Beyond the Train Tracks - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A+
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Menus Rating: B-
  • Extras Rating: A+
  • Age Rating: All
  • Region: 2 - Japan
  • Released By: Avex
  • MSRP: 2940
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Beyond the Train Tracks

Beyond the Train Tracks

By Brett Barkley     February 21, 2007
Release Date: January 18, 2006


Beyond the Train Tracks
© Avex


What They Say
Tayuta MIKAGE, vibrant creator who rocked the anime world with his solo CG animation KLOKA the year before Voices of a Distant Star (dir. Makoto SHINKAI). And now in his latest work, Beyond the Train Tracks, MIKAGE demonstrates his virtuosity once again. This release has garnered attention across a wide range of visual genres for the unparalleled visuals and view of the world, all realized with a refreshing yet nostalgic touch. This impressive compilation includes all of MIKAGE's groundbreaking works to date. Main feature and bonus features produced from non-compressed master sources, resulting in satisfyingly sharp visuals.

Synopsis.....
A boy encounters a trace of his lost father on tracks where time comes and goes, at a station where time stops. With the help of a mysterious projectionist, the boy and stationmaster search for the truth of the father's image.

The Review!
A unique and beautiful exploration of the things once lost that we yearn to reclaim, as well as a fascinating glimpse in to the mind of a brilliant creator.


Audio:

Available in an incredibly active Dolby 5.1 presentation with Japanese or English subtitle options, Beyond the Train Tracks is truly an aural masterpiece. I was blown away at the beauty of the sounds, and the play in the rear speakers, at times transfixed by the way the very vibrant, very real sound was used so perfectly with the very graphic and stylized imagery. When a character bites in to an apple, though the representation of the fruit is very graphic in nature, the sound feels perfectly real. It is rare to see a more striking, or a more successful symbiosis of the audio and video.

Video:

Beyond the Train Tracks is reproduced here with crystal clarity in its original 4:3 aspect ratio. The transfer appears seamless, as the brilliant coloration feels consistent and true. With the vibrancy of the colors, Beyond the Train Tracks seems made for larger, warmer displays, but works on smaller sets almost as nicely.


Packaging:

Beyond the Train Tracks ships in a standard keepcase, the cover featuring the same graphic bold imagery utilized in the titular short film. Showcasing some of the nicest graphic design I've seen for a cover in some time, the primary image actually consists of two separate images, set as if reflecting one another from the center. The upper half of the cover image is set in a warm tone of gold, and features the silhouette of a boy standing on the train tracks in the distance. The lower half of the image is set in a duskier blue tone, and features the front of a one of the trains from the featurette as it moves toward us. Almost imperceptible is the figure of the train's conductor. An orange graphic representation of a set of train tracks divides the image horizontally and also features the title, both in its original and large Japanese, as well as in English. The entire cover image is double-framed by both a thin white and thick black border. Much like Mikage-san's works found within, the cover image is striking and subtly complex.

The disk reverse cover features Japanese text in white set against a predominantly black background. Six images from Beyond the Train Tracks dominate the upper half of the reverse cover, while four small screen captures from Kloka can be found in the lower right side of the screen. The text found on the reverse cover offers insight in to the eponymous short, a brief write-up about talented creator Tayuta Mikage, as well as an impressive listing of major awards his works have garnered, and disk information. A small half-page, one-sided advertisement for three releases in the DVD catalog is the only insert bound with the disk.


Menu:

Once inserted, the disk boots directly to the opening credits of the feature presentation in its native Japanese language track. The menu is only accessed either after the feature, or by directly accessing it from the remote keypad. The initial, or Japanese language menu features a still image of the projector operator character and his film projector as featured in two of Mikage-san's work featured on this disk. The image is colored largely in red and orange, and in the solid graphic style of the short film. Menu options are listed clearly in the lower right of the screen, with English Menu and Staff Credit options listed clearly in the lower left corner of the screen. There are no sub-menus, as instead all features and options are shown in a list. The feature presentation, Beyond the Train Tracks is the first and largest selection, immediately below this is a category marked, Bonus Features, featuring the options: Beyond the Train Tracks, A Past on Film, Apple Island, and Kola (with Japanese subtitles). The English Menu mirrors the content of the Japanese Menu, but instead shifts the primary background image's color to shades of green. While the feature and bonus selections remain the same, A Past on Film, and Apple Island can be viewed with English subtitles from this point. No sound or music loop is played from either menu screen.

