#108 : They Were 11

TW11_1Now for that age old question… what do you want to be when you grow up? The more appropriate version I would say is… when you mature what identity, or role, will you tie your life towards. For a group of young students in a far off sci-fi future these questions amongst many others will be answered as they learn to live with each other and understand what is important and true for themselves. In 1986, these students were the focus of a feature film by the name of They Were 11.

TW11_2Imagine having to pass a final exam as if your life was on the line, literally! Groupings of ten students have to board spaceships and survive on what is available and solve any problems without guidance. If you need to call for help, even just once, you have to forfeit the idea of graduation. As the story begins we have an immediate problem. This group of ten students we will be with during the story numbers one more. We have eleven students instead of ten, which means one of them is either a stow a way, an imposter and maybe even a threat. Who can it be? Everyone seems to be a suspect, yet all of them have legitimate reasons for being part of this final test. As the story unfolds, the drama grows as problems and issues ensue and trust becomes difficult between these eleven as one of them seems to intuitively understand the ship and certain circumstances better than the rest of the group. This would be enough for any other tale, but They Were 11 has even more to tell.

TW11_3The eleven students all come from different backgrounds. Many of them come from royalty, or well to do families and are in school to essentially follow their family’s traditions. These students are locked into their own paradigms and don’t have much choice for their lives. Tada, one of our main protagonists, is an exception as he is a highly gifted young man from a modest background and is making his way based on his talents instead of his lineage. Add to this, Tada begins to awaken to esper and psychic abilities, plus repressed memories from his childhood, that makes him quite suspect to the others. Frol, our other primary protagonist, is a young feminine androgyne who desperately wants to fit in and be one of the boys due to male privilege and freedom. Frol’s questioning of gender is the other major focus of They Were 11 as Frol comes to terms with the fact that in heart, soul and body a woman she is meant to be. A relationship soon develops between both Tada and Frol as they both share each other’s company, ideas and struggles.

TW11_4So many times space opera is a showdown of spaceships, laser beams, battle tactics and macho bravado, or perhaps, stern military seriousness. Many examples can follow these traits and do it successfully, but They Were 11 goes against this trend. Instead we have a story about relationship, characterization, love and sacrifice set in a future outer space environment. Sounds more like a shojo type of story than the usual shonen/seinen and by jove it is; one of my all time favorite’s of the designation. Instead of the bombast of say a full symphony orchestra, we have a string quartet. And though the size is smaller in scale, the power behind the meaning being expressed may be a little more intense. This is space opera treated as traditional drama for the stage; They Were 11 is dramatic theater, a play, set to animation.

They Were 11 tackles many difficult issues and does it all with grace and dignity. The original manga was the creation of one the best from the Year 24 Group, Moto Hagio, a woman who I have heard was the female equivalent to the great Osamu Tezuka. They Were 11 is a story that represents themes of self discovery and aspiring not to become someone, but to embrace an inner truth in ourselves that only we know to be correct. In a year that saw the release of Studio Ghibli’s first film Castle in the Sky and one of my all time favorite’s Windaria, They Were 11 represents a true dark horse that deserves more attention and recognition; an awesome and inspiring movie.

#39 : Night on the Galactic Railroad

notgr_1I lay awake at night and often think and wonder. A child’s question of, “Mommy, what happens to us when we die?” Or, “Why do we have to suffer?” come to mind. Deep questions, but very important to have a sense of knowing that death is not an end and that life’s lessons can be hard, but beneficial for growth. In the end we all have to make sacrifice and when that sacrifice is to better another for no reason beyond providing a moment of respect, then that is unconditional love and true friendship. This is my friend, who I love, Night on the Galactic Railroad.

notgr_2Childhood can be a difficult time when you are a small and quiet child. Particularly when you grow up as a boy as you can be an easy target for bullying from other children. This is even more true when you are not involved with your fellow peers. Giovanni is such a child. He often falls asleep in class, not because he is a slacker, but because he has to sacrifice for his family. With an absent father and sick mother, young Giovanni has to work to help the family unit. He is essentially alone in the world around him, but his life is about to be turned upside down. On a quiet night he is welcomed to join an incredible journey as a locomotive arrives in a field he is laying in out of no where. And like in Galaxy Express 999, this train does not run on tracks, but flies through out the expanse of outer space… the only way to travel.

Aboard this train he meets his classmate, Campanella, who has always shown compassion towards Giovanni and the two of them enjoy a travel to the stars and beyond. Along the way they meet other travelers and discover the beauty of what the universe has to hold. Each circumstance brings it’s own experience or story as Giovanni and Campanella both enjoy their voyage. Is this all a dream? Could it be the line between life and death? Why are these two boys on this train ride into the great vastness of the universe?

notgr_3Let us look at the concept of sacrifice once again as we all know you can’t get something for nothing or achieve without giving up something in return. The basic law of compensation. The ‘Flame of Scorpio’, which may be my favorite bit of dialogue in the whole movie, I think wraps up the whole idea of giving for a greater cause. Of any ‘children’s story’ I have come across, this has to be the most spiritual, deep and melancholy. As C.S. Lewis once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” So true for Night on the Galactic Railroad.

notgr_4Plus, this movie has anamorphic cats for it’s main cast. I’m a cat person, so there is a little bias, but from early on the production crew wanted to portray our main cast as other than obvious humans. After all a cat can have a human experience too, as they have a particular sense of their own consciousness. Mix that with the references of Miyazawa’s Buddhist ideals and a sprinkle of Christian symbolism makes this a film that can be understood no matter your beliefs. Faith and spirit always return back to the one source. And that source is the beauty of the darkness and space and the reality of the material and closeness of the cosmos and our own Earth. Night on the Galactic Railroad reminds us about the joy and terror of the unknown as that unknown brings exponential rewards.

How does one describe such subtle beauty? In the vastness of the dark of space, or on our planet Earth, we can often feel out of place or alone. But in all the space between most of us there is always someone who will want to share a moment of time with you? And some of those moments might be the best and/or the last time another may share only with you and you alone. Never underestimate the power of those who love you or, the power of the universe itself or… the power of this movie.