One evening in 2004, a drunk man began harassing several ladies on the commuter train, including one young, cute girl. A quiet otaku saw this and stood up to the man. The two struggled for a moment while other passengers got a conductor to remove the man. Thankful for his assistance, the cute girl asked for his address and sent a “thank you” gift. The otaku begun to be called Densha Otoko (Train_Man) and detailed the story on 2ch.net with fellow users posting messages of encouragement and help while the two kept in touch. The original event and story are real, but the phenomenon that follows is a universal theme. Viz Pictures brings to America the movie adaptation of the true story that swept Japan, inspiring a novel, manga, stage play, and television series: Train_Man: Densha Otoko.
Audio: Japanese 2.0 DD
Extras: Director & Cast Profile, Otaku Culture Tips, ASCII ART dictionary, Audio “Otaku” Commentary with Patrick Macias, Tomohiro Machiyama & Jay Tack, Train_Man Manga Info, Japanese Original Trailers, Previews
Notes: Review is based on a DVD-R Screener preview copy. The screener features only the main film with English subtitles. Menus and extras are not included.
Simply enough, Densha Otoko (Takayuki Yamada; singer, actor, the voice of Lune in The Cat Returns) is a denizen of Akihabara and a major otaku. While he would normally have never stood up to a drunkard, some strange notion in him propelled Densha Otoko to stop the drunk from harassing the young woman. As he begins to tell his story to the users on 2ch.net (Japan’s largest internet forum), people respond wanting to know more and offer advice. When his “thank you” gift arrives, the users quickly explain that the tea cups, Hermes, he was given are very expensive and clearly a sign that she is interested in more. With a nudge from his fellow patriots, Densha Otoko calls Hermes (Miki Nakatani; Ringu, Ringu 2) and asks her out on a date.
What follows is the transformation from geek to young man as the 2ch users and Hermes each play their role in bringing Densha Otoko out of his shell. The 2ch users make suggestions about clothing, haircuts, and places to eat while Hermes takes the budding relationship very slowly so that Densha Otoko can move along at his own pace. The 22-year-old virgin to all things woman-related goes on an interesting adventure as he becomes more and more of a man. Each date brings the two closer and closer to having a real relationship, if only Densha Otoko could see this for himself. The dates themselves can be amusing, from dinner at a nice restraunt to spending time at her parents’ home to even going to the movie store to rent The Matrix. Every step forward comes with a smile from Hermes. But as with all geeks in love, one can overplan too much. A romantic day together so he can try to reveal his true feelings goes wrong early on and the results leave him heartbroken. Hermes leaves the country on business and Densha Otoko tries to come up with a way to bring a smile back to the love of his life.
Train_Man: Densha Otoko is a sweet film about how love finds a way to make everyone – even the hopeless – happy in life. This is quite literally the Japanese-otaku version of a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film (Sleepless in Seattle or You’ve Got Mail, pick your favorite love potion). While some parts of the love story have obviously been enhanced for theatrical showings, the true heart of the story that an entire country fell in love with is still there. Takayuki Yamada makes for a good Japanese otaku trying to struggle with his shy, geeky, fanboy-self as he moves forward in love. Miki Nakatani plays for a decent girl trying to help her fanboy-lover learn to walk on his own, but I have more of a preference for Misaki Ito’s version (Densha Otoko TV’s version of Hermes). The cinematography can be rather amusing trying to capture the “internet” feel and reactions of users as they respond to the unfolding drama. A good example is a band of three geeks who are often portrayed as being on the “battlefield” as they respond and react to what Densha Otoko and the others say.
Train_Man: Densha Otoko brings out the best in everyone and should be seen at least once every couple of years. The heart of the love story makes for a good tale (not unlike those classic Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan films) to be seen with the one you love (or hope to be with some day). While the DVD screener is a straight “movie-only” demonstration, the extras packaged in the final version include profiles, ASCII art guide, otaku culture tips, and even a commentary track to help you better understand the film. You really couldn’t ask for more, and even the novice to the world of otaku should be able to dive in and enjoy this popcorn flick. Train_Man: Densha Otoko is one of those movies that will touch you in a special way, leaving you wanting more and more.