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[ Chiko and her father look to the stars... ]
[ Rail of the Star logo ]

O-Hoshisama No Rail

Rail of the Star

Copyright: © 1997 TV Tokyo / PACK IN Video / JVC / AD Vision, Inc.
Length: 80 minutes
Rating: NR, Parental Guidance Suggested
Format: Subtitled (VHS)

[ rated pg ]


Parental Guidance Advised - Some violence and scenes of bullying. This movie is primarily aimed at a younger audience, so a lot of the scenes are deliberately kept toned-down. Some subject matter (war, loss of family members, etc.) may be too intense for young children.


vhs jacket

Kobayashi Chitose, an up-and-coming stage actress prepares for her upcoming performance, when a news story about repatraited war children triggered a memory from her past -- a past filled with memories of joy, saddness and great trials of a family displaced in a foriegn land...

Young Chitose, or "Chiko" as she's known to her close firends and family, is growing up in Japanese-occupied Korea just prior to the outbreak of World War II. It's a seemingly idyllic surrounding, with playful days filled with friends, her young sister Miko, and her nanny, Ohana. Everything changes once Japan enters the Second World War -- and Chiko and her family's life is torn apart by the consequences of imperialist policies of her homeland. Cast out by the Sino-Russian occupation forces, Chiko and her family must embark on a journey that will take them home to their homeland... a trek guided by a Railway of The Star.

Based on the original autobiographical novel by Kobayashi Chitose, this movie chronicles actual events of the Second World War.

capsule review:

[ A grown Koayashi Chitose prepares for her upcoming performance in Tokyo. ]

[ Chiko and Miko in happier times. ]

[ Ohana, the family servant. ]

[ Chiko's father is discharged from the front. ]

[ Chiko and her mother mourn over Miko's ashes. ]

[ Chiko prepares to leave Korea with her grandparents... ]

[ The Russian occupation forces arrive... ]

[ The travel-weary group makes a perilous trek across a tall rail bridge. ]

[ A kind Korean national offers to guide the families to safety. ]

[ Chitose, drawing from her past, finishes an emotion-filled solliloquy. ]

[ Chitose, realising who left the flowers, chases after her past... ]

Because of its subject matter, it's perhaps too easy -- and maybe even unfair -- to draw comparisons between Rail of the Star and another movie of the same genre, Grave of the Fireflies. Both movies take place during the same period of time, and both are told from the perspective of a young third party. Character designs look uncannily like the work of the late Yoshifumi Kondo. Unfortunately, that's about where the similarities end.

While GOF dealt with the struggles of a young teen and his sister's struggle to survive in war-torn Japan, the Kobayashi family are a displaced people on foriegn soil -- the country of Korea, which had been annexed by Japan during her expansionist war years. With the loss the war came the loss of the appropriated territories, and most of the Japanese nationals, who were seen by their unwilling hosts as invaders, were not welcome. Post-war Russian occupational forces quickly seized the opportunity to recover their lost land and more, and in an ironic twist of fate, the Japanese were now forced from their homes.

I would have loved to have been able to read the original book, since the movie's storyline recounts an incredible series of events around a young girl, during a most difficult period of history. (Students of literature will love the use of various plot devices -- the most prominant being the abundant use of foreshadowing.) But the movie feels watered-down in many repects; and I am not sure if this was intentional on the part of the director to paint the settings through the eyes of an innocent child, or simply to make the film more acceptable to a younger, Japanese audience (this movie is clearly aimed at the grade-school level). Indeed, the only violent actions that we see the Japanese take on the Korean nationals is a case of school bullying -- though it did bring home the dangers of being non-Japanese in a Japanese-controlled territory.

The character designs are a very mixed bag, varying from the Kondo-esque depications of Chitose and Miko, to disturbingly stereotypical renderings of Ohana, the Korean maid-in-waiting. Other aspects of animation were equally mixed; many of the backgrounds were well-rendered in watercoloured washes, but animation sequences were vanilla bland. Often, potential tension-building scenes were wasted -- none more so than a scenes in which the travellers are hiding their movement through a crop field, trying to reach the border dividing North and South Korea. Gunshots and barking dogs are heard in the background, surrounding the travel-weary families. Rather that using this scene to create heightened tension, the animators made it boring by making the sequence far too long, and repetitious.

Also disappointing was the acting, or rather the over-acting. For such a serious subject matter, casting was very questionable, with Miko being perhaps the most unbelievable child ever to grace a piece of celluloid. (She's on par with the English voice-over for Gen in Barefoot Gen.) Many of the seiyu seemed bored throughout, and it got to the point that any time a character cried (and there were many crying scenes), I cringed.

The story does touch upon several interesting aspects of the Japanese occupation of Korea, and some unpleasant aspects of war -- such as the reasons why the Koreans were forced to adopt Japanese pronounciations of their names. One interesting topic found its mark: Chiko awakens herself with a nightmare, terrified with the possiblility that an acquaintance that she aided was now headed off to war, opposite her father. A lot of similar subject matter made this into multi-layered, and somewhat thought-provoking piece, but the movie's been watered down for a young audience, and the realities of the Japanese occupation were marginalised. Despite its commendable efforts, Rail of the Star is a somewhat pale shadow of what should have been a great piece of work.
- AN, 2000.01.02

café rating (subtitled):


4 starsA story that could have only been realised if based on real-life adventures, though somewhat toned-down to a younger audience for this screenplay.


2 starsUnevenly edited, and questionable emphasis on some scenes meant to invoke emotional reactions, but often fails to do so.


2 starsNot one of the better movies for memorable perfomances, though this is often hampered by a somewhat weak script clearly targeted at school-aged children. An English dub could probably do much better.


3 starsFair animation in some scenes, and then inexplicably inadequate in others. What could have been used to create tension simply became repetitous.


4 starsThough melodramatic and overwrought at times, it's one of the better points to this film.


4 starsText-book yeoman's translation.

Overall Rating:

3 starsA commendable Grave of the Fireflies wanna-be for a younger audience, but with the watered-down approach, melodramatic emphasis, and unconvincing acting, this movie is a 'should-have-been.'

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