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Night on the Galactic Railroad Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Posted by j128 in Anime.

\Night on the Galactic Railroad is a 1985 anime film, being based on a story of the same name by Kenji Miyazawa. The animation is really good and beautiful, the movie’s pace is leisurely and leaves one wondering what will happen next, and it is definitely worth watching.

I’ve seen a number of anime films and TV shows and this one really stands out as it is rather unusual in its overall plot: the story is densely interwoven with fantasy, philosophical matter, possibly science fiction, and it especially deals with life and death and the afterlife. It is also symbolic.

This film (and the original story) have been classified in the children’s genre but it is a story for all ages.

Please note: this summary is more or less accurate as I’m recalling the movie from memory – I haven’t seen this movie for a couple or so years. When I see it again, I’ll update and correct it as required.


Giovanni is a young blue kitten of a poor family. His father has been missing for some years, who was apparently some sort of explorer and brought artifacts from his adventures to Giovanni’s school. He has one sister and has to work hard after school to care for his mother who isn’t well, and a best friend who is a pink cat named Campanella.

One day at school, the schoolteacher asks Giovanni what the Milky Way really is. Giovanni knows that it is composed of billions of stars but he cannot answer. The schoolteacher then asks Campanella the same question, but Campanella purposefully doesn’t answer for the sake of his friend.

After school, the schoolteacher and Giovanni admire his father’s artifacts and specimens in a glass case on display. The schoolteacher asks Giovanni if he’s heard anything from his father but he hasn’t. This question is frequently asked of Giovanni throughout the film.

He walks to work while the rest of the class excitedly talk about the star festival that will be occurring that night. Thousands of people – ahem, cats – flock to what is apparently the town or city square and many of the youth float boats on the river with candles in them. Campanella watches Giovanni go to work without a word.

After work, Giovanni goes to the bakery and buys bread and also tries to get some dairy from a farmer but the cow has wandered off and they’re still trying to find her. Giovanni goes home.

His mother is ill and apparently bedridden, though the audience never sees her. His sister has already provided for his mother, who was in earlier.

When evening draws it is the star festival and Giovanni encounters another of his classmates, Zanelli, who mocks him. Giovanni goes to see if the milk is ready but it is not. On his way home, he stops on a hill and rests, looking at the stars, and falls asleep.

Giovanni hears a strange noise and wakes up to see that a train is coming and he’s in the way! Next moment, he’s on the train and Campanella is sitting across from him. Giovanni asks him how he got here and Campanella replies that he doesn’t know.

There is a kind of flashback and it looks as if it is Campanella drowning.

The two friends share a series of fantastic adventures and meet many interesting persons, including scholars or archaeologists who are finding a fossil in a large beach of crystal sands and some kind of bird hunter who makes some sort of treat out of heron for them.

Throughout the movie, people board and get off the train. The last of them are three human beings: two children, a boy and a girl, and their nanny. Through flashbacks, it appears that they drowned in some accident involving a cruise ship, similar to the tragic disaster of the Titanic.

The galactic train travels through the galaxy and in star systems and apparently transports people to the afterlife.

Once the human beings have left, Giovanni tells Campanella that they’ll travel forever and ever together on the train, but it is not to be so. When the train stops, Campanella walks to the end and disappears before Giovanni’s eyes.

Giovanni wakes up back on the hill and he rushes to the scene of the star festival. A distressed Zanelli frantically tells Giovanni what happened: Zanelli had fallen into the water, but Campanella dived in and saved him, but Campanella hasn’t resurfaced. A crowd is surrounding the water, and Giovanni shoves his way in, already knowing the truth.

He briefly talks with another cat, who was once a friend of his father’s, before leaving the festival and finally gets the milk.


Night on the Galactic Railroad is available on DVD and VHS. The English dub starred Veronica Taylor as Giovanni.


When the anime was released, it sparked some controversy as the original story clearly has human characters. Some speculate that the reason why the characters were changed mainly into cats is due to the difficulty in animating humans.

Kenji Miyazawa wrote the story drawing from his own experiences. In 1922, when he was twenty-six, his younger sister died to an illness, and this produced a profound effect on him. Grieving, he went on a railroad trip to Sakhalin, an island of southeast Russia that was colonized by the Russian and Japanese in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His trip inspired him to write this story, and he continued to polish it until his death in 1933 at age thirty-seven. The middle part of the story was never completed but published nevertheless.

In the film, many things are written in Esperanto, a language that Kenji Miyazawa had a strong interest in. Esperanto is a constructed language based on several European languages, created by and named after Dr. Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof. In popular culture, this language is sometimes used in fiction literature to avoid or to not deal with the trouble of inventing a new language or get tied up in knots related to ethnicity or to give off a feel of exoticism of a foreign language; as well it is a planned international language.


Night on the Galactic Railroad – Answers.com, information on the book and anime and related information.

Night on the Galactic Railroad – AnimatedBliss.com



1. Bill Chapman - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It was good to see the mention of Esperanto here. However, your readers should be aware that Esperanto can be used in speech too.

Learning languages – any languages -is certainly a good thing, but a neglected question is: which language should I learn? I’d like to make the case for learning Esperanto, the planned international language. It is easy to learn and has its speaker population scattered over the globe.

j128 - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Thanks for the tip. At the time of writing this review I wasn’t fully aware that Esperanto could be used in speech as well, but now that I do I’ll fix that small error.

2. Brian Barker - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Interesting mention of Esperanto and Zamenhof who was born exactly 150 years this year.

A recently published video also deals with this which your readers may be interested in.


A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

3. manuke01 - Tuesday, June 1, 2010

“The Manga Biography of Kenji Miyazawa” is, as the title indicates, the story of his life in a manga format.

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