The Imazu Line is the longest of three branch-lines of the Hankyu Railway’s Kobe Line, connecting the cities of Nishinomiya and Takarazuka in Hyogo prefecture. The trip is only 15 minutes, and you know that will be a precise period of time in a country that prides itself on its punctual railway system. As anybody who regularly catches public transport will know, the sardine-like environment can forge single-serving enemies and friendships, but more often than not results in a casual awareness of some of the regulars on the timetable. Based on the novel by Hiro Arikawa, TV drama veteran Yoshishige Miyake makes the move to the big screen and explores those lives that intersect as the trail rolls by.
After Shoko (Miki Nakatani) loses her fiance to a younger office worker, she attends their wedding in a beautiful white dress in an attempt to make him feel regret. On her way back on the train, her story collides with college student Misa (Erika Toda), who has been emotionally abused to the point of submission by her attractive but domineering boyfriend. There’s also the kindly grandmother Tokie Hagiwara (Noboku Miyamoto) who rides with her young granddaughter, a house wife and various school children.
Hanyku Railways – A 15-Minute Miracle is a simple, yet heartwarming, story about the everyday. There are no Babel-like hyperlinks to make grand declarations on the butterfly effect of actions around the world, but rather how the little things in life can make all the difference (for better or for worse) in a person’s life. An overheard conversation, for example, inspires one woman to make up her mind about a difficult dilemma in her life. Similarly, an argument between the same woman and her boyfriend causes a small girl to start crying in fear. These are all small picture things, but they make the world of difference to the people that they directly impact on.
Holding together the film is veteran Miyamoto, who is the all-too-perfect grandmother figure, dispensing matronly advice to all and sundry whether they want it or not. The sentimentalism is undoubtedly manufactured, designed to tickle the part of the brain that responds to kittens and portraits of rolling hills. The deeper issues that it deals with here, which include domestic abuse and school bullies, are only dealt with in a superficial manner. Yet this is kind of the point: the relationships formed on the railways are fleeting, but “miracles” can happen in this short trip. It’s a feel-good movie that might use some manipulation to get its results, but still lives up to its name.
Hanyku Railways – A 15-Minute Miracle played at the Japanese Film Festival on 26 November (Sydney) and 6 December (Melbourne) 2011 at the 15th Japanese Film Festival in Australia.