A moving tale of Japanese civilians forced to flee North Korea in the aftermath of World War II, RAIL OF THE STAR is proof of Japanese animators' ability to use the medium of animation to craft a poignant, fact-based human drama.
Chiko Kobayashi (voice of Yoshino Takamori), an actress in postwar Japan, recalls her childhood in North Korea where her father managed a coal company during Japan's occupation of Korea. It was initially a happy childhood, spent in play with her sister Miko (voice of Chika Sakamoto) and Korean
nanny Ohana (voice of Tomoko Maruo). However, at the start of World War II, Chiko's father, Kazuhiko Kobayashi (voice of Hideyuki Tanaka), is drafted into the Japanese military and the family is forced to move in with the parents of Masuko (voice of Keiko Han), Chiko's mother, in the town of
A series of misfortunes begins with Miko's death from typhoid fever. Ohana is fired after Chiko is injured due to her negligence. Mr. Kobayashi is given a medical discharge and returns to his family. When the war ends, the family feels isolated because of the Koreans' new militancy and desire for
revenge. The Russians take over and the Kobayashi family joins several other Japanese families, eager for repatriation back to Japan, in an attempt to sneak out of North Korea by train to cross the 38th parallel and reach the US-occupied zone. Forced off the train by Russian soldiers, the families
are ordered to march back to Heijou. Instead, they decide to continue heading south on foot to the 38th parallel. The two dozen refugees rest by day and trudge through the back country by night. Caught pilfering crops on a farmland, they are advised by a village elder (voice of Chafuhrin) to give
up their march. However, one of the farmers knows a route to the 38th parallel that will get them past the Russian guards. Perilous though it is, the guide (voice of Junji Kitajima) succeeds in getting the refugees across and takes no payment, despite having lost a son to the Japanese during the
war. Back in the theater, the grownup Chiko gets a bouquet of flowers from Ohana.
RAIL OF THE STAR ranks with such other fact-based animated Japanese dramas of wartime experiences as BAREFOOT GEN (1983) and GRAVE OF THE FIRE FLIES (1988) in its achievement of telling an emotionally gripping story of human endurance and courage in the face of great pain and travail. It breaks
with its predecessors, however, by bravely casting Japan in a negative light as colonizer and occupier of another country. The fate of the Japanese civilians is clearly not undeserved, given Japan's ill treatment of its subject peoples, as acknowledged in the film.
Still, these are human beings caught up in forces beyond their control, and we are ultimately sympathetic to their simple desire to just go home. The character who offers the highest moral example is the Korean farmer who guides them successfully to their freedom, disregarding his own anger and
resentment at the Japanese to help other human beings in need of help.
The animation is austere and well rendered, telling its story simply and cleanly, proving once again that Japanese animation offers much more than giant robots, occult thrillers, and high-tech space battles.
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: NR
- Review: A moving tale of Japanese civilians forced to flee North Korea in the aftermath of World War II, RAIL OF THE STAR is proof of Japanese animators' ability to use the medium of animation to craft a poignant, fact-based human drama. Chiko Kobayashi (voice of… (more)