train man (densha otoko)

We're been running our own Netflix Japanese movie fest and our latest recommendation is Densha Otoko Train Man (2005). This movie is based on a supposedly true story of a 22 year old otaku who finds love after saving a woman from a drunkard on a train. The story originated on an immensely popular Japanese internet forum called 2channel and ultimately spawned a manga, novel, tv series and this movie.

After saving the woman and receiving a thank you gift, the otaku seeks advice from fellow posters on the internet forum. The movie cleverly goes back and forth between the main love story and the 2channelers' typing in advice to help him along. Their suggestions and reactions (complete with ASCII art) are often hilarious. The otaku goes through a predictable makeover, woos her with geeky charm, survives some setbacks and ultimately confesses his love for her. Once she reciprocated, a mass celebration of 2channel poster ensues with the story making a positive impact on their own lives.

The film is in some ways predictable but develops a charmingly innocent love story while celebrating otaku culture and commenting on the impact of web culture on people's lives.

Battle Royale (2001) sets a much darker tone in imagining a corrupt government plotting to control unruly youth in Japan by annually sending one 9th grade class to a remote island where they are all forced to fight till death. The lone survivor can re-enter society.

The opening scenes show kids misbehaving in class - quite different from the orderly Japanese school system ingrained in American minds - and leads to one kid stabbing a teacher (played by Beat Kitano) in the back. The following year, the class is gassed, kidnapped and dumped on a deserted island. Kitano is wonderful in his performance as the evil teacher in charge - infusing humor within his bitter anger. He sets the rules, threatens the kids into battle and announces daily fatalities with chuckling encouragement. You don't get too attached to many of the 40 kids in the class - but that's the point. There's no time to get attached and the rapid killings highlight how quickly many of the kids succumb to survivalist mode and play out the animalistic violence predicated by the game. There is a small select group of kids (including a character played by a young Chiaki Kuriyama) who enter a central focus by valiantly rebelling against the rules. Eventually, one young couple in love and a renegade hero desperately confront Kitano's character and look for a way out.

The movie is wildly entertaining but in light of the events of Columbine and Virginia Tech, I can see why this movie will never make it stateside.


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