Following World War Two, the Japanese inhabitants of the contested island of Sakhalin and its outlying archipelago were forcibly removed by Soviet soldiers. This animated coming-of-age tale – heavily inspired by Studio Ghibli’s 1988 masterpiece ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ – follows two young brothers as they witness the invasion of their homeland before being shipped off to an internment camp.
There are moments of real beauty: the characters in the foreground may be standard big-eyed anime figures, but the backdrops are painterly and immersive. The script takes many of its cues from Kenji Miyazawa’s 1927 cosmic Christian treatise ‘Night on the Galactic Railroad’, a staple in Japanese schools, which might confuse those not familiar with either the book or its 1985 big-screen adaptation, but also makes for some dizzying star-scapes and explosions of psychedelic colour.
But the film also has a sentimental streak that too often feels crude and manipulative, particularly in the cruelly dragged-out scenes of tragedy that close the story.