Interstella 5555

220px-interstella5555This is one of the more interesting artistic projects of the last decade.

In the early 2000s, the French house duo Daft Punk partnered with the Japanese anime house Toei Animation to produce what is essentially a feature-length music video for their Discovery album. As such, every song on Discovery has a music video associated with it, and–when put in the right order–they yield the full-length feature Interstella 5555.

There is no dialogue anywhere in the film, and only minimal sound effects. Instead, the story’s told through the songs and animation themselves. Needless to say, this is a stripped-down tale: alien rock stars are (plot twist!) abducted and brought to Earth, thralls of a corrupt manager, and pursued by a cowboy type of their own race. The cowboy frees them from their thralldom but at the cost of his own life; the band confronts the manager and his own greed kills him; once the band’s true heritage is revealed, Earthlings work together to send them back home. (Fame has its perks.)

That said, as an art film, it produces a love-it-or-hate-it reaction. It is, after all, a feature-length music video, and this is perhaps its most technically interesting aspect: It proves that “album videos” aren’t just technically possible, but are feasible. In other words, it has the possibility of creating an entirely new type of musical beyond the song-and-dance plays descended from Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic operas. But at the same time, the limitations of album videos as a storytelling medium (perhaps similar to those of high opera) are also on display.

Without dialogue, characterization has to be simplified; the end result are characters that seem almost as cartoonishly flat as the story they inhabit, the lack of characterization hidden by a story that is essentially a sequence of plot twists. The cowboy’s crush on the band’s female lead is turned into a love story that borders on the incredulous; the band’s homeworld’s inhabitants apparently have nothing better to do than wait around for them to come back when they’re taken, that sort of thing.

It’s the sort of flick that’s pretty cool when you watch it the first time, but gets weaker with every subsequent rewatch. Of course, as a one-off attempt to marry two media and create a new one, this is to be expected–how many early novels survive?–but Interstella 5555, while a cool album video in its own right, an interesting answer to a trivia question, and something to show your girlfriend when you’re both bored, doesn’t really have the staying power to bear repeated viewings for very long. That said, it’s still an excellent video for Daft Punk’s brand of house, and you do get emotionally invested in the rock band’s plight.

3.75/5. You can easily stream this on YouTube. I think the original pressings are increasingly rare, though. Interesting concept, excellent effort, but it really needs some companions to see what this idea’s capable of, as a storytelling medium.

aliens-guy

Of note, according to the flick, every major musician of the past few hundred year–from Mozart to Beethoven to Jimi Hendrix to Patti LaBelle–was an abducted alien.

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