Simple and easy to follow, the menu is breeze to navigate. This is made particularly so without the inclusion of various menu pages. However, while this makes it easy to find all available options at a glance, it does feel a bit simple or bare. Likely this was a creative decision to tie in to the visually graphic and deceptively simplistic feel of Mikage-san's work, which makes a bit of sense. However, considering the absolutely spectacular sound and music employed to great effect throughout the short film, the lack of any audio loop for the menu feels a bit like an oversight.


Extras:

Straddling the line between simply an astonishing array of extras and a compilation disk, Beyond the Train Tracks features three additional short features, ranging from three to nine minutes in length. Naturally, the bonus features include the more ubiquitous Japanese Trailer for Beyond the Train Tracks. But beyond this is included the short works, A Past on Film, Apple Island, and the more widely recognized Kloka. A Past on Film clocks in at nine minutes and features the projectionist from Beyond the Train Tracks in an interesting story exploring just what can be learned in retrospect. Apple Island is an almost Impressionistic perspective on the wonders of youth, clocking in at three minutes. Finally, Kloka, with a running length of seven minutes, is a poignant exploration of the changing face of a life in time. With all that is added, it may seem ungrateful to ask for more, but as this disk serves as a showcase (and for some viewers, an introduction) of Mikage-san's work, I would have loved to have seen the inclusion of some interviews or behind-the-scenes with the creator.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)

From the moment the credits for Beyond the Train Tracks began to roll, I realized this was something different. Driven by a beautiful electro-pop beat and the sound of passing cars, the credits trail graphic aspects of the train tracks so important to the heart of the film. Seamlessly, this graphic representation becomes the track by which the train pulls in to the station, thus beginning the piece.

The story opens in a metaphorical train station outside of our conceptions of space and time. Connected to a network of tracks, a branch that extends to the future, and another extending to the past, the station is a waypoint of sorts, a place where time has no meaning or movement, where it is always now. Joining the conductor in this strange place are two other passengers, one a mysterious projectionist, the other a young boy who appears to be traveling alone. The projectionist has obviously traveled this way before. With the projector he carries at his side, and with six hours and twenty-two minutes until the next train arrives, he offers to entertain the conductor with new and fascinating films, but the conductor is in no mood to watch love stories, or anything else. He is bothered by the young boy waiting alone on the platform. It seems the child's father had left some time ago, presumably passing on, but the boy insists he has since seen his father, working as a conductor on this very line. He said he only caught a glimpse of his father as his train passed, but that his dad tried to speak to him, tried to tell him something, but he couldn't hear, as his father was working in the train's compartment. So the boy insists on waiting. He will wait until his father returns.

While the boy waits at the station, he'll never grow older. He'll always be stuck in this cycle of waiting. Taking note of a picture the boy had drawn, the projectionist reveals a bit more about himself and his abilities, as he converts that image, and therefore the boy's memory to film, something that will give him a clue as to where the boy has come from, and just who it was he saw in the train's compartment. Once the film begins to wind its way through the projector, our window into the boy's life shifts, advancing ten years in to his future.

His father having never returned, the boy, now ten years older (having left the station in his search, thereby allowing time to begin for him again), has become a conductor on this very line, in the hopes of continuing his search. Dusky and blue, his world now reflects the resentment he holds in his heart for the naïve and hopeful boy he was. But when a looming and disastrous accident forces him to rediscover who he once was, it forges a beautiful reconciliation between who he was, is, and will be.

When I began my review of Beyond the Train Tracks, I was concerned about the length as a limiter in adequately conveying a story, making it difficult to associate with the characters and message. However, while clocking in a just over eleven minutes in length, the story manages to convey exactly what it needs to resonate with the viewer.

