Japanese biopics generally don’t travel well: A famous historical figure here is usually only slightly known to international audiences at best. Also, the films’ hagiographic portraits have little appeal to non-Japanese who aren’t already fans.

Izuru Narushima’s “Father of the Milky Way Railroad” tries a different, more interesting approach to the life of poet and writer Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933), who is beloved in Japan but not as well-known abroad as the Danish author to whom he is often compared, Hans Christian Andersen.

The film traces Miyazawa’s life from his birth in 1896 in Iwate Prefecture to his death from acute pneumonia at age 37 in 1933, but its focus is his father, Masajiro Miyazawa (Koji Yakusho), a well-off pawnbroker in the Iwate city of Hanamaki. Based on a novel by Yoshinobu Kadoi, the film portrays him as a refreshingly atypical Japanese movie dad of his or even the modern era.