Night on the Galactic Railroad

Although action and adventure are certainly staples of the anime world, certain films told through the medium are not meant to be all flash and no substance. Certainly, some shows like Wings of Honneamise, Angel's Egg, Grave of the Fireflies, and Serial Experiments Lain are much more than the sum of their animation. These films are designed to make you take you into a deep experience for yourself or to make you focus on a subject in ways you never had before. Night on the Galactic Railroad, despite its flaws, is just such a movie, one that haunts you long after the music ends and the credits fade.

On the surface, the story is about Giovanni, a young cat whose mother is quite ill and whose father has been away at work so long that the other children chide him that his dad is actually in prison. He works long hours and toils away so that he and his mother can survive while his father is away. (If it's not obvious by now, the cats are essentially people--they stand on their back legs and such, so it's only whiskers and paws away from real life.) As the Festival of Lights draws near, Giovanni and Campanella--his only friend--find themselves whisked away on a journey across space and time on the Galactic Railroad. Their journey, with its mysteries and discoveries, is the heart of the story.

Now, to be honest, Night is really too long. It runs at 1:55, and feels every minute of it. That doesn't mean that the film is boring, really, just that the pacing is very slow and is a bit stifling to the story. Also, the artwork is a throwback--not only is it more like late 70s and early 80s animation-wise (which it is), it doesn't resemble anime in the common sense. Those seeking any sort of action or violence in their stories should stay well away.

If that hasn't scared you off, then perhaps Night is a movie for you. It is very symbolic, and any attempt to explain that symbolism here would not only ruin the movie but leave the viewer in a lurch. Simply, a lot of the symbolism is such that you must make up your own mind as to what everything means. Some of that symbolism also happens to be Judeo-Christian, which is surprising considering all. However, Night is a compelling story, and the characters connect in a strange way with the viewer. Giovanni is the lonely little boy or girl we all knew once--or, more likely, were at some point. He is wholly believable, even if he is a cat.

I wish I could say I loved everything about the movie, but I didn't. I love movies that make me decide what is going on, and yet there is a part of me that wishes that Night wasn't so difficult to understand. It isn't something many people would show to their buddies to get them interested in anime, that's for certain. All things considered, though, I think I will find myself returning to Night on the Galactic Railroad again to ponder the mysteries it poses and hopefully find a few more answers. I think it will be a trip that will ultimately prove worthwhile.

Night on the Galactic Railroad -- nothing objectionable, but kids will likely find it dull -- A-