Stephen reviews: Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985)

NightontheGalacticRailroad_1Night on the Galactic Railroad [銀河鉄道の夜, Ginga Tetsudō no Yoru] (1985)
AKA Kenji Miyazawa’s Night on the Galactic Express

Starring Mayumi Tanaka, Chika Sakamoto, Chikao Ohtsuka, Hidehiro Kikuchi, Junko Hori

Directed by Gisaburō Sugii


If you’ve been around this site for a few years, you may recall a film I reviewed a while back called Spring and Chaos. It was a biopic about Kenji Miyazawa, Japan’s foremost literary figure. This film is the adaptation of Miyazawa’s most famous book, Night on the Galactic Railroad. And these two films have more than a passing connection. Now that I’ve finally seen Night on the Galactic Railroad, I can see just how strongly it influenced Spring and Chaos. That later film is as much a tribute to this film as it is to Miyazawa himself.

Watching this film also drove home just how indebted the Galaxy Express 999 series is to Miyazawa’s original novel, though this film’s adaptation of the book came out quite some time after Galaxy Express. In fact, the two titles are nearly identical, with “galaxy express” and “galactic railroad” simply being alternate translations of “ginga tetsudō.” Any way you slice it, Miyazawa’s little fable has had a massive influence on anime and manga, to say nothing of what it did to Japanese literature.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985) →

Stephen reviews: Spring and Chaos (1996)

spring_and_chaosSpring and Chaos [Ihatov Gensou: Kenji no Haru イーハトーブ幻想] (1996)
AKA Kenji’s Spring [Kenji の春]

Starring Shiro Sano, Shiho Niiyama, Mariko Kouda, Chikao Ohtsuka, Akane Tomonoga

Directed by Shoji Kawamori


Spring and Chaos is a fantastical biopic of one of Japan’s biggest literary figures, Kenji Miyazawa. Never heard of him? That’s because you’re not from Japan. He wrote a number of children’s stories and poems that make me think of Aesop’s Fables, or perhaps Hans Christian Anderson. So how many western anime fans are interested in a bizarre dramatization of the life of a poet they’ve never heard of? Probably not many. I’m not even sure why anyone bothered giving it a US release, but I am pretty sure its sales couldn’t have been very good.

I think the only reason it got a US release was because Shoji Kawamori had made it. When this film released in America, Kawamori was already a big name for his major roles in creating Macross, Macross Plus, and Escaflowne. More knowledgable anime fans would have also been aware of his smaller involvement in other big titles like Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop, Gundam or perhaps even his importance to Transformers. So it’s no surprise that Spring and Chaos appeared right around the time Kawamori’s Arjuna series was coming out, trying to take advantage of the name recognition while the fans were buzzing over his latest work.

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Stephen reviews: Bremen 4: Angels in Hell (1981)

bremen4_1Bremen 4: Angels in Hell [ブレーメン4 地獄の中の天使たち Bremen 4: Jigoku no Naka no Tenshi-tachi] (1981)

Starring Mari Okamoto, Hiroya Ishimura, Kei Tomiyama, Naoko Kyooda, Makio Inue, Chikao Ohtsuka, Kousei Tomita, Nachi Nozawa

Directed by Hiroshi Sasagawa & Osamu Tezuka


That Angels in Hell subtitle makes this sound like the next entry in a long running action series, possibly starring Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s actually another Osamu Tezuka children’s film made for the 24 Hour TV specials, so expect some early ’80s made-for-TV quality animation. The movie is based on the German fairy tale, The Bremen Town Musicians (or Band of Bremen depending on how you like to translate it). As I am a big fan of folklore adaptations, I got pretty big kick out of this one.

The film clearly exhibits Disney’s influence on Tezuka’s style. There are several scenes in the wilderness that look like they could have come right out of Bambi. Likewise the humor is a more Western style of slapstick that doesn’t carry the same absurdist tone that most comedic anime use. Where it seriously departs from Western animation is in its blunt depiction of warfare. No American TV station would ever allow bullet-riddled corpses in a children’s time slot, which rather misses the point. G.I. Joe can glorify war for children all day long, but a film like Bremen 4 that depicts war as a terrible tragedy would probably cause a nationwide scandal. I, however, think it would make a fine children’s film (because we all know how much children love watching subtitled foreign films).

