The film version of the Galaxy Express 999 story changes the order of some events, and the emphasis of others, but basically tells Leiji Matsumoto's classic tale of growth and loss in a more condensed and concise way.
This was for many English speakers the only version of Leiji Matsumoto's Galaxy Express 999 they saw. There have been many releases over the years, both redubs or resubtitling of the original, as well as the story being retold and continued in film.
The differences between it and the original manga and TV series are substantial, due in part to the time in which serial media has to develop a story, although there are other notable differences, such as Tetsuro's encounter with the Baron, and how Maetel finds him in the first place.
There are a lot of strong themes in this film, including that of eternal life, revenge, slavery, death, beauty, love, betrayal, murder, and sacrifice. While not the most well-known of Leiji's work, it is perhaps the most fearlessly philosophical and direct.
Though it doesn't give away the ending, what follows are MAJOR SPOILERS, and it's suggested that only people who are unwilling to track the film down, or only mildly curious but otherwise unmoved to seek this masterpiece out, should read this. Otherwise, stay away.
(for a general outline of themes, see the franchise page)
In the city of Megalopolis, Tetsuro and other street urchins seek to steal a pass to the Galaxy Express 999, an interstellar spacecraft that promises escape from poverty and a chance to get to a planet in the galaxy of Andromeda where eternal life, through the replacement of one's flesh for machinery, is rumored to be offered for free.
He and his friends manage to steal a pass from a couple, only to be pursued by security. Tetsuro managed to evade police for a time, although he is nearly caught when he is saved by an onlooker. She is Maetel (Maeter), who helps him escape to an apartment in the middle of Megalopolis, though he loses the pass he stole as a result of his flight.
Exhausted, Tetsuro sleeps. Maetel places a glowing light on Tetsuro's forehead, which shows his dreams. In his dream he relives the nightmare that made him an orphan. A younger Tetsuro and his mother are venturing through a blizzard on their way to Megalopolis, where the promise of the Galaxy Express and eternal life await, a goal his father had worked for but died not having accomplished this. Before they can arrive, though, they are overtaken by human hunters, lead by Baron Mecha. They hunt humans who have not traded their flesh for machines, and Tetsuro's mother is their latest victim.
Tetsuro escapes with his life, vowing revenge against his mother's murderers.
When Tetsuro awakes from his dream, he hears Maetel talking to someone, her voice coming from the shower. The voice speaks of accompanying "the boy," and Tetsuro wonders if they are talking about her. When he opens the door, though, he only sees Maetel.
Soon, the police catch up to Maetel and Tetsuro in the apartment, and Maetel forces Tetsuro to make a choice: accompany her on the Galaxy Express 999, or face the consequences of his earlier theft. He accepts her offer.
They evade the authorities and soon find themselves aboard the spacecraft Galaxy Express 999, which looks like a locomotive, as Maetel says, because it is likely that the people who leave earth on this train will never return, and they want something to remember the planet they've left behind.
They take flight aboard the train, Tetsuro unable to wish Earth goodbye because it is a source of bad memories. His mind is focused on the wonder of the trip, his avenging his mother, and his achieving his parents' dream of eternal life.
On board he meets the Conductor, who tells Tetsuro about the rules of the Galaxy Express, that it stays at a given station 1 day local time, and leaves on schedule, meaning that if he stays disembarked too long he will be left behind.
The first stop is Titan, where Tetsuro and Maetel spend a brief time outside the ship before they are assaulted, and Maetel is kidnapped. Tetsuro ventures through the terraformed surface to find her, meeting a woman whose son left long ago for adventure, whom she misses. This is later revealed to be the mother of Techiro Oyama, a character from Leiji Matsumoto's Captain Harlock franchise. She gives him Techiro's pistol, hat, and cloak.
Tetsuro eventually intercepts the bandits who kidnapped Maetel, though his lack of skill in combat puts him at their mercy. When they learn both he and Maetel are not machines, they slowly befriend him and Maetel, and Tetsuro learns through their leader, Antares, where Baron Mecha, Tetsuro's mother's murderer, may be hiding.
