The Five Star Stories [ファイブスター物語] (1989)
Starring Ryo Horikawa, Maria Kawamura, Hideyuki Tanaka, Norio Wakamoto, Ichiro Nagai, Kazuhiko Inoue, Rei Sakuma, Run Sasaki
Directed by Kazuo Yamazaki
The Five Star Stories starts off with a brief description of the Joker Galaxy, which contains only four stars, making it the smallest galaxy I’ve ever heard of. So why does the title talk about five stars? No idea. The four stars we do get to hear about have the rather unusual names of Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western. I suppose the film takes place in one of these solar systems, but I can’t remember if it bothered to say which one. Maybe it even takes place on that mysterious fifth star. This confusing description of the galaxy actually mirrors the film which is also bizarre, mismatched, and very incomplete.
Clearly a highly condensed adaptation of a longer work, Five Star Stories suffers the usual problems of these types of films, but magnifies the problem by also being very short. Even a full two hours or more can leave adaptations such as Fist of the North Star or Dagger of Kamui feeling like half the story was left out. Five Star Stories is only one hour long, and it is nowhere near enough time to do the original story justice. What’s left is a confusing hodgepodge of poorly explained events told with an air of epic mythology.
The film is supposed to be a mecha action story about cyborg girls designed to essentially be the computers for the giant robots, called Mortar Headds, and the guys who pilot them, called Headdliners. They’re also apparently super-powered enough to outrun most land vehicles on foot, but not powerful enough to stop a gang of random thugs from knocking them unconscious. The two girls the film centers on are Clotho and Lachesis, who have been given actual human emotions rather than just turned into mindless puppets. They are named after two of the three Greek goddesses of fate, with the eldest sister, Atropos, appearing for about 20 seconds and contributing nothing. The girls are, for some vague reason involving intergalactic law, trapped by some asshole with too much money who wants to keep them for himself, apparently just because they’re hot.
There’s going to be a ceremony to show the girls off, and everyone who’s anyone is attending. Most notably Ameterasu, some big shot from somewhere important who has four badass bodyguards in big concealing robes, so you know they’re going to kick a ton of ass. Ameterasu really confused me as the film refers to him as male, despite the fact that not only is Ameterasu the sun goddess in Shinto mythology, but he looks and sound exactly like a woman in the anime leaving me to wonder if it was just a translation error. Then there’s the main character, Ladios Sopp, who is the girliest man to ever be born.
The plot revolves around Ladios trying to rescue the girls from enslavement and then branches out into a poorly explained political takeover, as well as Ladius’s mysterious past, which involves the three sisters and some unresolved emotional conflict. Ladios also teams up with another guy with a mysterious past. All this mysterious past crap really only serves to make the film more confusing than it already is. Even a straightforward explanation of things would still have been a difficult task under the time constraints of the film, but trying to juggle all the different relationships while playing guessing games just makes the whole thing nearly incomprehensible.
Now what about all this mecha action? Well, there’s not much of it. There are a few action scenes, but most of them have nothing to do with giant robots at all. There is only one brief robot fight, and it ends with a simple giant gun that blows up everything. I suppose it’s suitably dramatic, but it really doesn’t make the film worth it. The other action scenes are pretty average as well. They aren’t bad, but they just don’t capture the thrill and excitement you want from a good fight scene.
The film carries a sense of prophesy and epic deeds that attempt to give it gravitas, but only served to alienate me further from the story and the characters. Its mythic tone might have worked had it been in a long enough format to carry the weight of its ideas. Sadly, it felt more like a teaser trailer for a much longer film rather than the actual thing.