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Stephen reviews: Fumoon (1980)

fumoon_1Fumoon [フウムーン] (1980)

Starring Hiroshi Suzuki, Mari Okamoto, Minori Matsushima, Junpei Takiguchi, Chiako Ohtsuka, Ryoko Kinomiya, Kousei Tomita

Directed by Hisashi Sakaguchi


I’ve been having a blast with these Tezuka films, so I’m a little sad that this is the last one on my list. Hopefully more will become available someday. I’m also a little disappointed with this one because it doesn’t quite live up to the fun of the previous two.

The humor takes a back seat this time, so it didn’t leave as strong an impression as the others did. I think what really took me out of it was the obvious nature to its moral. It hammers home the anti-war, anti-pollution message a little too hard for me. Maybe that’s just a personal problem, but the same themes had already been addressed in Bander Book and Marine Express without losing any of the fun and charm. If you’re a fan of movies with a message, then you won’t find much to fault here, but I prefer it when the moral of the tale is not applied with a sledgehammer.

This isn’t to say that the film is bad by any stretch. It still sets up an intriguing premise and carries the plot along with ample new developments to keep things from getting stale. In fact, judging by the plot structure, the narrative arc is every bit as solid and gripping as the others, perhaps more so. It just felt like the whole time it was telling me, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute.”

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Stephen reviews: Undersea Super Train: Marine Express (1979)

marineexpress_1Undersea Super Train: Marine Express [海底超特急マリン・エクスプレス Kaitei Chō Tokkyū Marine Express] (1979)
AKA Seabed Express

Starring Junichi Takeoka, Kousei Tomita, Nachi Nozawa, Mari Shimizu, Hisashi Katsuta, Fumi Koyama, Chikao Ohtsuka, Kaneta Kimotsu, Toshiko Ota

Directed by Osamu Dezaki


I’ve got another Osamu Tezuka film lined up for you. Marine Express doesn’t have the same crazy aliens that Bander Book reveled in, but it still has all the wacky antics that gave Bander Book its charm. It also has a more cohesive plot that more than makes up for any lack of strange wonders.

It starts out as a murder mystery in which the bodies dissolve into nothing, making it difficult for detective Ban Shusaku to convince people the murders are actually happening. The short, pudgy detective takes on the mysterious assailant in an epic martial arts battle that leaves trees broken and toppled. Old ’70s animation couldn’t keep this scene from being fantastic fun and it immediately absorbed me into the film, and the rest of the movie kept me just as eager to keep watching.

When Ban later sees one of the villains board the experimental Marine Express, he slips aboard himself. The Marine Express is taking its first test run across the bottom of the ocean from California to Japan, and the whole affair is fraught with skulduggery, hijackings and more recurring Tezuka characters than I could count.

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Stephen reviews: Fist of the North Star (1986)

Fist of the North Star: the Movie [劇場版 世紀末救世主伝説 北斗の拳 Gekijōban Seikimatsu Kyūseishu Densetsu Hokuto no Ken, Fist of the North Star the Movie: Legend of the Century’s End Savior] (1986)

Starring Akira Kamiya, Chikao Ohtsuka, Kenji Utsumi, Toshio Furukawa, Kaneto Shiozawa, Mie Suzuki, Tomiko Suzuki, Yuriko Yamamoto, Junpei Takiguchi

Directed by Toyoo Ashida


I hope you’re ready for the most intense, hyper-masculine orgy of ultra-violence ever made, because I sure as hell am. I haven’t seen this movie since high school, and after watching Expendables 2 I was suddenly in the mood for cocky, musclebound men performing manly feats of impossibility. So I tracked down the DVD and found that Fist of the North Star has aged like a fine wine; its ridiculous violence and ’80s styling making it a savory delight even better than I remembered.

The DVD case proudly advertises Fist of the North Star as “the most violent and action packed animated film of all time,” and my first reaction when I saw the box was disbelief. There has to be something even more over the top. But I really couldn’t think of many examples. Maybe Berserk or Claymore, but even those didn’t seem to fit the bill. Now that I’ve watched the film again, I can say that no, there is nothing I am aware of that has more violence and more machismo concentrated into one package.

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