March 05, 2006

THE BULLET TRAIN (1975) R2 DVD review

THE BULLET TRAIN (1975, Japan, titled "Shinkansen daibakuha")
DVD review (Region 2 PAL UK, Optimum Asia)

Sonny Chiba wasted as a train driver aboard a seventies disaster movie from Japan

Japanese bullet trains are very long and very fast. The Japanese movie BULLET TRAIN is very long but very slow.

The story starts off briskly enough, with a bomb planted on a long distance bullet train journey, set to detonate if the speed drops below 80 k.p.h. On board are a pop group, a fugitive in police custody, and an expectant mother (of course). As the police scramble to find the bomber, the passengers realise something is wrong when the train misses its scheduled stops and panic breaks out...

Considering the bullet train has 1500 passengers and the control room is teeming with personnel, it's strange that we never get to know anyone in this film, except the bomber himself, played by Ken Takakura, who we spend the most time with. This tips the film in his favour as we end up more worried about his problems and whether he'll get away with it - I'm sure our sympathies aren't intended be with the criminal, but that's how it plays.

With a running time of 150 minutes (!) and a cast of Japanese acting heavyweights (in bit parts), there's too little plot and too little logic (especially in the police's actions) to sustain it. Considering Sonny Chiba is in the film, there's too little action either.

The UK region 2 release from Optimum Asia (pictured above) is apparently much better-looking than the US DVD. There's a lovely anamorphic widescreen presentation of this 2.35 movie, with optional english subtitles. It's the original Japanese version, and not the cut-down American release, though I imagine that the english-dubbed seventies dialogue could have been entertaining. There are also trailers for the Japanese release of bullet train ("a coffin on wheels") and 8 other Sonny Chiba films, which certainly look fun.

Max

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