Train Man

2005, Movie, NR, 105 mins

Review

TRAIN MAN | DENSHA OTOKO
starstarstarstar
The sweet, goofy story of the "train man" — a shy nerd whose fumbling first romance is monitored by a community of online backseat drivers — became a phenomenon in Japan. Supposedly based on a true story, it became first a book, then a manga, then this movie and, finally, a television series. The title character (Takayuki Yamada) is a 22-year-old virgin who lives online, except when he ventures out to buy comic books and anime figurines. He's lonely but has no idea what to do about it; the thought of even talking to a girl is utterly foreign to him, and they in turn look right past him. And then fate steps in: He's taking the train home and impulsively stands up for a meek, pretty girl (Miki Nakatani) who's being harassed by an obnoxious drunk. The next day, the girl sends a thank-you gift, a pair of Hermes tea cups; flustered and clueless, he posts the story on an online message board, signing himself "Train Man" and asking for help. And help comes: Half a dozen posters chime in with advice and encouragement, emboldening Train Man to call the woman, whom they've nicknamed "Hermes." He calls, she agrees to dinner, and again he turns to his online boosters for advice. They send him for a makeover, patiently explaining what clothes he should buy and where he should get his haircut, then helping him choose a restaurant and suggesting topics of conversation. As the relationship between Train Man and Hermes progresses, one baby step at a time, we get to know select members of his online coaches, including a heartbroken nurse unable to move past a failed relationship; an alienated husband and wife, neither of whom realizes the other is also corresponding with Train Man; a teenager who's withdrawn from the world entirely (a phenomenon common enough in Japan that there's a name for it: hikikomori); and a trio of geek boys as clueless as Train Man, but thrilled to see one of their own stepping out. The ending drags on, and the fantasy sequences are bluntly obvious (though Train Man's nightmare vision of meeting Hermes' parents is pretty funny), but the fairy-tale romance is grounded in authentic detail. Though Train Man cleans up pretty decently, he still talks too fast and stands too close, and his makeover is a long-term work in progress. But it is working, and that's happy ending enough. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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