Rail of the Star Review

Plot: Chitose Kobayashi reflects back on her life as a child in Japanese-occupied Korea as the Pacific War and World War II begin.

Breakdown: The response for this movie doesn’t seem to be very positive. At best, I’d say it’s mixed.

Obviously, there are many people saying this movie feels like it’s trying very hard to be Grave of the Fireflies or at least play like a Studio Ghibli film, which I get. However, from the get-go, you know it won’t be the largely tragic story of Grave of the Fireflies mostly because Chitose is alive and well at the start, a successful actress even, and she starts the whole flashback by confirming that her family escaped. As opposed to Grave of the Fireflies, which also works on a flashback, but is told by the perspective of a homeless and clearly dying Seita.

Even the names seem in stark contrast. Rail of the Star sounds a lot more optimistic and positive than Grave of the Fireflies.

But is it really fair to make such comparisons when this is supposedly a true story? This is an autobiographical tale of a real woman named Chitose Kobayashi. How much has been changed for dramatic effect, I don’t know. However, can you really say a movie is aiming to be a rip-off or an homage if the story is, more or less, true?

I got invested in this movie just fine. I was never fooling myself into thinking this was a Ghibli film, but it’s still compelling and interesting enough to grasp your attention for an hour and fifteen minutes. Plus there were moments where I almost teared up a little.

The problem I have with this movie is that there are moments where it is a bit melodramatic and yet, at the same time, the movie doesn’t do enough to have heavy dramatic impact. For instance, the scene where Chiko (Chitose’s nickname as a child) sat on a pin that was stuck in her pants really seems over the top for the situation. I mean, I get that it probably hurt a lot, a given with her insane screaming (props to her VA), but it was really so bad that another hour or so without treatment and she would’ve died? Can someone with more medical knowledge tell me if this is legitimate? Is it an infection risk kind of thing?

None of the characters really stand out at all. Chiko is a very real child reacting to everything as most children would. I don’t even mind the scene where she blows up because the new backpack she got was a plain brown color instead of the red she wanted because it’s the very tip of the iceberg of effects from the war. I’m sure, looking back, Chitose probably thinks she was being very foolish getting upset over such a thing in comparison with everything else.

The mom is nice, but typical. The dad is nice and brave, but typical. Her aunt Yohko and grandparents are nice, but typical. Are you seeing a pattern here? Probably the second character to get any sort of real character development is her nanny/maid (?) Ohana, a Korean woman who is scrounging together funds for her mother’s medicine. She is pretty close to Chiko, and she has a father who….I guess doesn’t like her. The one time we see him, he throws out her money and shuts the door in her face. No idea why.

And, that’s pretty much it. They make a big thing out of Ohana being in the audience of Chitose’s play, the framing device of the movie, but there wasn’t a big enough connection made between the two for me to care that much.

Finally, there is Miko, Chiko’s little sister and the source of the most impacting scene of the movie. Which is a shame because, outside of the default ‘she’s a kid so it’s extra awful’ bit of sadness in her part of the story, she’s also very much a typical little girl. There aren’t really any major scenes that make you connect with her. The one scene they keep going back to is a short scene where she’s asking Chiko if she can play with the paper ball she’s playing with, but Chiko won’t let her. But she leaves the ball behind when she goes to play with her friends, so Miko is finally able to play with the ball.

The ball is a major artifact throughout the rest of the movie, but since there wasn’t enough emotional connection made, it’s hard to feel that pang in your heart when it keeps reappearing.

Finally, our title namesake, the rail of the star…..also isn’t dramatic or impacting enough. One night, Chiko’s dad taught her that the North Star always points north and is well-known for helping travelers along their way. The scene in which this is taking place isn’t particularly sweet or emotionally impacting. It’s a fine scene, but it’s not terribly memorable.

When they’re escaping, she remembers what he taught her as they realize they’re lost and they follow a ‘rail of the star’ to get to the 38th parallel and get back to Japan. She also asks the stars to be brighter when she’s too scared to cross a railroad bridge in the dark. That’s about it.

