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The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem

in what will hopefully be regular feature on Stylus (as long as that dude who filmed Reginald Denny getting beaten from a helicopter doesn’t get his way), we present our stash of YouTube clips worth watching. Or not worth watching. Or worth watching because they’re not worth watching. You get the point. On with the show…

As summer 2006 winds down, this installment of You/I/We takes a look at Daft Punk, the darlings of the summer festival circuit with robo-DJ lightshow performances mixing together their entire catalogue and conducted from the top of a giant pyramid (which is an entire YouTube article itself). Today, we focus on 2003’s Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, a visualization of the group’s 2001 smash Discovery. Directed by Leiji Matsumoto (Battle Spaceship Yamato, Galaxy Express 999), the anime space opera follows, sans dialogue, a musical group from another planet and their perilous quest to return home. Through the magic of YouTube, surfers can watch it in its entirety online…

Daft Punk – One More Time

Interstella opens on a concert for a blue-skinned music group: a blonde guitarist, a striking, long-haired female bassist, an afro-sporting keyboardist/singer, and the small, happy-go-lucky fuzzball of a drummer (all classic Matsumoto character designs). All over this world, all the blue-skinned inhabitants are rocking out to the band, united (presumably) by Romanthony’s silky vocals and the relentlessly sampled horns. Matsumoto’s eye for intergalactic detail serves him well here in the form of the bright and colorful cities, a civilization seemingly built upon the bedrock of disco-pop. But there’s trouble on the horizon: distracted by the band’s performance, the atmospheric security guards fail to notice a raiding party in gas masks entering the atmosphere.

Daft Punk – Aerodynamic

The concert is interrupted by a number of shady figures in gas masks. They gas the crowd and the band to capture them, and the svelte guitarist bolts. But even he can’t escape, as the raiding party takes him down with a stun arrow. With the group and their gear loaded into their own capsules, the raiding party makes their exit, and the stunned crowd wakes to find their idols missing.

As one of the tensest tracks on Discovery, “Aerodynamic” serves as a good backdrop to the kidnap scene. The Baroque, heavy-metal guitar solo ups the excitement level just as the young guitarist attempts to escape, but is eventually thwarted by the high technology of the mysterious masked raiding party. Daft Punk’s use of masks is usually light and humorous, from the dog mask in “Da Funk” to the funky robots themselves, but here we see masked men that are dark and villainous.

Daft Punk – Digital Love

Here, we pick up on our hero Shep. Carefree and in control of his own guitar-shaped starship, Shep sings along to the lyrics of “Digital Love” and is swept into a daydream with the blonde bassist. Just as he’s about to get a kiss, though, his daydream is interrupted by a distress signal from the same atmospheric security guys, who report that the band has been kidnapped. Our hero jumps to action, tailing the raiding party through a wormhole, but his ship is damaged in transit, and Shep crash-lands onto a mysterious blue-green planet.

It’s at first a little weird to see such a joyous song like “Digital Love” bifurcated into the carefree first section and the tense and ultimately unhappy second section, but it makes sense given the subdued direction the track takes at the end. Discovery comes from all over the place in terms of mood, from the subdued “Nightvision” to the bright and heavy “Superheroes,” and it certainly provides a challenge to cast as a continuous soundtrack. “Digital Love” is the first indication that Matsumoto is actually able to pull off believable plot pacing with those constraints.

Daft Punk – Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

The capsules containing the captured band members go through a complex series of machines. First, the bandmembers’ alien clothing is removed, then their memories are erased and replaced with false ones. Then they are styled like humans and given appropriately-styled sunglasses… sunglasses that are screwed into their heads. What?? Finally after the group’s human guises are digitally inserted into their existing “One More Time” video, the brainwashed group is presented to the sinister figure, the Earl de Darkwood.

Matsumoto seems to be at his best when he’s able to draw out the visual rhythms of machinery and technology, so “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” plays directly to his strengths. The song’s content and rhythm lends itself to the repetition of machinery, and though I always envisioned a video for this song to have less foreboding content, the song/animation pair work together flawlessly. It’s also worth mentioning that the complex machinery suggests that this has all happened before.

Daft Punk – Crescendolls

The menacing Earl de Darkwood takes his charges to the executive at R Company Records, who has been sent the doctored video. The good-natured exec sees the obvious potential of the Crescendolls, as the Earl has dubbed them, and after recording the “One More Time Single,” the band hits it big. Here we learn the names of the group (Stella is fittingly the bassist, Arpegius is the guitarist, Baryl the drummer, Octave the keyboardist) and watch their ascent to fame, fortune, and a Number One as Earl de Darkwood watches on.

In an obvious jab at the recording industry, Matsumoto shows the brainwashed Crescendolls dispassionately taking the world by storm just as they joyously did on their home planet. “Crescendolls” fits the group’s mad dash for the top of the charts, as it’s a manic and perpetually upward-looking piece.

I don’t want to spoil the all the drama and surprises in Interstella 5555, so I’m not going to cover the entire film here, but I will say there are laughs, tears, and a bona-fide Daft Punk cameo. Discovery reaches its dramatic climax at about a third of the way through the album, and while the final dramatic third of the film is a little difficult to portray given that the music is on a comedown, it still works and ends up illuminating parts of the smash record that may often be skipped over.

The whole thing exists in parts on YouTube and I’ve included those videos here. Happy watching and sweet dreams!

Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem
One More Time
Digital Love
Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
High Life
Something About Us
Veridis Quo
Short Circuit
Face to Face
Too Long

By: Mike Orme
Published on: 2006-09-14
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