Saturday, November 01, 2008

Movie Log: Train Man

Another day, another romantic comedy -- I guess I've seen a lot of them recently. (I tend to prefer comedies to dramas, and also mildly prefer independent films to Hollywood ones...and "independent drama" is code for "soul-crushingly depressing story of absolutely horrible things happening to unpleasant people.")

This one is Train Man: Densha Otoko -- the latter is "Train Man" in Japanese, I believe. It's the story of a young yutz (called "Train Man," played by Takayuki Yamada) who meets a cute girl (played by Miki Nakatani -- a small in-joke, since the character in the light novel the movie is based on is described as looking just like Nakatani) on a train by vaguely attempting to protect her from an annoying drunk -- he doesn't really do much, but he is the only person on a crowded train who even tried to stand up to the plastered salaryman.

In typical Japanese fashion, she sends him an expensive thank-you gift: a Hermes tea set (which leads him to start calling her Hermes), and he's not sure what to do.

So he does what he's always done: turns to the Internet for answers. He starts a chat room or message board thread -- if I could read Japanese, I could probably even tell you what site, since the movie shows the computer screens large and clear enough to read many of the characters. And a motley group of others -- a nurse, a young guy alone in a room with his rabbit, a thirtyish salaryman, a thirtyish woman in her kitchen, and three similarly young and confused guys on one computer in a manga cafe -- start to give him advice, and to encourage him.

Under their guidance, Train Man changes his image and pursues this romance -- in fits and starts and with an almost fatal lack of confidence -- entirely on the basis of the advice of his Internet brain trust. And things generally go well -- the main obstacle to overcome is Train Man's own crippling shyness. (I gather such a person is not at all unusual in Japan.)

And then the movie throws a huge curve ball at the very end, which I won't describe, since it would ruin the movie. I want to know what other people think about that curve ball -- it's a continuation of a motif seen a few times earlier in the movie, but there could be very different interpretations of it -- so I'm going to encourage everyone to see this movie.

And, honestly, if you can stand to read subtitles, Train Man is a lot of fun: it's funny, cute, and even heartwarming. Train Man's cheering section become characters in their own right as it goes along, and there's even a small sub-plot involving them. But I'm not sure what to make of that ending -- I can tell it's deliberate, and it's a bold choice, but it does leave me wondering.

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