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Literature / Night on the Galactic Railroad

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"I'm not sure what happiness really is."

Night on the Galactic Railroad (銀河鉄道の夜, romanised Ginga Tetsudou no Yoru) is a 1927 novel by Japanese children's book author Kenji Miyazawa. Considered a classic in Japan, it has since been adapted into an animated film and numerous stage plays. Night on the Galactic Railroad is a Mind Screw tale peppered with a good bit of religious symbolism, but it's that special kind of Mind Screw — the kind where you can actually understand things if you give them a good bit of thought.

A boy named Giovanni, while going to get milk for his mother, decides to take a rest under the starry sky... and suddenly finds himself aboard a magical train. His best friend Campanella happens to be riding with him in the same car. The train in question is traveling along The Milky Way, heading for an unknown destination.


The 1985 film changes all but a few characters from humans to anthropomorphic cats, apparently, to honor the author's belief in reincarnation. Also, to honor Miyazawa's love for Esperanto the film was alternatively named Nokto de la Galaksia Fervojo. All signs and "chapter titles" in the film are also in Esperanto. There was a decent English dub released in 2001 starring Veronica Taylor and Crispin Freeman, but was out-of-print for a while, and the DVD was nigh-impossible to find for less than 70 USD. But not anymore! Discotek Media has announced a DVD and Blu-ray release for 2015.

Consists of:

  • The original novel by Miyazawa Kenji, published posthumously in 1934. Four drafts are known to exist, of which the last one is the best-known.
  • A 1985 animated film directed by Gisaburoo Sugii.
  • A 1986 theatrical drama by Sou Kitamura, titled Sou Kou: Ginga Tetsudou no Yoru (想稿・銀河鉄道の夜).
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  • A theatrical sketch in a 2002 play consisting of Kenji's works, written by Yutaka Narui.
  • A 2004 musical by the Warabiza performing arts company.
  • A 2011 play in English by the University of Massachusetts.

Not to be confused with Galaxy Express 999.

Compare One Stormy Night, an animated film adaptation of a children's book also directed by Gisaburoo. Contrast with The Life of Guskou Budori, another adaptation of Miyazawa's book, also by Gisaburoo.

The animated film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Some things in the book Miyazawa didn't specify, so Gisaburo had to use his imagination. The director also added the blind conductor to the story.
  • Adult Fear: Dying and leaving your children alone.
    • Your children drowning.
  • Afterlife Express: It's revealed that the train's purpose is to carry the souls of the dead to the other side. Giovanni is just a guest and he goes back to his current life, though. But his friend Campanella doesn't as he really did die.
  • All Just a Dream: Somewhat subverted.
  • An Aesop: Use your life to the fullest while you still have it, and live for others.
  • Anthropomorphic Animal Adaptation: The book was about humans but the movie is about anthropomorphic cats.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Campanella is dead and Giovanni is devastated about losing his Only Friend. However, it's implied that Giovanni's father might come back home after all, so it's implied that things are improving for him.
  • Esperanto, the Universal Language: All text in the film is written in it. The movie's alternative name is mentioned above. This was done because the original book's author loved that language.
  • Funny Animal: Almost all the characters are cats occupying human roles.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Campanella saved the life of one of the kids who had been cruel to Giovanni, Zanelli, at the expense of his own.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Played straight with Giovanni and Campanella's classmates (especially Zanelli), who tease Giovanni about his missing father (who has failed to return from a fishing trip) and frequently ostracize him. Averted with Campanella and Giovanni, who are very thoughtful and courteous kids; even the way Campanella died makes it obvious that he's the exact opposite of this trope.
  • Mind Screw: That special, rare case, when all becomes clear near the end.
  • No Focus on Humans: The only humans that appear are the man and the two kids in his care who were all among the ones that died on the Titanic. Everyone else is an anthropomorphic cat.
  • Only Friend: Campanella, to Giovanni.
  • Scenery Porn: The visuals and locations play an important role in telling the story, so much attention has been paid to their design and they are frequently focused upon.
  • Shout-Out: Guskou from The Life of Guskou Budori appears briefly.
  • Spiritual Successor: The Life of Guskou Budori
  • The Stoic: Campanella.
  • The Voice: Giovanni's mother, who is in bed with an unspecified illness. She talks to Giovanni from another room in the house

Alternative Title(s): Night On The Galactic Railroad


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