Posters - Night on the Galactic Railroad

Night on the Galactic Railroad
For everyone who's a new visitor to the Ghibli Blog, a big hello and a quick explanation. This website is devoted to exploring the long and successful careers of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. We discuss their films at Studio Ghibli, and the many animation films and tv series they helped create since the 1960's. And we also discuss their many peers and rivals who helped shape and influence Japanese animation, as well as animators from around the world.

Above all, this is a website dedicated to the movies, which is why oftentimes we'll devote space to non-Ghibli anime and American films. And this is why I'm showing you the poster to film, one of the true anime masterpieces, Night on the Galactic Railroad.

Night on the Galactic Railroad was adapted from the work of famed Japanese poet Kenji Miyazawa. His story of children on a mystical journey on a locomotive train was fueled by the sudden death of his sister. Miyazawa wrote his story as an attempt to deal with the grief and address the deepest questions of life, and influenced by his Buddhist and Christian faith.

The film version was directed by Gisaburo Sugii, one of anime's true greats. He famously directed the anarchic cartoon series Goku's Big Adventure in the 1960s, and was the creative force behind the 1975 art-house classic Belladonna of Sadness. Night on the Galactic Railroad stands as his masterpiece. It almost stands alone in the world of Japanese anime: spiritual, meditative, mysterious, brooding. His choice of anthromorphic cats for the main characters is inspired brilliance, adding a layer of symbolism to a movie already dense with surrealist icons.

Night on the Galactic Railroad is often described as slow, usually by Westerners used to rapid-fire Hollywood blockbusters. The plot might draw clear parallels to The Polar Express (and that's a subject worth exploring), but its agenda is much deeper. Awe, reverence, wonder, the search for meaning...yeah, this is an entirely different train ride. You won't find Tom Hanks singing and dancing anywhere near this train.

The film was shown at last year's International Animation Festival in Hiroshima, Japan. It is widely regarded as among the greatest and mysterious of animation films. The American DVD, released by Central Park Media, is long out of print, just like Grave of the Fireflies. Can you believe that? Those two films are more alike than you'd realize. It's no wonder they both share a space in limbo now. Again, all I can say is, thank goodness for the fansubs.


J.R.D.S. said...

This isn't the only film, or at least video, adaptation of this novel. I remember seeing stills of a 3D CGI version on the now-deleted Iwa ni Hana blog (which told the story without any of the human characters – represented by cats in the Sugii film – even appearing on screen). It may also have used just stills rather than actual animation, like Ga-nime videos; having only seen stills I can't say for sure. There is also a live-action production directed by a Chinese American, which my university has a DVD of, which is either an adaptation of Miyazawa's story or an original one inspired by it; the back-of-the-box description is rather ambiguous.

Another Sugii feature which is still available on DVD in North America is his Jack and the Beanstalk: it's dubtitled, rather than properly subtitled, from what I've read but I'm still impressed that the distributor of it, considering what I've come expect from such a label, went to the effort of including the original track at all.

Anonymous said...

Night of the Galactic Railroad is a 'slow movie' by any standards. Often the speed of the pan and zoom is nothing short of excruciating.

asuka said...

"by any standards" is a grand claim.
what about by tarkovskian standards...? ^^

echoBlaster said...

I thought Night on the Galactic Railroad was fantastic! Just saw it for the first time last week, actually.

Apart from the faboulously artistic and surreal artwork I also loved the music, which was really haunting and almost hypnotic. The whole film felt like a dream.

I have one question, though. Is it possible that James Cameron was in any way inspired by this film when he made Titanic? Because in the scene where the survivors of the disaster talk about it there was a tremendous similaity to one scene in Cameron's film, at least to my eyes. The song was even the same. Does anyone have any idea?

On a side note, I would like to thank you Daniel for writing and maintaining this blog. It has really opened my eyes to some great animation and has become one of my daily visited sites. Keep up the great work! :)

J.R.D.S. said...

And on the subject of out of print or not things:

J.R.D.S. said...

A film of Night on the Galactic Railroad – information on it is so sparse (I can't even find it on IMDb) that I can't tell whether it's one of those I mentioned above or yet another – is being released domestically on Blu-ray Disc in North America:

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

No, the Blu-Ray you are linking to is a new Imax production. It does appear to be based on the Kenji Miyazawa story, however.

If and when Night on the Galactic Railroad is reissued on DVD or released on Blu-Ray, I'll be the first to report it. That's one movie worth upgrading to HD.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@echoblaster: Was James Cameron inspired by Night on the Galactic Railroad? That is a very good question. I don't know if he was, but I do know that he knows at least something about anime. I remember his endorsement of Rintaro's 2001 Metropolis, and there is one moment in a chase scene from Castle of Cagliostro that is copied in Terminator 2.

The one animated movie this reminds me of, for obvious reasons, is The Polar Express.

Hmm...I really shouldn't have taken months to write a response. Maybe I just blanked out on the question. Oops.

Chris Sobieniak said...

Noticed there's already a few updates to this post, I Just wanted to point out Belladonna of Sadness came out in '73 I believe (for whom Sugii served as animation director on). In '74 through the studio Group TAC, he would direct my childhood favorite, Jack to Mame no Ki" (Jack and the Beanstalk).

Night on the Galactic Railroad would later be an inspiration for Leiji Matsumoto's famous manga "Galaxy Express 999" which similarly involves a boy traveling through space in a train. I still haven't quite seen Polar Express personally, but I don't think I can get through the uncanny valley of those guys!

echoBlaster said...

Well, the reason why I wondered if Cameron was inspired was essentially because the same song, "Nearer, My God, to Thee", was played in the two similar scenes. What I didn't know when I wrote the question was that this particular song is historically connected to the Titanic, it was the last song to be played by the band before the ship sunk. So, the similarity is most probably just a coincidence.

By the way, which moment from Cagliostro was quoted exactly? Was it the shot of Lupin discarding the pair of hooks that had attached itself? Either way it's really cool to hear that Cameron is a fan!

Tofu said...

My friend found it in our town public library. We live in the Silicon Valley area.

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