Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Densha Otoko (Japan 2005)

Billed as a love story for the 21st century, Densha Otoko (Train Man), is a romantic comedy that manages to put a fairly unique twist on the boy-meets-girl formula while exposing audiences to the always-interesting otaku sub-culture. It's always refreshing when even a shred of originality or uniqueness manages to make an entirely stale genre feel new again.

Densha Otoko, or Train Man in English, is not only the name of the movie, but is also the name of the movies protagonist (Takayuki Yamada). What makes him so unique is that he is what the Japanese so lovingly refer to as an "otaku". To be brief, an otaku is pretty much what we here in America would call a nerd. However, the uniqueness I referred to applies because otaku are usually passionately obsessed over things, usually manga or anime. Regardless of their hobby, they're socially awkward human beings and that characteristic is the most important to focus on in regards to the film Densha Otoko. Cultural lesson aside, Train Man lives a fairly routine life consisting of work, shopping in Akihabara (electronics town in Tokyo), and chatting online with his "friends". Nothing out of the ordinary tends to happen to him, until one fateful day on a train ride home.

As Train Man sits quietly listening to his ipod, a beautiful woman (Miki Nakatani) steps onto the train and immediately catches Train Mans eye. Naturally Train Man doesn't have the courage to say anything to her, but thanks to a drunk and disorderly fellow passenger (Ren Osugi), the unthinkable happens: Train Man defends the honor of his dream girl and other women passengers by standing up to the harassing drunk! The police arrive to escort the drunk away, but they want to talk to Train Man, his dream girl and the others in order to collect their statements. Dream girl asks Train Man for his address so she can send him a thank you gift, and thus the opportunity for love to spark has shown itself. Train Man goes home and relays the entire evening event to his online buddies, and all of them are completely blown away by the romantic opportunity that has been presented. When a package does indeed arrive (a cup and plate set from Hermes) at Train Man's home, his online buddies advise officially refer to her as Hermes and advise him to use this as a way to contact her and ask her out on a date. After a shaky display on the phone, Hermes actually agrees to the date and thus the perfect date planning commences. The online team tells Train Man to get a complete makeover before the date, and advises him to do his homework on the restaurant he's taking her to in order to appear well-educated on the meal and location. After an interesting and insightful first date, Train Man is still unsure whether or not Hermes is seeing anyone and he didn't have the courage (yet again) to ask if she did. Train Man begins to run into a bit of problem when he starts relying on the help of his online buddies a bit too much and Hermes begins to find his behavior a little suspicious. With the makeover, and the constant guidance from his friends, Train Man has seriously begun to compromise his first real relationship. Will Train Man come clean with Hermes about who he really is? And will Hermes love Train Man for who he really is?

Obviously you'll find out the answers to those questions if you watch the movie, but I've decided to incorporate questions such as this as a new method of writing my reviews. Again, this is to keep them as "spoiler-free" as possible. I have to say that Densha Otoko is a really charming movie. It covers a lot of ground in the romance field that I think a lot of people can really relate to. We may not all be obsessive nerds, but we can all relate to what it feels like to fall in love for the first time. Being scared about whether the person you're fantasizing about will reciprocate those same feelings, and realizing how having someone in your life can make everything else seem so small and meaningless. I can't say that I've experience otaku behavior firsthand, but I think Takayuki Yamada did an excellent job at portraying such a socially awkward character who is experiencing all of these important feelings for the first time in his life. The supporting cast of online buddies, show via a six-way split-screen, are all wonderful characters that bring a lot of humor and warmth to the movie. The concept of making friends, and even lovers online are a seemingly normal part of everyday life in today's world. There presence in the film shows us that even though we may not see the person face-to-face, it is possible to have people care for you.

I thoroughly enjoyed Densha Otoko, not only because of my self-admitted interest in Japan, but because the characters are lovable, and the jokes are genuinely funny. It's not reinventing the rom-com wheel. We've all seen movies where we've been asked to root for the little guy, but it makes a darn good effort at trying something new, and that fact alone should give you reason enough to want to see it. (Lee)

Buy Densha Otoko on DVD at YESASIA!

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