Galaxy Express 999 (1979)
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Besides a cohesive storyline--involving scrappy young Tetsuro Hoshino taking a trip on the eponymous spacegoing locomotive along with enigmatic lady-in black Maetel, and kicking some major mechanical butt along the way for his dead mother--the movie has all the trademarks of Matsumoto at his best: wonderfully slinky old-school character designs, fanciful details and settings, a stylized, distinctly "vintage-futuristic" flavor (rather than the grungy postmodern cyberpunk variety made popular by "Blade Runner" and, in anime, "Bubblegum Crisis"); Matsumoto's obsession with vintage terrestrial vehicles streaking through space (the 999 is an old-fashioned steam locomotive-turned-spaceship, the Yamato is a resurrected WWII Japanese battleship-turned spaceship...one wonders if Leiji ever considered a "Galactic Land-Yacht Edsel"); even Leijiverse regulars Captain Harlock, one of the coolest anime characters ever, and Queen Emeralda figure into the story. A scene where the good Captain forces a belligerent android to down a bottle of rust-inducing milk is a classic--I can hear Japanese movie audiences cheering.
Above everything else, "Galaxy Express 999" offers a kind of poetry in the imagery and the story, and an enormous reserve of humanity and unadulterated drama, that touches on very deeply embedded emotional buttons. Like the Yamato movies, I find myself feeling close to tears in several places. This is no empty thrill-ride anime where the mecha are the stars, but a bona-fide sci-fi drama featuring effectively "real people" with real concerns and intense feelings that radiate directly out to you--what the best anime are all about. See this one, definitely. The style (including that endearing '70s-rock end theme) may strike some younger otaku as quaint or even hard to deal with, but those who stay on the Galaxy Express 999 to the end of the line will be glad they did, experiencing a true anime classic, from a master of the genre, that has survived the test of time.
The story is a wonderful and surrealistic coming-of-age type allegory. Despite elements common to science fiction (man vs. machine, hero setting out to avenge his parent's death), it stays free of cliche and retains an air of realism, or true surrealism. Almost all of the characters are more memorable and unique than most main characters in other anime films.
One of the unique things about this film is the way it conveys emotion so powerfully. I can't really define what gives it this quality, but it is extremely moving, like a good symphony or vast impressionistic landscape. The only other films I can think of (at the moment anyways) that have this quality would be the Godfather films.
In conclusion, anyone who appreciates what science fiction is about should see this film. It's a rare treat.
And it's all up to young Tetsuro Hoshino to stop it. And he has to grow up, too. It has beauty, soul and a mind of its own, and that's more than most of us could say about the crap that's shoved down our throats these days. The End.
Based on the long running Manga series/TV series, Leiji Matsumoto always knew how to create Space Operas, the unique thing about them other than the vast fascinating universes he's created he always had human emotion attached to them.
The music is just superb, my favorite song no doubt is the ending theme song which is just wonderful. The animation I think is solid, though it may look a little dated but you have to consider this was in the 1970s so you get use to it. But I feel it successful captures a epic pulp sci-fi romanticism that's reminiscent of "Flash Gordon" comics and TV shows like "Space 1999" and "Doctor Who" as we see the endless depth and wonders it has from the different worlds and their features and customs as well as a mix in genre; heroic space pirates and those wonderful ships they roam the galaxy in, a world that looks like something out of a western, locomotives that fly, and others you have to see to believe. It's true there a lot of logic is thrown out the window but the charm of all pulp sci-fi it's not concerned about logic just on creative freedom and that's not a bad thing and something I don't see often anymore.
And the film is pretty dark, the fact that humans can buy themselves immortality but the price is their own bodies in exchange for mechanical ones. The mechanical bodied characters look disturbingly creepy almost reminds me those creepy silver faced robot cops from George Lucas's "THX-1138". The creepiest and saddest moment for me and to be Tesuros' journey to Pluto where he sees an ice cemetery filled mostly with human beings that traded their bodies all preserved in ice. Thsi part reminded me of one of Dante's Circles of Hell as well as demonstrates the fundamental problem with immortality.
