Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Night on the Galatic Railroad (1985)

Kenji Miyazawa’s tale of two friends traveling on the title train is a classic of its type. It is an allegory for children (and adults) about what happens after we die.

The story is set in an unnamed place, though indications are that it is Italy or another European country, concerns two boys who go out to a festival and then find themselves on a train traveling across the heavens. How either boy got there isn’t clear until the end of the story which has one boy returning to his village while the other travels into the next life.

I really like this film. There is something wonderfully up lifting about it. Every time I’ve seen it I’ve felt just a little bit better. It is a deeply spiritual film infused by both Buddhist and Christian iconography. It’s not a film of gloom and doom but of quiet hope. There is more to life than we know. There is no need to fear.

At the same time the film is not overt, if you aren’t really aware of many of the deeper meanings it’s simply a supernatural story. I know most of the ideas will go over many kids’ heads since they are just not up to processing what Miyazawa was getting at. (I’m still not sure what some of it means).

The animation is quite lovely. The characters are all animals, which is keeping with Miyazawa’s use of animals in his stories.(Even the animated biography of Miyazawa Spring and Chaos used animals). There is a simplicity in the images that hides a complexity in the story.

As an adaption of a prose story this film is right on target. The film seems to get everything that was in the novel right. It also seems to smooth out a few bumps I found in the English translation of tale that seem to be either the result of the translation or perhaps something bumpy in the original story.

A couple of words of warning. Those expecting a slam bang action film will be disappointed. This is simple a drama that has been animated because its the best way to tell the tale. This is a film that could just as well be told live action. I should recommend that this film really not be given to small kids. there is nothing wrong with the subject matter, nor is there anything wrong with the film, its just its more a film of ideas rather than of kiddie action and they may very well get bored.

Forgive me this is one of those films that is hard to fully explain, rather its better to see it.

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