Bremen 4 – Jigoku no Naka no Tenshi-tachi. Bremen Four: Angels in Hell. August 23, 1981. 90 minutes, in the usual 10:00 p.m. to midnight time slot. The credits say: Directed by Osamu Tezuka, Hiroshi Sasakawa; Written by Osamu Tezuka, Katsuhiro Akiyama. Presumably this means that Tezuka created the idea and basic outline, and turned it over to his staff to develop. Music by Yasuo Higuchi; memorable for its spritely opening-credits’ march which becomes the movie’s musical theme. This was the Tezuka Pro Specials’ first musical departure from Yuji Ono.
This adaptation of one of the basic Grimm Brothers’ German folk tales, The Musicians of Bremen, as a futuristic s-f story fit the “Love Will Save the Earth” theme in a manner reminiscent of Mammy Yokum’s famous aphorism from Al Capp’s Li’l Abner newspaper comic strip: “Good is better than Evil ‘cause it’s nicer.” The idea of hippies ending warfare all over the world by sticking flowers into the barrels of the army’s guns was actually tried at the beginning of the 1990s Yugoslav breakup against the Serbian soldiers. It didn’t work. Tezuka’s depiction of the four animals (dog, cat, donkey, and hen), transformed into four human musical hippies to oppose a brutally buffoonish Nazi-like army, got Bremen 4 reviewed as Tezuka’s answer to Springtime for Hitler. Comparisons with Tezuka’s The Amazing 3, about three aliens transformed into animals to fight warfare on Earth, were also common. Giving everybody/thing a musical name (Rondo, Allegro, Coda, Largo, Lento, Adagio, Presto, Trio, Minuet) was considered a wee bit heavy-handed comedy. Bremen 4 was not without the Tezuka Star System, but it cut it back to only a few roles plus momentary non-speaking glimpses in crowd scenes instead of making every character a Star.
Rondo, a foxlike alien, comes to Earth in her flowery spaceship, landing in the midst of a Germanic-looking forest. She uses a transformation device that looks just like a leaf to transform into a beautiful human woman (with pointed ears and exaggerated cleavage), and goes about the forest saying, “Peace!” to the woodland animals.
A house in a small village at the edge of the forest is the home of a little boy, Trio, and Coda, his pet cat. Trio’s mother sings him a lullaby at night so he will sleep, but he is shaken awake. He and Coda go out to see what it is. There are Nazi-like tanks rolling past the village. The tanks destroy the village. The soldiers wear Storm Trooper-like helmets and are commanded by Colonel Karl Presto (Rock). The soldiers shoot up the forest also, and Rondo falls into a river, apparently killed.
The next day, Trio and Coda wander to a highway where the panicked people are trying to escape. The invading soldiers catch them on a bridge, and Presto orders everyone killed. Trio and Coda are small enough to be under the bullets, and a donkey that was pulling a wagon also escapes. Presto orders Trio thrown off the bridge into the river, and Coda and Largo, the donkey, escape together.
The invaders reach a castle that is the home of Count Lento (Duke Red), the prime minister. Presto (accompanied by two pet black panthers) demands that Lento’s country surrenders. Lento says that they can’t surrender because they aren’t at war, though he recognizes the fait accompli of the occupation. Presto (who loves Wagner’s music; it is his theme) says that if Lento will not sign a formal surrender, he will destroy the capital with a nuclear device. As soon as Lento signs the surrender, Presto has him killed.
Coda, who talks human speech (presumably meows, translated for the audiences’ benefit), talks with Largo, who cannot talk cat talk although he clearly understands her. They come to an abandoned inn, and while they are exploring upstairs, two enemy soldiers with three watchdogs enter the inn. One of the dogs is older and so weak that the soldiers abandon him when they leave. Allegro, the dog, says that he has had it with a military life and will join Coda and Largo. He speaks both cat and donkey, and will translate between them. Coda wants to look for Trio. Since the other animals don’t know him, and Coda knows from Trio’s mother’s lullabies that Trio likes music, they propose to turn themselves into a musical group.
