Ghost Train

2006, Movie, NR, 93 mins


The occasional eerie moment can't elevate this routine piece of by-the-numbers J-horror above the pack.

High-school student Nana Kimura (Erika Sawajiri) is shouldering a heavy load for a teenager: Her single mother's weak heart has landed her in the hospital for an extended stay, so Nana must juggle her studies, an after-school job and the care of her younger sister, Noriko (Sayuri Honda). Noriko and Nana normally take the train to and from school together, getting off at Mizunashi station. But though Mizunashi is to all appearances a clean, ordinary, secure aboveground facility, there's something strange going on. Noriko's classmate, Takashi, finds a commuter pass on the platform and vanishes soon after, and Nana catches a discomfiting glimpse of a barefoot woman in a shabby black dress, gazing blankly at the tracks. A moment later the woman is gone. Noriko finds the same pass a few days later, and on the one night Nana is unable to accompany her home, she vanishes as well. Nana reports the disappearance to the police but also launches her own search, while keeping Noriko's disappearance a secret from her ailing mother. Nana finds allies in Shunichi Kuga (Shun Oguri), a train operator demoted to lost-and-found duty for repeatedly bringing his train to a screeching halt to avoid hitting a corpse on the tracks — a corpse that's never there when he gets out of the cab to investigate — and in classmate Kanae (Chinatsu Wakatsuki), a mean girl who turns out to be nothing more than a lonely teenager trying desperately to find her place in the rigid high-school hierarchy. Kanae's sometime boyfriend, Shiguru, gave her a bracelet that belonged to the same vengeful spirit who's been abducting unwary commuters and bedeviling Shunichi: Her name is Yaeko, and she committed suicide while nine-months pregnant by throwing herself onto the tracks at Mizunashi station, right before the train entered an oddly configured tunnel.

Japan is said to abound in urban legends about trains. But writer-director Takeshi Furusawa, former assistant to Kiyoshi Kurosawa (PULSE, 2001; CURE, 1997), is more interested in pilfering the now-cliched images and themes that have characterized Asian horror since the groundbreaking 1991 TV series Scary True Stories — spectral women with long black hair, malevolent gray-skinned child ghosts, ancient evil channeled through modern technology — than putting a fresh spin on modern-day campfire tales. Furusawa's storytelling is lazy overall, and while the film's climax is spectacular, it makes no sense whatsoever. (In Japanese, with subtitles) leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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