They do a good job at keeping the movie grounded and even bringing some of the other elements of the war to light that most other movies like this don’t, like the plight of the Koreans who basically traded one invader for another.

The art and animation for this movie are dated and not the best, but I am still a sucker for classic-styled art and animation. Not saying much, though, because this movie isn’t terribly old coming out in ‘93. I’m older than this movie. Surprising, really, since the studio behind this is Madhouse.

The music is fine and does the job well, but some of the tracks seem to repeat too much. I’m not sure if the tracks are too similar or if they’re really playing the same song over and over, I couldn’t tell.

The voice acting, Japanese version, is really good. And serious props to Chiko’s VA for that screaming. That was some soul breaking screaming.

Bottom Line: It’s a fine wartime drama, but it has a lot of problems utilizing dramatic moments and there’s not much that is horribly memorable about it. There are several parallels to Grave of the Fireflies, which might be unfortunate because I really think the movie stands fine on its own and it is supposedly a mostly true story. It’s not like it’s a huge ‘point out the rip-off moments’ movie, but it’s hard not to make comparisons.

Give it a shot if you like the genre. It does give you a few heart pangs, but don’t expect it to be an uncovered classic.

Additional Information and Notes: Rail of the Star was directed by Toshio Hirata, who also directed Petshop of Horrors and it was produced by Madhouse. It is currently licensed in the US by ADV films.

Duration: 1h 17m

Year: 1993

Recommended Audience: The genre itself is more geared towards an older audience. Other than that, some people do die, but no one dies on screen. There’s no blood, swearing, nudity, sex etc. Really, the most they do is shove a big pin into Chiko’s rear end and there’s not even any blood in that scene either. E for everyone, preferably with a parent present, though.

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Memories Episode 3 – Cannon Fodder Review

Plot: In a communist dystopian reality, life is all about one thing – shooting cannons at the enemy.

Breakdown: As you can tell from the lack of a description, I am at a loss with this segment. That is really all this segment is – life begins and ends with these insanely massive cannons that they shoot at some unseen and unnamed enemy.

It’s not hard to get the ‘true message’ behind it. This is war. It has infiltrated all of life. The children are taught nothing but the mechanics of the cannons. The adults are either stay-at-home moms, teachers, cannon loaders or military personnel. Everything is steel and steam. They are the only life on this slab of metal, but it’s hard to say they’re really living.

The episode focuses on an unnamed family where the mother is a stay-at-home mom, the father is a cannon loader, and the son is infatuated with becoming the ‘one who shoots the gun.’ He has absolutely no real grasp on this war outside of what he’s been taught about the cannons.

He only knows that they shoot cannons at the enemy, and the enemy is bad. He even asks his father who the enemy is, and he gets no answer outside of the standard “You’ll understand when you’re older.” There’s also a crayon drawn cartoon of him imagining himself as the big general in this war against the enemy, and he can’t even imagine a real description of them outside of evil-looking people with cannons.

The only thing we learn about the enemy is that they live in a mobile city that we never see.

That is how far the brainwashing goes – you’re forever awash in war, but you have no grasp on the enemy or why you’re even fighting. The higher ups just tell you they’re bad, so they must be bad. This is especially exemplified in the scene where the cannon finally fires and everyone in the city does this united monotone cheer that they seem to be forced into doing.

It’s a pretty heavy-handed message that doesn’t go far enough to make any sort of impact. They spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the cannons, but only a minute or two focusing on how little those in charge care about the civilians. The workers are being poisoned by the gunpowder, but we only see them protesting against it, not anyone suffering from it. Other than the father getting yelled at during work once, there’s nothing else. It’s dreadfully boring, if I can be blunt.

This story also doesn’t go anywhere. I was expecting some big ending or counterattack, but all they show in the last 30 seconds is an air raid light shining through the window, which I guess is ominous, but I can’t even be sure that’s happening because they make that exact same noise when the cannon goes off. It shouldn’t be going off late at night, but still.

