Movie Talk: Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985)

I discovered Kenji Miyazawa’s novella Night on the Galactic Railroad just a couple of years ago, following the release of Shunji Iwai’s film A Bride for Rip Van Winkle. In the film, the protagonists’ internet handle is Campanella, after one of the central characters in Miyazawa’s work. This is a curious choice. Nanami, the character who uses the name online, comments that she is simply a fan of Miyazawa, but her handle seems to foreshadow her relationship with another character named Mashiro. Nanami and Mashiro’s relationship does bare some similarity to that of Giovanni and Campanella in Night on the Galactic Railroad, but ultimately Mashiro assumes Campanella’s semblance over Nanami. Looking at these characters in this parallel sort of way reveals another layer to Shunji Iwai’s film. I have always respected Iwai as a writer and I love that he references other art frequently in his work.

Night on the Galactic Railroad is perhaps Miyazawa’s most well known work, but was not actually published until a year after his death. It tells the tale of two young boys named Giovanni and Campanella, who find themselves aboard a train travelling through the cosmos. It’s major themes are death, happiness, and self-sacrifice. I have seen some other commentators describe Miyazawa’s philosophy as being naive, but I don’t believe another person’s sentiment can necessarily be defined in any unambiguous way. I’ve also read the author’s short work The Nighthawk Star and Signal and Signal-less and personally feel they are very profound in many respects, but it is Night on the Galactic Railroad that has stuck with me.

159

Passages from the book are on my mind quite frequently and I have written previously about my favourite quotations. Given my adoration for this novella, I thought it was time I finally watched the 1985 anime adaptation. Now I’ve seen it, it is perhaps one of my most favourite book-to-film adaptations there have ever been. It’s a very respectful rendition, and contains all the poignancy and wonder of the book.

The source material is enriched by the haunting soundtrack, and despite the limited animation, there are some striking visuals. The main sequence with the Bird Catcher is a fine example of this. The plot occurs in segments, and unravels in a very steady and organic pace. It’s often ponderous and unhurried, but the segments are neither too brief nor too extensive, and neither are they unwarranted. Miyazawa’s sentiment and the themes of the original story have been handled and presented very tactfully.

There are many reflective passages in the book, which would have worked well as dialogue, but Giovanni’s monologue has been stripped down, with much emotion and sentiment expressed visually. I especially loved Giovanni’s fixed gaze as Campanella talks to the girl. In the book, Giovanni is very jealous, but here he comes across as solemn and melancholic.

I do think the book is more philosophical in areas (some of Miyazawa’s character’s are quite outspoken and inquisitive when they discuss topics such as happiness and pain) and it does present a greater sense of loss and sorrow in certain segments, but I appreciate the film’s more subdued and meditative approach all the same. It respects the audiences’ intelligence and rewards observation and thought.

161

The scenes on the Galactic Railroad are of course most central, but I adored the first act and found almost all of the film mesmeric and enrapturing. Small little sequences, such as Giovanni spotting his classmates playing in the distance, but walking off broodily in the opposite direction, aren’t always the most prominent or memorable in written form, but here every scene seemed to have weight or an essence to it.

The plot is centered mostly around child characters, but its profundity is surely felt by audiences by and large. One of the biggest changes from the book to the film was to make almost all of the characters anthropomorphic cats. It seems a rather puzzling decision when you read it out like that, but somehow it feels so befitting of the story. Bizarrely, anthropomorphic cats have never appeared so human and so profound.

There are some tremendous ruminations in this film; it is beautiful and bittersweet; at once heartfelt and heartbreaking. Miyazawa’s words have transferred so brilliantly to the screen, and ultimately not only is this a fantastic adaptation, but also a fantastic companion piece to the original work.

My Hero Academia and the Horrifying Nature of Quirks

My Hero Academia is one of the most bizarre anime series I have ever seen. Not because it’s challenging, or intricate, or even that high concept, but because it lacks any semblance of logic. Now, that’s not to say I don’t like My Hero Academia. On the contrary, I watched both seasons with great enthusiasm, and enjoy much of the comedy, action and characters. However, when you really think about the setting, and the concept and apparent boundless nature of quirks, it is really quite strange and even horrifying.

I started thinking about this when the character of the Principal was introduced, who is essentially a very small polar bear. He is, according to the Wikipedia entry, a rare case of an animal manifesting a quirk, which is the show’s name for a super power. His power is that he has super intelligence, and thus he is treated just like a human, and is even in charge of Japan’s most prodigious school. Imagine the logistics of that — one day a polar bear is placed in charge of your education. You could devise a court room drama about him fighting to be recognised in society.

But if that seems outlandish, know that a dog is in charge of the police force. Unlike the Principal, the Police Chief appears to have been born human — only his head is that of a nonchalant beagle.