I like the characters, it has two great supporting characters that both had anime franchises of their own. Captain Harlock sort of a John Wayne/Clint Eastwood like character and Queen Emeraldas whom was one of the first femme fatales in the anime world. However two unforgettable characters are Tesuro and Matel. Both of them you feel a deep sense of pathos for, you love them but you also feel sad for what troubles them. Tesuro isn't a stereotypical all smiles kid but actually feels like any other kid his age, however he has a troubled past from the fact his mother was killed out of sick amusement by the machine antagonist Count Mecha which is a scene that's heart wrenching and put tears in my eyes, this is the subplot of the film. But Tesuro also has desires to make his dreams of journeying out among the stars come true but to do this he feels immortality is the only way. Matel is a living enigma throughout the whole film she's almost has that dream like quality of a girl we had in our dreams that feels so close but so far. She is a warm yet detached presence, sweet but you see in her eyes and from what she says and doesn't that there is a deep sadness residing in her like she knows more than Tesuo and we can imagine.
I really like the chemistry between both of them, I don't really feel a mother and son dynamic from them but is sort of a Freudian coming of age love story for both of them. There are Freaudian overtones the fact Matel looks a little like his mom it pertains to the psychology that our significant others we love would remind us or even physically resemble a family member. Some pieces of conversation we see at time Tesuo desires to kiss her and even throughout the journey Tesuo become more mature and doesn't even feel like a kid anymore but a man, even Matal cares for him more than just a friend (trust me it's not so strange once you find out her secret which makes it okay).
This story has sort of a Philip K Dick like philosophical meditation on life and death and the importance of being human. We see why there is a reason why people have a limited amount of time in their lives, no one can ever truly live as an immortal because then life loses all meaning as well as make the human soul lose value; it's always what we do with our limited amount of time that truly makes us live forever.
Galaxy Express isn't just an anime it's an experience. A journey from Childhood's End, destiny and beyond.
Rating: 4 stars
What little I know of the history of GALAXY EXPRESS 999, it was first published as a popular manga in 1970's and was created by Leiji Matsumoto. GE999 is set in the same Star Wars-type of space universe as Matsumoto's other famous space manga: CAPTAIN HARLOCK. In fact space pirate Harlock and other characters from that manga (including Queen Emeraldas and Tochirô Oyama) make appearances in GE999. GE999 was a success as a manga and was soon followed by also popular anime series which included over 100 episodes. It was aired in 1978. A year later came this anime film, which isn't a sequel to the series, but summaries the main points of the story in two hours long movie.
The story is set in unidentified Star Wars-type of future where journeying to different planets has become a possibility. People of the future can have themselves mechanical bodies in which they can live hundreds of years, maybe even forever. The protagonist, Tetsurô Hoshino, is a young boy who witnesses how a cruel Count Mecha, whose entire body is made of mechanical parts, kills Tetsurô's mother. Tetsurô swears revenge and is convinced that he can only achieve it by having a mechanical body. To obtain it he must travel to a far-away planet with space train Galaxy Express 999. However, since Tetsurô comes from poverty, he has no money to obtain the expensive ticket. By a chance coincidence he meets a beautiful young woman, Maetel, who bears a resemblance to his dead mother. Maetel offers a ticket for Tetsurô on a condition that she accompanies him on his journey. And so the journey begins
I first saw this film last October, about six months from now, and again yesterday. I feel that I must first tell about the thing that bothered me the most in this film: it seems very rushed. Then again what can you expect from 2 hours long movie that tries to tell the main points of over 100 episodes long series? Whatever the case, the situations change with a fast speed and Tetsurô meets other important characters in the story mostly by pure chance. I feel makers should have either left something out or include extra 30 minutes.
However, there's no arguing that GE999 has deserved its place as an anime classic. The animation itself, very faithful to the style of Matsumoto's manga, is detailed and beautiful to watch. Even after almost 30 years of its release the animation has not become "out of date" but puts many later anime films in shame. The music through out the film is enjoyable to listen even if somewhat "old" these day (it was the 70's after all). I have not heard any English dub of this film so I can only comment the Japanese audio which is good. Voice actors give life to their characters, most memorable ones being Masako Nozawa (mainly known as the voice of Goku through out the entire Dragon Ball saga) as the excited and young Tetsurô, and Masako Ikeda as the calm and mysterious Maetel. The supporting characters are not left in shadows, but also have a life of their own, most memorable to me being waitress Claire.