The entirety of the show is the kid goes to school, the father goes to work, they shoot the cannon, the son comes home, the father comes home, we get a recap on the news about how many shots were fired from the cannon that day and what damage they presumably did, and then we get the aforementioned cartoon as the kid goes to bed and the raid starts. The end.

The one thing that kept me interested was the visuals. This segment has art and animation akin to those old British cartoons. It’s all scratchy like it’s drawn in charcoal. The character designs and the background art are pretty nice to look at, as much as a socialist city of steel and weaponry can be nice to look at. Plus the environment and the directorial style were very interesting.

I feel like this whole movie went in reverse. Have this segment be first and have Metallic Rose be last. You shouldn’t have your movie start on a high note and end in a misfire….get it? Because…cannons.

It’s not terrible, it’s just…boring and obvious. It’s also not saying anything most people don’t already know. I feel like I’m just not getting something about this episode, but no matter how much I dig, I just can’t find more substance.

Additional Information and Notes: Memories – Cannon Fodder was directed and written by Katsuhiro Otomo, and it was produced by Studio 4°C.

Recommended Audience: Nothing at all really happens, but given the tone, I suppose 7+?

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Episode One-Derland (Cartoons): Dino Riders

“Promotional quotes that lend nothing to your view of the product, useless for 100 years, are back” -FiddleTwix

Plot: See Breakdown.

Breakdown: Dino Riders is a show about an alien race called the Valorians traveling through space and time to prehistoric earth. Following them are their enemies, the reptilian race, the Rulons. They use their telekinetic abilities to communicate with and befriend the dinosaurs of the land while the Rulons do the same, except using mind-control devices called brain boxes.

They outfit the dinosaurs in high-tech machinery, gadgets, lasers and missiles as they fight battle after battle in their never ending war to conquer the other.

…..Did you get that? Aliens control the minds of dinosaurs, outfit them with high-tech alien weaponry, including missiles and lasers, and battle each other.

I don’t think I need to say anything else. Everyone good? Kay. Put up the verdict card.


Okay, for those still curious enough to keep reading, I first caught onto this show after watching one of the Nostalgia Critic’s commercial reviews. He was talking about one of the commercials for the Dino Riders toys of which this cartoon is based off. He was just as blown away by the concept as I was, and I couldn’t resist seeking out the cartoon. Of course this series was released in 1988, one year before I was born. Damn my inability to control what year I was born.

In all honesty, I am overplaying this series just a tad. It is awesome to see battles between raptors, pterodactyls, triceratops and even T-rexes outfitted with lasers and missiles, but I can’t deny that the foundations are kinda weak. We don’t really know why the Rulons want to destroy the Valorians so badly, they just do. The idea that pea-brained dinosaurs can be reasoned with so easily just with telepathy is a bit farfetched (but, honestly, who cares? And the alternative is mind-control hats) and it is just a flat out, 80’s brand ‘We’re two factions at war….pew pew.’

But it is still a lot of fun, and there is so much room for possibilities that, sadly, probably won’t get realized because this series somehow only lasted 14 episodes. Captain Planet gets six seasons. Dino Riders get 14 episodes. Rip. Off. I definitely would’ve been more invested in Captain Planet if they used laser equipped dinosaurs to kill polluters…..Actually…..easily befriending even the fiercest of creatures with telepathy and heart?…..Is Ma Ti a Valorian?

Not to mention we have some top-notch voice work here. Frank Welker (because he’s under contract to be in literally everything) Rob Paulson, Dan Gilvezan (Bumblebee in the 80’s Transformers series) Charlie Adler, Townsend Coleman and Peter friggin’ Cullen – Optimus Prime!

Even the animation stands up very well for being a late 80s cheap cartoon based on a toy. And yes, I’m including both GI Joe and Transformers there.

Anyhoo, Dino Riders may be a short-lived series with a one-dimensional story…….but DINOSAURS WITH ALIEN LASER WEAPONRY IN BATTLES AGAINST REPTILE CREATURES…..COME ON!

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