Happy Birthday ~Inochi Kagayaku Toki~ (Happy Birthday ~The Moment When Life Shines~)

Updated: Oct 30

Scrolling through anime movies for kids, I found this obscurity from 1999. Based on a novel by Kazuo Aoki and sometimes given as Re-Birthday after Eleven Arts’s retitle, it’s properly Happy Birthday ~Inochi Kagayaku Toki~ (Happy Birthday ~The Moment When Life Shines~), but Re-Birthday is an apt handle given its themes. This is a title where subject matter is a bigger unifier than any series of events—multiple plot threads are pursued, one over the other, in drama affecting both children and adult characters, with bullying, disability, school and family life major presences. Birthdays, those special days to celebrate an individual, play an important part in the story, and point to the new beginnings that can come after healing and reconciliation.

How much drama, heartbreak can you fit into 80 minutes? Watch Happy Birthday ~Inochi Kagayaku Toki~ to find out. There are at least four times where the pangs of sadness really hit, and in earnestness, the emotiveness can sometimes appear contrived “in the public interest”. The movie sometimes smacks of an after school special, or even a special made to be shown in school, to make pupils think about the consequences of their actions, and encourage them to behave. Elementary school life here sometimes more resembles grade school as portrayed in American cartoons (think The Magic School Bus, Recess), where the kids are grimy, unattractive, and uncharitable, rather than immaculate, adorable, and cooperative (see Cardcaptor Sakura, Shugo Chara!). Indeed, the action begins with Aoba Primary School student Asuka Fujiwara getting bullied for walking home with classmate Junko Kanazawa, cruelly nicknamed Germy by a group of boys who picks on her daily. A few scenes near the beginning are instructive: Asuka and Junko and kind to one another, but lack the courage to stand up to the bullies. In class, Asuka (and everyone else) stays silent while a few boys harass Junko, but on the walk home, Junko crouches behind a tree as the same boys toss Asuka’s backpack in a pond. It’s every kid for him- or herself. Thankfully the healing (iyashikei) element is not slow to begin either. The boys run away as someone approaches; it turns out to be Keiko Hanamura, wheeling her severely disabled daughter Megumi under the cherryblossom trees. When Megumi’s hat blows away, Asuka returns it, and the two girls meet, clasping hands. Soon after, Asuka volunteers to be her class’s “goodwill representative” to the special needs school next door. On encountering Megumi again, Asuka takes the chance to deepen their friendship.

In spite of the bullies, Asuka was upbeat as she awaited her birthday, which she assumed her mother would remember as in years past. However, as her brother Naoto smugly reminds her, their father is on a business trip in London, so the