The story itself is suitable for both those who are looking for an entertainment for couple of hours, as well as for those who try to find deeper messages. GE999 is an entertaining adventure film but can also be seen as Tetsurô's journey from boyhood to manhood. The whole film is told from his point of view, so we are forced to feel what he feels. I think many people can relate to Tetsurô, for despite the fantasy elements, he is a very realistic character: young, hot headed, awkward and naive. We follow him as he starts to see differences between humans and machines and come to conclusion whether he wants the mechanical body or not. Maetel on the other hand stays as a mystery in the film and even in the end, when she reveals who and what she really is, it doesn't much answer to anything. Maetel can be seen as a dream of a growing young man, always close but just out of reach.
It's is the strange yet beautiful relationship between Tetsurô and Maetel that still awakes talking and questions, and fascinates after the decades. People have argued if their relationship is that of a two friends, of mother and son, or of two possible lovers (which wakes a lot of critique since Maetel's age is unknown and Tetsurô hasn't even reached his puberty yet). Without any means to sound deep, I think the best term to describe them is "soul mates". There is no question that the two feel devotion, caring and love for each others, yet it goes beyond that of friendship, family and lovers. I think that if their relationship would be stuffed in any of those categories, it would take something out of the whole film and of the characters. The ending scene, even if you already know what is going to happen, is still very touching and memorable.
All in all, despite the rushing of plot and some corny scenes, GALAXY EXPRESS 999 holds its place as an anime classic amongst the films like Katsuhiro Otomo's AKIRA (1988) and Mamoru Oshii's GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995). The film is directed by Rintaro, who had previous experience of Leiji Matsumoto's works as he had worked in CAPTAIN HARLOCK series. Later Rinatro directed a wonderful looking METROPOLIS (2001) that also questions the difference between humans and machines.
GALAXY EXPRESS 999 (1979) is a classic that should be seen at least once by every anime fan.
The story is as delicate and poetic as Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. The cell animation, while somewhat traditional, possesses a vivid style that explosively portrays Leiji Matsumoto's great talent for character design and visual storytelling.
This is one of those unique children's films like Star Wars, The Dark Crystal and The Wizard of Oz that completely transcends 'family entertainment' status and stands as a classic of cinema on its own terms.
I highly recommend this film.
one of the best things about this movie is its use of iconographic imagery, the trains, the pirate ships. in the future where bodies can be replaced by machines without trouble, why not have trains and pirate ships. their allagoric status is made more powerful by their total out-of-place-edness within an outer space environment.
what's more, their importance to the characters becomes clear. in a world where the loss of body can lead to the callousness displayed by the "evil" characters, and their eventual loss of inner humanity, icons of what it means to be human become that much more important. each character in this movie is ultimately looking for that which makes them who they are. the landmarks of their collective pasts as the human race are important.
the best anime, in my humble opinion, is that which asks those questions because it is in the peculiar position of being able to explore it in fantastic ways. GE999 works well along those lines.
*drops $.02 in jar*
The story was simple and taught basic and simple lessons. It wasn't complex, but it was great for what it was made for.
The art and sound were inspiring and great. It used a simple theory of composites. It had very intense and graphically stunning scenes playing to a soft melody, and it worked amazingly. With only sweet and quiet sounds of explosions in the background of the music.
The characters were simple but did not go to waste. They were not just people to advance the stories, but rather emotions to increase the storytelling. The characters all had very unique and symbolic designs based on what they did.
I enjoyed this movie, so much. It has been a while since a show has stunned me, as much as this one did. Overall, this was perfect, I couldn't point out a flaw unless I looked hard.
Also, there are something I find disturbing in the concept exposed in the movie of people having disposable bodies. The character designs also look a bit strange for me, who is not used to 1970's anime.
Despite these flaws, however, the movie remains powerful enough to earn a 8/10, a rate score for me to give.
The film is very long at over two hours and after half of it is gone, it seems as if the story is going to end soon, but it doesn't, it unfolds into different layers. However it remains fundamentally simplistic, abstracted in a way that it seems at the same time both naive and deep.
Common themes can be found in the plot, like the child avenging his mother, innocent love, machines that dehumanize, humans that do everything for their souls and so on, but each substory shows a different aspect of humanity so that in their simplicity, they all gather together to form a deeper meaning.
Bottom line: I don't regret seeing it. It is certainly a beauty for its time and it has an interesting story. I even recommend watching it.