Next stop is Pluto, where the dead and those who have given up their bodies for machines are interred under layers of ice. There a keeper of this mausoleum of storts, a machine-human named Shadow. Her motives become known shortly after she shows Tetsuro where her own body is kept, and Tetsuro begins to learn about the emptiness that comes with giving one's body up for immortality.
Escaping Pluto, Tetsuro has a chance to use Maetel's dream-viewing device on her while she's sleeping, but refuses, deciding that her dreams are her own. Maetel awakens and recognizes what he's done, seemingly pleased.
Tetsuro and Maetel become acquainted with a waitress aboard the Galaxy Express by the name of Claire. Her body is made of translucent crystal, and she tells Tetsuro that it was her mother, in her vanity, who made Claire surrender her flesh for machine. She tells him she is working to try to earn her body back, and she is deeply touched by Tetsuro and Maetel's interest in her story.
The Galaxy Express is then attacked by a space pirate craft, which turns out to be the space pirate Emeraldas. She boards the ship, and finds that Tetsuro is in possession of her lover Techiro's equipment as well as recognizing Maetel from some prior encounter that is not explained. Emeraldas lets down her guard, talking to Tetsuro and Maetel. Tetsuro finds out from her where Baron Mecha's lair will appear next.
The Galaxy Express' next stop is Trader's Fork, which is where the Baron's "Time Castle" is headed.
At the interstellar crossroads of Trader's Fork, Tetsuro ventures alone into the planet Heavy Melder's underworld, where he is bullied by those loyal to Mecha. Soon figures out where the Baron's castle is located on the planet. During his journey to the Baron's castle, he meets a dying Tochiro Oyama. Tochiro has a dying wish, which Tetsuro grants.
Before Tetsuro can continue, he's intercepted by the Baron's loyalists again, and is back to square one. In the same bar he first entered to find out the Baron's planetary location, he gets help from none other than Captain Harlock himself. Harlock and Emeraldas meet up to palaver, and Emeraldas learns that her long lost love has died. She leaves without a word.
Tetsuro is finally ready for the assault on the Baron's castle. There he will finally learn for once and for all the price one pays for immortality, so while he fulfills some promises there, other promises are abruptly changed to fit his new realizations.
Following the Galaxy Express 999 to the end of the line, he learns about Maetel's own nature, as well as the nature of the planet at the end of the line. Many tragic, but life affirming, events unfold.
Leiji Matsumoto is quoted as saying Galaxy Express 999 is in a sense a story derived from his first trip to the big city to seek his fortune. Its themes of innocence, personal growth, loss, and redemption have a personal, mature quality, making Galaxy Express, though not his most well known work, probably his most personal.
Fandom, especially in Japan, continues to this day for the series, and the manga version is still churning out the adventures of Tetsuro and Maetel, though many changes have been made in the original story's scope and philosophy. Some suggest that the nuance of what it is to be a machine yet still possess the mind of a human is lost, according to some critics of the series.
The film stands as a flawed but moving portrayal of Tetsuro's odyssey, but without the time or monetary commitment that might be involved in tracking down the OAV, TV series, or manga, as there are quite a few episodes of these. It is unknown if the original film, subtitled or dubbed, will be released again for English-speaking audiences.
|Maetel ( x ) ( x ) ( x )||
|Tochiro Oyama ( x ) ( x ) ( x )||
|Captain Harlock ( x ) ( x ) ( x )||
|Emeraldas ( x ) ( x ) ( x )||
|Queen Promethium ( x ) ( x ) ( x )||
|Antares ( x ) ( x ) ( x )||
|Claire ( x ) ( x ) ( x )||
|Tetsuro Hoshino ( x ) ( x ) ( x )||
|Conductor ( x ) ( x ) ( x )||
|Count Mecha ( x ) ( x ) ( x )||
|Ryuzu ( x ) ( x ) ( x )||
|Shadow ( x ) ( x ) ( x )||
|Name:||Galaxy Express 999|
|Romaji:||Ginga Tetsudō Surī Nain|
|Release Date:||Aug. 8, 1979|
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