By Tom Speelman
The music world was stunned on February 22 when iconic French electronica duo Daft Punk announced they were breaking up—after 28 years and a career that saw them redefine popular music as we know it.
Per Pitchfork, the duo’s publicist confirmed the breakup but didn’t give a reason behind the duo’s split.
Although they’d been relatively quiet since 2013, save for a couple of hits with The Weeknd, the masked robot duo of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo still left a tangible legacy.
From stellar music that combined and remixed disco, rock, pop and dance music into something altogether unique, to always-astonishing robot costumes, to the many acts they inspired after them like The Glitch Mob and Justice, Daft Punk’s legacy is assured. Oh, and there’s also the time they teamed up with one of anime’s founding fathers to make a movie.
Yes, really. In 2003, the robots teamed up with anime icon Leiji Matsumoto and Toei Animation to make Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, a wordless sci-fi epic that uses Daft Punk’s iconic 2003 breakthrough album Discovery as its soundtrack to tell a sweeping story involving musicianship, intrigue and true love.
And the best part? You can literally watch the entire film legally for free via this handy YouTube playlist assembled by Daft Punk themselves!
Whether you’ve seen this film before or haven’t in ages since its airing on Toonami way back when, feel free to watch it above or groove along to it while we dive into just what makes this movie so special!
So, what’s it about?
Interstella 5555 tells the story of a band of aliens: bassist Stella, keyboardist and singer Octave, guitarist Arpegius and drummer Beryl.
During a concert on their home planet, the band is kidnapped and brought to Earth, where their appearances are altered and memories erased. There, the group is rebranded as The Crescendolls (also the title of a track on Discovery) by the evil record producer, Earl de Darkwood.
Meanwhile, a space pilot named Shep—in love with Stella—hears about the kidnapping, heads to Earth and tries to free the band from their programming. What follows ultimately reveals a conspiracy that threatens the universe itself.
So yeah, pretty typical stuff. And at 65 minutes, it’s a breezy watch. Even so, you still might be asking…
Why would Daft Punk make an anime film?
While music and anime are a natural fit—not for nothing, it can make a musician’s career to have their song chosen for an anime OP or ED—you might be wondering: “Why would a techno duo make an anime movie?”
Well, the answer is pretty simple: they grew up loving it.
Going back to the late ’70s, several French TV networks either invested in anime outright like Ulysses 31 or UFO Robot Grendizer, or licensed many of the long-lasting waves of kids’ anime based on classic European literature like Sherlock Hound or Nobody’s Boy: Remi, to create huge hits.
Shounen and shoujo anime also made a big impact, with series like Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon and more becoming huge thanks to programming blocks like Club Dorothée, where the journey of Goku was so popular that creator Akira Toriyama was even a guest on the show!
For Daft Punk, their chief anime inspiration came from the work of anime pioneer Leiji Matsumoto. In a 2003 interview with Cartoon Network, the band said:
“Yes, we watched a lot of Japanese animation when we were kids…[T]hat is one of the biggest memories for us and many French people our age. We really wanted to do something with that because it was really pleasing to us, like a childhood dream come true. We knew that it could be the same for other people and hoped they could relate to the Japanese animation we had in Europe…. The music we have been making must have been influenced at some point by the shows we were watching when we were little kids.”
Clearly, collaborating with Matsumoto (who served as visual supervisor), Toei Animation and the film’s director Kazuhisa Takenouchi (Inuyasha, Yuri!!! on ICE!, Sailor Moon) was a dream come true.
But for those of you who aren’t French or over 30, you might have another question…
Who is the legendary Leiji Matsumoto?
Leiji Matsumoto is, without exaggeration, one of the most important creators in manga and anime history. He’s worked on plenty of series, but his three most famous are also his most beloved: Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato.
Based on Matsumoto’s manga that ran from 1977–1979, Captain Harlock ran for 42 episodes and was directed by Rintaro (Astro Boy, Metropolis, X/1999) and was scored by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra itself.
The series followed the crew of the starship Arcadia, led by the rebellious, noble and taciturn Captain Harlock, who never feared death and fought against all totalitarianism. While its wider franchise history is, let’s say, complicated, Captain Harlock is striking enough that it’s been homaged in everything from Steven Universe to Warhammer 40,000.
Space Battleship Yamato, which aired from 1974–1980 over three seasons, was a co-production between Matsumoto and producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki.
A postapocalyptic epic inspired by disaster films like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure, the series followed the titular spaceship’s crew, as they set forth on an one-year mission to retrieve the Cosmo Cleaner-D from the planet Iscandar to repair the radiation-damaged Earth and repel the fearsome Gamilas, who’ve driven Earth’s population underground and bombarded them with so much radiation, mankind has one year left to live.
A sweeping space opera that’s since been reimagined multiple times, Yamato changed anime in both Japan—paving the way for Mobile Suit Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion and others—and America. Dubbed and syndicated as Star Blazers, the series wasn’t as heavily edited as counterparts like Battle of the Planets/Gatchaman and kept its overarching plot, which helped pave the way for the faithful anime dubs we have today.
Finally, there’s Galaxy Express 999. Based on another Matsumoto manga, the series follows Tetsuro, an orphaned 10-year-old boy who winds up traveling with the mysterious Maetel aboard the Galaxy Express 999, an interstellar train that journeys to the Andromeda galaxy, where immortal mechanical bodies are supposedly given away for free. Tetsuro desires one, both to live forever and in total freedom; along the way, he and Maetel wind up encountering scores of other planets and their problems.
Running for 113 episodes, 999 featured appearances by Harlock and other Matsumoto characters (similar to how Osamu Tezuka’s characters all lived in the same metafictional universe) and was not only made into movies, but also set up 2003’s The Galaxy Railways anime.
In these series and other stories, Matsumoto expresses a longing for humanity to come together, a poignancy over how ill we treat each other, and a hope that the future will be brighter.
And that’s a message Daft Punk has always carried through in their music, from the space-faring optimism of Discovery to the mystic world of computers in their Tron: Legacy score. Even the passion and power of hope through music drives Random Access Memories.
So it only makes sense that these two forces would have collided. And while just a small part of their legendary run as artists, Interstella 5555 is an important piece of that legacy.