110

In the show, people are either born with their quirks, or they manifest by age four. That means one of two things: either his mother gave birth to a baby with a dog’s head, or one day as a child, he woke up in the morning to find his human face had warped quite spectacularly into a canine’s face. I wonder what would be more horrifying. Imagine the struggles this man has known and all he has overcome to reach the respectable heights of Chief of Police.

He isn’t the rarest specimen, though. During one of the early story arcs, the protagonists are attacked by a league of villains, many of whom sport terrifying features. There’s somebody with a Venus flytrap for a head, one is literally a black hole, and some are just beyond description. Just look at that cyan-coloured dinosaur thing and that paper man plastered in eyes. No wonder these people are villains, what do they have to live for!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Being born a monster is difficult enough, but imagine you’re born a regular person, only to lose your humanity one day when you transform into an abomination. Forget Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and the chilling imagery of Cronenberg’s The Fly, the real horror stories are in My Hero Academia.

Early on in the story, the protagonist is terribly upset that he does not have a quirk of his own, but in a world where you could end up a monstrosity, I would count my blessings. The characters themselves are never fazed, though. Nobody bats an eye when some nightmare fuel walks past, and even the weird looking ones are strangely content. At one point, Mina — who is a pink skinned girl, with black scleras and wonky horns — proudly declares herself the alien queen. That’s some quality self-assurance, right there. What a world it would be, where humanity more closely resembled an unearthly population of creatures. I would probably die of trauma if I awoke one day to find I had turned into a boulder, but these people rejoice.

Now, I know this is an action shounen series, and you could rightly deride me for taking it all so seriously, but it isn’t a straight-forward parody like One Punch Man. It takes itself seriously enough for me to take it seriously, and when you create a functioning, fictional world, you generally expect some semblance of sense. My Hero Academia is a special kind of ridiculous, but I kind of love it for that reason. Half the time I’m watching with a befuddled expression, but it’s so outlandish that it’s fascinating. It’s unproductive, but I love to ponder at the would-be traumatic pasts of all these surreal looking characters.

Movie Review: The Little Prince

Title: The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince)
Director: Mark Osborne
Screenplay: Irena Brignull, Bob Persichetti
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Riley Osborne, Mackenzie Foy
Released: Jul 2015 (FR), Aug 2016 (US)


Based on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella, The Little Prince is one of the most significant and sincerely beautiful animated films I have seen in a long time. Mark Osborne – the director – has only three features behind him, but already two Oscar nominations. I’ve been interested in his work ever since I came across his short film More about six years ago. More was extremely touching but also very sorrowful, somewhat akin to The Little Prince.

The film follows a young girl in a grown-up world whose outlook on life is changed when her eccentric neighbour tells her extraordinary tales of the Little Prince; a small boy who lives on an asteroid. Quite simply – it’s beautiful. The Little Prince is one of those films that tugs at the heartstrings and leaves you with such evocative, bittersweet feelings.

36

It is exquisitely illustrated, with a wonderful contrast between the mundane, stony-faced adult world and the wondrous land of the Little Prince. The sequences with the Little Prince are absolutely alluring, with the Little Prince himself always compelling, much thanks to the fascinating dialogue, along with his manner of speech and charming innocence.

The film has a slightly shaky third act that will likely divide audiences (as I understand, it diverges quite drastically from the novella) and while I was a little dubious about its direction at first, by the end I was close to tears with how much it had affected me. The film touches upon themes of innocence, inner peace, human relationships and the beauty of childhood and if you aren’t stone cold, I would be surprised if it didn’t leave an impression.

37

The Little Prince features some first-class talent, including James Franco, Rachel McAdams, Benicio Del Toro and Jeff Bridges, just to name a few. Many of them only have a couple of lines, as the film chiefly focuses on the Little Girl, the Aviator and the Little Prince, but there are so many remarkable and incredibly deep dialogues – especially from the characters encountered by the Little Prince – that the script is wholly memorable and stirring. Furthermore, the score by Hans Zimmer is exceptional; heart-wrenching, hitting all those emotional beats and amplifying the film to even greater heights.

The past year alone has seen some superbly evocative and deeply psychological animated films – such as Inside Out and Anomalisa – and The Little Prince sits comfortably among them. It’s a beautifully endearing film that succeeds on both on an emotional and aesthetic level. While the source novella is often labelled a children’s book, on many levels it’s an adult fable and Mark Osborne’s adaptation follows suit. It has a child-like playfulness and imagination, accompanied by social criticisms and profound dialogues. It’s an extraordinary film with an otherworldliness to it that feels surprisingly grounded and relatable. Certainly, one of the best animated films of recent times and one of the most poignant and bittersweet that I can recall.