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Train Man
  |     review    |     notes     |     availability     |    


Miki Nakatani and Takayuki Yamada take the train in Train Man.
AKA: Densha Otoko  
Year: 2005  
Director: Masanori Murakami  
  Cast: Takayuki Yamada, Miki Nakatani, Ren Osugi, Ryoko Kuninaku, Yoshinori Okada
  The Skinny: With the help of a few anonymous buddies on the Internet, a socially inept otaku tries to woo the girl of his dreams in Train Man, a film that takes the tried-and-true "Extreme Makeover" premise that's been a staple of the romantic comedy genre and reverses the genders involved...with genuinely comic results. Sure, Train Man is a wholly innocuous trifle, but it's still a fun one all the same.
Review by Calvin McMillin:

     To put it simply, the 2005 romantic comedy Train Man is a fairy tale for geeks. As derisive as that comment may sound, it's not really meant as a criticism, just a factual description. Supposedly based on a true story, Train Man (a.k.a. Densha Otoko) centers on a twenty-two year old manga enthusiast known only by the online handle "Train Man" (Takayuki Yamada). Unlucky in love for his entire life, Train Man has consoled himself to the fact that he probably won't be getting a girlfriend anytime this millennium, so he decides to embrace his nerdy fate and spend his free time prowling for toys in Akihabara.
     One evening, our hero's prospects for romance begin to change when he spots a lovely woman (Miki Nakatani) being harassed by a drunken commuter. In a moment of awkward heroism, Train Man intervenes on her behalf. Although he's certainly no Superman, he does delay the drunkard long enough for security to show up. Later, to Train Man's complete surprise, the woman asks for his address so she can properly thank him for his good deed. So energized by this encounter is Train Man that he posts his story on a message board, an act which eventually earns him a faithful, albeit anonymous readership. Little does he know, however, that his story has only just begun.
     Things pick up quickly when Train Man receives a set of expensive Hermes teacups in the mail. The sender? You guessed it - the woman on the train. Both ecstatic and highly confused by this surprising turn of events, Train Man turns to his online pals for help, who post back bits of advice on what his next move should be. After much debate, he finally summons up the courage to call her, and amazingly, she agrees to meet him for dinner. But in preparing for his first ever real date with a woman, Train Man smartly makes a few cosmetic adjustments on the advisement of his online peers. It isn't long before he gets a stylish haircut, purchases some designer threads, and doffs his glasses in favor of some contact lenses. The transformation from geek to chic is surprisingly fast, but no matter what he looks like, it's clear that Train Man is still a socially-inept otaku, as his jitteriness and all-around dorkiness in the presence of the woman he dubs "Hermes" is strikingly apparent. Still, Train Man begins to make progress with Hermes, but unfortunately, his deep-seated insecurities just might mess the whole thing up. It's clearly time for Train Man to grow up, but will he do it in time?
     On its premise alone, Train Man is essentially a G-rated version of The 40-Year-Old-Virgin culturally suited to fit Japanese tastes. While both films maintain an underlying message that love is more important than lust, the main character in Train Man seems to operate in a world where sex isn't even something that would cross his mind, a factor which greatly contributes to the fairytale quality of the film. And while technology, particularly computers, is crucial to the plot, Train Man is, at its core, an old-fashioned romance about finding one's true love. Some may balk at the simplicity of the story, but in some ways, that's part of the charm.
     As far as performances go, Takayuki Yamada makes for a fine Train Man, particularly once the She's All That-style makeover takes place. It's easy to act nerdy when the character is dressed to the nines in Akihabara geek wear, but once he makes the transformation into a more presentable stud, it would be easy for an actor to slip out of the required geekiness necessary for his performance. However, that's not the case with Yamada; the incongruity between what Train Man looks like post-makeover versus his actual behavior helps give this geek fantasy some semblance of realism. No matter how polished Train Man looks, he's still an otaku at heart.
     Also carrying the film along with Yamada is Miki Nakatani, who has the unenviable task of making her character's interest in Train Man seem believable. As likeable as Train Man is as a character is, his appeal seems somewhat elusive. Yes, he's a nice guy, but he's also annoyingly skittish, and as the finale proves, a bit of a crybaby to boot. However, the "crying" scene does make for a funny reversal of expectations as Hermes must console the weeping Train Man with several comical "there, there" reassurances. And while the believability of a relationship between Hermes and Train Man is precarious at best, it would be completely unbelievable if not for Nakatani's performance. She is able to project an inner life, if not an entire past history with men for her character that is not in the script, which gives some indication of why she values Train Man so much.
     One of the more interesting aspects of the film is how it focuses not only on Train Man's mission, but also on his ability to touch the lives of his readership. Among his online supporters, there's a young shut-in, a nurse who seems to be recovering from a failed relationship, three overgrown otakus who've had worse luck in life than Train Man, and a husband and wife who don't realize they're posting on the same board. As each of these characters participate in Train Man's strange coming-of-age story, his amazing strides with Hermes opens their eyes to what's missing in their own lives, showing them that if he can get a girlfriend, then just about anything is possible. Although, these "sidestories" could probably be developed even better in a television drama, the small glimmers of their lives given in Train Man are a welcome presence and enhance the main storyline immensely.
     After all is said and done, Train Man is more or less just a fun little underdog story, thanks in large part to the likeable performances from its cast members. Sure, things are a bit too chaste and simplistic considering the situation, but in some ways, that's part of the appeal. Unlike the protagonist, the film Train Man may not dramatically change your life, but in its all-too-true rendering of the anxieties of dating, on some level it's sure to speak to everyone's inner geek. (Calvin McMillin, 2006)

Notes:

Train Man began as a series of threads on the Japanese BBS 2channel, which happens to be the largest internet forum in the world. Supposedly a true story, the threads were eventually compiled into a bestselling novel, several manga adaptations, this film, and a television series which aired on Fuji TV in the summer of 2005.
• Stay tuned past the end credits for a comical tag ending that gives a preview of sorts for the Train Man television series.
• The film's theme song "Love Parade" is performed by Orange Range, the Japanese alternative rock group from Okinawa who also contributed songs for the anime series Bleach and Naruto, as well as the film and TV drama versions of Be With You.

 
Availability: DVD (HK)
Region 3 NTSC
Kam and Ronson
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese and Cantonese Language Tracks
DTS ES, Dolby Digital EX 5.1
Removable Chinese and English Subtitles
Trailer, Bonus CD
 

   
 
 
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