Rail of the Star
Rail of the Star is the story of a Japanese family living in Korea who, at the end of World War II, must escape the Russian occupation by traveling south to the freedom of the American-held south. The tale focuses on the hardships felt by the family and the losses they must cope with during their trials ... and finally, the hurried escape to the south with only the light of a star to guide them south.
Rail of the Star wants really, really badly to be a Studio Ghibli film. Some have compared it to Grave of the Fireflies and indeed, it does occur at about the same time period, when Japan is losing the war and its civilians must find safe haven, somewhere, anywhere in order to survive. But unlike the hopeless tragedy of Grave, the family in Rail of the Star makes it. The daughter is the one telling the story, in flashback form. Still, Rail of the Star has the chance to make as much emotional impact as Grave of the Fireflies does.
The fact of the matter is, however compelling Rail of the Star is as a true story, as an anime, it isn't quite done right. Though there are some heartbreaking scenes (such as the death of the author's little sister), the dramatic tension in other crucial scenes comes off as forced and overwrought. Though the Kobayashi family is indeed in a time of struggle, one inevitably feels more sorrow and sympathy for the native Koreans, who trade one conqueror (the Japanese) for another (the Russians). Against this background, the plight of the Japanese rings just a bit more hollow.
Perhaps it is my cynicism beginning to peek through, but Rail of the Star just isn't quite as good as it ought to be. The animation is good enough, though not by any means impressive (certainly not up to the quality of say, Ghibli) and the directing seems a little off-paced. The passion needed to pull off a story like this just isn't there. And the dichotomy between the well-to-do Japanese and the oppressed Koreans is frightening.
Inevitably, Rail of the Star falls short of the impossible standards set by Grave of the Fireflies, but it does have some fairly good characterization (these ARE real people, after all) and a good storyline. But knowing it could have been so much more, in the end, is frustrating and leaves you longing for something more substantial. Which is a pity, because Rail of the Star should have been something truly special among anime.
A kiddiefied war story that is simply in the wrong place at the wrong place. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: Probably too dramatically intense for younger children, and the action / slapstick-only crowd would find it boring. Otherwise acceptable for most audiences.
Version(s) Viewed: VHS, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Rail of the Star © 1997 TV Tokyo / PACK IN Video / JVC
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