other well-known filmmakers to my film. I started making friends with so many people and one of them was Haruo Chicada. I got on well with him because he also really liked Brian De Palma’s Phantom Of The Paradise. We started talking about making a film and that’s how the idea came about.”
Phantom Of The Paradise, itself a rock opera riff on the music industry, was not the only influence on Tezka’s debut commercial feature: “I went to the cinema a lot and watched many overseas films. There were filming techniques I’d learned from watching other films. Especially the British films, like those of Richard Lester and his Beatles films. Next, Ken Russell and Tommy. And there were Hammer horrors. There was the Sixties version of Casino Royale. That was one of my favourite films. I watch films of so many genres and I don’t have one genre I like above others. I’m always trying to put many genres of film together and remix them.”
Tezka attributes the restoration coming about to Adam Torel of Third Window Films. He says: “A while ago, it was the 30th-anniversary and I was organising an event with the crew. We were thinking about doing a live concert of the songs from the film. But then we started thinking about making a new film, and that’s how we started thinking about a new restoration. Then there was a screening of the first Stardust Brothers around that time, which Adam attended. He fell in love with it and said he wanted to restore the film. It was cut slightly shorter for the original release, but I’ve actually added in everything that was originally cut. So, this restoration is more like the whole version.”
Tezka seems more confident about his debut feature in light of it being discovered with passion by people now. “Over 30 years ago, the critics didn’t like it. I couldn’t say it was a success back then. I was embarrassed by it because of the reviews. That’s why I didn’t talk about the film for a long time, because it was an embarrassment.
“After that, I think it was a British person – I can’t remember the name – who wanted to see the film and she requested it. She watched the film and I explained how the film wasn’t big budget, that it was my first commercial film, that most of the actors were amateurs. And then she told me: ‘Everyone has to start somewhere. Everybody has their first commercial film, so if you carry on doing it, you’re going to be better, but you don’t have to be ashamed of what you’ve done because what you’ve produced is amazing. It might not be perfect but you have got the sense of your own film, and that’s more important than creating a perfect film.’ That encouraged me. So, I’m happier about this film now.”