Beyond the Trains Tracks is a very striking short film for a number of reasons. On the surface, the work's visuals and sound are each absolutely beautiful in their own right. Further beneath, the story is both dense and refined, with just enough to provide the viewer all the necessary answers, while leaving the piece open enough to connect with viewers from varying walks of life.

The characters in Beyond the Train Tracks are not named beyond the general description of who they are or their titles. There are conductors, the Projectionist, and the boy. By leaving the characters only generally defined, the message of the piece is better conveyed, is permitted to better connect with the aspect of each viewer own internal child. The characters of primary importance are the Projectioist and the boy (in both stages of his life as shown here.) His past unexplored beyond the loss of and yearning for his father, the boy is our window in to the story. His struggle represents the yearning we each have for that thing we have lost, that thing we may spend the rest of our live seeking.

The Projectionist is left intentionally unexplained, yet his role in the boy's life is pivotal. Where this character comes from and where he is going, are unimportant in his role in this boy's life. Serving as more of a sub-conscious guide, he facilitates memory and realization, guiding the boy (and the viewer) through his own process of understanding who he was, who he now is, and what this means for who he will be.

The world Mikage-san creates in Beyond the Train tracks is a place outside our day-to-day reality, but one that immediately strikes a chord with each of us. Who among us is not still seeking that something we have lost connection with from our childhood? Throughout the short film, Mikage-san suggests it is the search for these lost things that define the life of the viewer, which instructs who we will become. It is not through the discovery of his father that the boy finds his peace, that he realizes all he has and will become, but only through coming to terms with the child he once was does he realize without even knowing it, he has become what he admired.

As noted at several points above, the sound and music featured throughout Beyond the Train Tracks is beautifully done. Creating a striking juxtaposition with the more graphic representations of the visuals, the audio feels all the more realistic and immersive. The sound of the cars on the tracks, of the tracks moving in to place, literally everything, adds a clarity of life to the piece that works perfectly with the more stylized visuals. I also found the piece's music to be very well suited for directing the story's quiet, ruminative feel.

Visually, the story is driven by graphic representations of the characters and their environment. Everything is smooth and beautifully rendered in CG animation. Mikage-san does not attempt ultra-realism, or even the slick and shiny rendering of many Western CG animation studios (Pixar for instance), but rather chooses a style that at once expresses a flat yet three-dimensional feel for his characters and world. Whereas his figures have a smooth, refined feel, the track and train structures in the piece take this in a different direction, represented here as incredibly detailed and intricate. Combined with the solid and brilliant colors of this world, the final product is quite striking and memorable.

Mikage-san uses color to great effect in subconsciously guiding and informing the viewer of the piece's changing mood and tone. When the viewer is introduced to the boy, the world is painted in beautiful warm gold tones. Everything speaks to his hopefulness and optimism. When our window in to his life shifts ten years in to his future, so too does the tone of the piece, shifting to more sullen blues. Through this, Mikage-san enables the viewer to develop an even more powerful response to the stages in the boy's journey.


In Summary:

Stylistically and thematically different from the majority of contemporary anime works, Beyond the Train Tracks does a great deal in expressing and exploring the near-limitless artistic possibilities of the medium. While this work may differ from the majority of the mainstream pieces many anime viewers have grown accustomed to, I truly believe the story has a near-universal appeal, resonating with aspects in the life of nearly every human being. While brief, it is complete, its message to the viewer clear. I heartily recommend Beyond the Train Tracks as the work of an up-and-coming visionary in the field, and ask potential viewers not to allow its stylistic and thematic differences (the things that actually make it excel) to discourage them from exploring its message.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Japanese Subtitles,Original Trailer,A Past On Film,Apple Island,Kloka

Review Equipment
34" Sony FD Trinitron Wega HDTV KD-34XBR910 and Sony Dav-FR9 progressive scan Home Theatre System with 114 watts per channel to each speaker and 115 watts to each of the subwoofer's two woofers.

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