Train Man (Densha Otoko) — dvd movie review
Posted on March 27, 2007 by Chris Nelson
If you’re at all interested in Train Man, you probably already know at least something about its incredible popularity in its native Japan. Based on a true story of geek love, Train Man has been adapted as a novel, multiple manga adaptations, a television show, and finally this film.
The basic story is thus: After coming to the aid of an attractive young woman harrassed by a drunken salaryman on the Tokyo Subway, Densha Otoko (translated Train Man), a 22 year old perma-bachelor and self proclaimed “game and anime Otaku” writes of his experience on a popular Japanese bulletin board. The members of the board are fascinated by his act of heroism, and spur him to tell them all the details — in particular those concerning the girl. He complies, and their attentions turn toward a possible future meeting. When the girl sends him an expensive thank-you gift the doors to romantic opportunity are opened. Backed by his internet posse, and reminded that whatever the outcome, taking a chance will benefit him in the long run, Train Man sets off in hopes of discovering true romance.
In a surprising feat of film-making efficiency, Train Man was shot, cut, and distributed within the span of 60 days. Usually such speedy delivery would indicate an inferior product, but Train Man‘s quality is really quite extraordinary. It’s charming, funny, heartwarming, and completely engaging. Modern romances that elicit more than passive observance from the viewer are all but unheard of today, but Train Man delivers. When Densha makes boneheaded mistakes, you groan with disbelief and urge him to recover. When he succeeds, you feel near-elated. Through the whole ordeal you are there cheering him on with the same enthusiasm as his internet friends.
The above is due in no small part to wonderfully realized performances by Miki Nakatani (Ring 2, Chaos), and Takayuki Yamada (Dragon Head, Crying Out Love in the Center of the World). Her Hermess is kind, knowing, approachable, and respectfully reserved. It’s worth noting that Nakani was chosen for the role because the original novel by Hitori Nakano described her character as “resembling Miki Nakatani”. Yamada, in turn, is completely believable as Densha. He’s not an actor interpreting what it must be like to feel awkward in your own shoes. He makes no winking asides to distract you from the character. He is Densha, a true life nerd. The two together are wonderful, manifesting a palpable chemistry, and committing to screen one of the sweetest romantic relationships I’ve seen since Shall We Dansu?.
Being that it deals with geeks and geek issues, there are a lot of fun subculture references and “easter eggs” to be found. Densha expresses his love for The Matrix (Trainman was also a name of a character in Matrix Revolutions) and other films, there are sequences in manga clubs, those featuring prominently displayed anime trinkets (I spotted Keroro Gunso and Gundam), characters representing shut-ins and the oft joked about “weapons otaku”, and of course, the ASCII art thats integrated into the various scenes (okay, these ones aren’t hidden at all).
In the end, Train Man is one of the few modern romantic films that actually feels truly romantic. There are no stupid, contrived, overly cute situations, no slapstick moments, no lapses in logic. It’s all very sweet and surprisingly believable. An then there’s the film’s message. Train Man promises that love — a great and fated love — awaits even the most “hopeless” of geeks. There’s something everyone can enjoy in that.
First, I must say that VIZ Media’s DVD of Train Man is surprisingly hard to track down. It took over a month of searching from its release date before I found a copy in a local store (Viz being stationed in SF makes this even more surprising). But, the disc was worth it. VIZ presents train man in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with optional stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese Audio tracks. The transfer is nice and crisp, and holds up well in the color explosions in the some of the final sequences of the film. The audio is clear, though certain scenes have wildly different volumes. A lot of the dialog is soft, which prompts you to turn up the volume, only to turn it down once a rather loud special effect occurs. This also was a frequent occurrence in Punch Drunk Love, so maybe it’s just a staple of romantic films that work for both sexes.
The DVD extras include trailers and TV spots for Train Man, as well as trailers for VIZ releases Linda Linda Linda and Kamikaze Girls. There are four textual extras in the form of a Train Man manga info spot, Otaku Culture Tips (concerning the Akibahara district, Manga Cafe’s and more), director and cast bios, and best of all, an ASCII art dictionary which defines all the text art used in the film. This last one is very very cool.
Lastly, the disc includes a commentary track with Patrick Macias (author of Tokyoscope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion. Pick it up!), Tomohiro, and Jay Tack. It’s very informative, and quite a bit of fun to listen to.
All in all, a decent disc for an awesome film. I’m definitely watching it again.
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