At the castle, where Presto is apparently the military governor of the country, he finds a number of peace posters and decides to hold a peace festival to spy on the people. The dancers, clowns, etc., are disguised soldiers. There are feasts, but a hen, Minuet, escapes and joins the three. She says that all hens must lay at least three eggs a day for the feasts, or be eaten. She can cluck musically, so the animals invite her to join them. While wandering, the four come to a swamp where Rondo is washed up. They rescue her, although they can tell from her smell that she is not really human. Rondo communicates telepathically with all of them. She gives each of them a transformation leaf to wear to turn human, so they can spread her message of Peace to the humans.
In Bremen, they find a toy and puppet shop run by Adagio (Higeoyaji) who hires them to play musical instruments. They become very popular. Meanwhile, Adagio puts on a puppet show about the forest animals overthrowing a wolf invader. Presto’ soldiers arrest him for treason. The Bremen 4 decide to march musically to the capital. They attract a growing crowd of singing and dancing children following them, like the Pied Piper. In the capital, they are momentarily swayed by their popularity, becoming a KISS-like media group for the elite collaborators. But they are not happy and consider disbanding. One winter Coda sees Trio outside their hotel, in the freezing streets. She runs after him, but he flees to Black Jack, who has become the leader of a thieves’ gang of war orphans. He accuses the Bremen 4 of being media-hungry opportunists, not really caring about the oppressed people.
Supreme Commander Presto summons the Bremen 4 to a big soiree for his followers at his castle. He offers to make the Bremen 4 the stars of their own radio station if they will support him, or give them anything else they want. Coda asks him to find Trio for them. Presto orders his soldiers to do so, and they soon bring Trio to his study. Trio recognizes Presto as the Colonel who had everyone on the bridge killed and ordered him tossed into the river to drown. Presto orders him thrown into a dungeon-like prison. When the Bremen 4 protest, Presto orders them thrown into the same cell.
They find Adagio in a neighboring cell. Adagio admits to being the leader of the anti-invader underground, but there is no way for humans to escape the dungeon cells. Minuet gives up her human form to escape as a chicken. She lays lots of eggs, which the prison guards crush and slip on, and knock themselves out. Minuet brings the cell keys so the other three plus Trio and Adagio can escape in the dungeon’s sewers. The soldiers shoot at them as they escape into the countryside. They are held back by Trio and Adagio, so Largo returns to his donkey form so the two humans can ride him to safety.
Coda and “her hen” have been recaptured and returned to Presto. Adagio takes command of the guerrillas, with “Leader” (Tezuka Star Aritake Chikara) as the guerrilas’ second-in-command. Presto has Coda thrown into a dungeon to be eaten by rats, but she acts so much like a hungry cat that the rats are scared of her. She is brought back before Presto, who cannot bring himself to shoot her. There are the first clues that Presto is not human. Presto’s old father (Lamp) visits and congratulates him on his success. The guerrillas propose to follow the dungeon sewer escape route backward to get into Presto’s castle; Allegro will lead them. Presto is torn between military ruthlessness and his growing love for Coda; his father berates him for showing softness. Allegro can’t remember their escape route backward; he returns to doghood to sniff it out. Presto confesses his love for Coda, but she uses it to get close enough to seize his special ring. Presto tries to kill her; she returns to cat-hood to escape him. A small party of guerrillas sneak into the castle, but Allegro as a dog is too clumsy to follow them. Coda and Minuet rejoin Allegro and Largo outside the castle, but Presto sends his black panthers after them. The guerillas inside the castle let in the others, and there is a major battle for the castle. The four animals and Trio escape downriver using a cart as a boat, using Wagner’s music to defeat the panthers. Presto and his father pursue the cart-boat in a futuristic war-spider, but they all meet Black Jack sailing upriver in steamship. Black Jack and Presto battle, and it is revealed that Black Jack is the old Presto’s real son. When he refused to become the merciless military leader that the old Presto wanted, the real Presto disowned him and built a robot “son” to be as ruthless as he wanted. The robot is defeated and falls in the river to rust, while the war-spider blows up, killing the real Presto.
Afterwards, the invaders are easily defeated without their leaders. Adagio becomes Trio’s adoptive grandfather. The Bremen 4 decide to spread Rondo’s message of Peace through Earth’s animals; they are shown talking to Unico and Leo as a cub. The movie ends with all the animals of Earth united for Peace – No War.
A mythological animal placing a leaf on its head to transform into human form is an ancient Japanese legendary tradition. Bremen 4 is mostly set against a Grimm Brothers Germanic background, but it helps to be familiar with Japanese mythology, too.
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