It’s not every day we get to talk about music casually here on a movie site, but nearly everyone at the Flixist offices was shocked when Daft Punk, the acclaimed electronic band, announced they were splitting. The duo had been together for nearly three decades, pumping out numerous hits and even doing the soundtrack to 2009’s Tron Legacy. If you slogged your way through that film, it was probably because of their score. While I’m personally not a huge fan of electronica (I’m more or a metal fan myself), Daft Punk was usually one of the few exceptions I had. I could pop on any of their songs and just jam out.
The duo was influential in the world of music, helping to create amazing songs like “Get Lucky” and being featured on excellent songs like The Weeknd’s “Starboy,” among many, many others. They may have only made four studio albums, but most of them were solid gold in my opinion. But let’s not forget that the French pair also made quite an impact in the world of film. We already discussed Tron: Legacy, but did you know that Daft Punk did a movie before that? Did you know that it was a Daft Punk anime feature film?
It really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. If you ever saw the music videos they published for their second album, Discovery, you would have noticed that all of them looked like a Daft Punk anime. From the art style to the animation itself, there’s no denying that Discovery’s music videos were anime. Well, there’s a reason for that. Nearly all of the footage from those music videos came from their 2003 anime feature film, Interstella 5555, aka Interstella Four Five, aka Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem.
The idea for the film emerged around the same time as the initial composition of Discovery in 1998, with the band wanting to have their childhood icon, Leiji Matsumoto, contribute to the album in some way. Matsumoto is mostly regarded as being one of the pioneers in sci-fi anime, most notably for creating classic titles like Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999. Back in the early heyday of anime in the 70s, the top sci-fi anime on the block were Harlock and Gundam, so to call Matsumoto influential would be a gargantuan understatement. He also just so happened to be influential in Daft Punk’s overall taste and style. So, according to them in this ancient Cartoon Network interview, working with Matsumoto was like a dream come true.
The film itself was released in pieces, either from official music videos or being split apart and airing on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block throughout the early 2000s. It wasn’t until 2003 that the film actually had a proper release in the States. It may not have been easy to watch the film back in the day, but today it’s actually incredibly easy to watch it. All you need to do is just go on Youtube and you’ll find Interstella 5555 available for free. The quality is pretty alright too, so you won’t be getting a substandard version, though I’m all for supporting the official release with a DVD or Bluray purchase, especially given how fairly inexpensive copies are nowadays.
But the question for most music and film fans is probably, “Is it worth watching?” To that, I need to ask, “Do you like Discovery?” If so, you’ll love the movie because it’s nothing BUT songs from Discovery. There’s no dialogue, hardly any sound effects, and it’s over in a little over an hour. It’s just Discovery animated.
The film’s plot doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but if you simply must know what it’s about, it stars a band of aliens that get kidnapped, brainwashed, and sent to Earth to perform as the Crescendolls. They’re forced to play for their evil manager, the Earl de Darkwood, who works them to the bone for an unknown reason. Meanwhile, an alien fan of theirs who also has a crush on the band’s bassist Stella, tracks them down to Earth to attempt to rescue them. Slowly, the band regains their memories and tries to stop the Earl from whatever evil plan he’s cooking up.
To be perfectly honest, the plot of Interstella 5555 isn’t really all that noteworthy, as you might expect from a Daft Punk anime. Sure, it hits all of the beats that it needs to as a film, but that’s really all. It gets the basic function of a plot so that audiences can focus on the music and the animation. That’s all well and good, but call me spoiled because as a fan of film, there could have been more.
My hands-down favorite film of all time, The Wall, was able to do this in spades. Like Discovery/Interstella 5555, it was a concept album adapted into a film, but it arguably enhanced the album by giving it some notable meat to the proceedings. Themes of isolation, lust, neglect, depression, and the after-effects of war are all present within the film and enhance the themes that were already in the album in subtle but notable ways. By contrast, Discovery doesn’t have as deep of meaning behind most of its songs, but instead of trying to add something that isn’t there, Interstella 5555 doesn’t even attempt it. I mean it works and there’s nothing wrong with its approach, but still…
Even then, the pairing of sight and sound isn’t always a hit. While most of their singles off the album have a wonderful blend of visuals and music, as the movie progresses the two slowly begin to desync. It’s mostly in the quieter and more ambient songs that really clash with the aesthetic of the movie. Take “Veridis Quo,” which is a somber and moody piece, which was paired in the movie with the Crescendolls exploring the Earl’s castle and discovering his evil scheme. It works when they’re just exploring the castle, but watching them run and confront the Earl and his evil cult while this song plays just doesn’t fit together. It’s hard to describe without actually seeing it, but the animation feels more energetic than the actual music is.
But when things come together, it’s wonderful. I admit I’m a sucker for “Harder Better Faster Stronger.” It’s my favorite Daft Punk song and I got chills when I heard that opening set of notes in the movie. Honestly, there are only so many ways I can tell you that this is the album visualized. It’s a unique experiment, one that was made on a small budget of $4 million, but it does the one thing that all musicals need to do; it makes you want to listen to the soundtrack.
As a film, Interstella 5555 is entirely reliant on how well its already stellar source material pairs with the animation, which still holds up today. It’s when the film gets caught up with actually being a film that it stumbles, which is a weird thing to say. It makes total sense why Daft Punk and Matsumoto decided to create excellent segments to be used for the music videos because those are the highlights of the movie. It makes me question whether or not you actually have to see the film if the best elements are already available in other places.
But Interstella 5555 isn’t just a movie; it’s a part of Daft Punk’s legacy. Interstella 5555 was the basis for the marketing of their album both in the United States and in Japan. It’s how many people were first introduced to their music, whether it be from Toonami or just by finding the music videos online. From concept to release, Interstella 5555 was always meant to be a part of the picture.
In the earlier Cartoon Network interview, they said that it was always their dream to work with Matsumoto and the album was based on a lot of ideas and fantasies they had when they were kids. Interstella 5555 feels like a fantasy that a kid would have after watching a plethora of sci-fi anime and imagining what those worlds would sound like. It’s at times kinetic and other times ethereal, but no matter the mood, it’s distinctly Daft Punk. This is pure, unadulterated Daft Punk, just presented as a Daft Punk anime rather than a traditional album. We may never get them to score that Dario Argento film, but at least their music over the past 28 years will always be remembered.
And yes, that means that Interstella 5555, for as flawed as it is, will have a place to stay too.