Tetsuro Hoshino, orphaned by the Cyborgs, lives in a slum in the shadow of their megapolis. He steals a pass for Galaxy Express 999, and is saved by a mysterious woman called Maitre, a living image of his mother who had been killed by the Cyborgs. Wearing a special pendant, he sets out for Andromeda where he can obtain eternal life and avenge his parents' death. On his odyssey, he meets a gallery of fantastic characters that help him exterminate the evil Star of Andromeda which had been giving mechanical bodies to rich human beings.
Directed by: Rintaro
. Starring: Masako Nozawa
, Masako Ikeda
, Yôko Asagami
, Miyoko Asô
, Toshiko Fujita
, Banjô Ginga
, Yasuo Hisamatsu
, Makio Inoue
, Tatsuya Jô
, Ryôko Kinomiya
, Kaneta Kimotsuki
, Gorô Naya
, Noriko Ohara
. Music by: Nozomi Aoki
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.
Review by kriitikko from the Internet Movie Database.