Interesting fact: Takeshi Furusawa was the assistant-director on Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s film Pulse. After watching this popcorn flick you might be sceptical but pay attention and you can see a great many similarities to various J-horror films.
A boy named Takashi finds a ticket on a Mizunashi Station train platform and picks it up. He is visited by a menacing woman in a dark robe. Shell-shocked, he makes his way back to the station and encounters his class-mate Noriko and her older sister Nana (Erika Sawajiri). He tells them, “A strange lady came to me and told me I’m going to die because I picked it up.” Nana reassures him that everything will be fine. Noriko takes the ticket from Takashi who boards an empty train still feeling uneasy about his encounter. The mysterious woman reappears just before the train stops in a tunnel. She claims Takashi as a victim. Why did the train stop? The driver, Kuga Shinichi (Shun Oguri) saw a woman on the track but when he investigates there is nobody there. He tells his superiors but finds himself demoted from the role of driver. Meanwhile Kanae (Chinatsu Wakatsuki) and her boyfriend Shigeru are travelling with friends when he finds a bracelet on a seat. He hands it to Kanae as a present and she puts it on her wrist little realising that the object is cursed and she will be visited by horrifying visions. The driver begins uncover the secrets of the tunnel and discovers it is the site of numerous accidents and harbours a dark secret. Nana and Noriko notice Takashi is on a missing person poster but it isn’t until Noriko goes missing that Nana finds herself investigating the disappearances all of which seem to be linked to a woman named Yaeko Aounuma.
Haunted trains and subways? The first title that springs to mind is the nasty 60’s British horror movie Death Line starring Donald Pleasance which had the descendant of trapped tunnellers murdering people. That film was claustrophobic and featured some nasty-looking London tube stations which were horrifying in themselves never mind the murderer. Ghost Train is too glitzy and unfocussed for that and I suspect it is also a star vehicle.
This film was apparently based on a real incident but goes completely off the rails and throws in wafer thin characters, yurei, zombies, demons and saccharine teen drama into a queasy mix. The plot is full of holes so big you can drive a train through, the ending is silly and the tone is wildly uneven at points, which stands in stark contrast to Kurosawa’s unrelenting atmospherics but there are times when the direction does show skill at generating horror.
Furusawa pillages ideas from other directors – shades glimpsed from the corner of the eye a la Kurosawa. Even the sound design is a greatest-hits’ of J-horror: Ringu’s odd tones, the noise that Ju-On’s strangled ghouls make and the cutting whispers of Pulse’s revenants. These elements are thrown in and disappear at random and are never satisfactorily explained but there are moments when they work and show Furusawa has some panache: Kanae being dragged across a train platform is an especially good sequence.
The quality of acting is good even if the material is conventional. Ever heard of Erika Sawajiri?
Well she might have been the next big thing but her career stalled which is a shame because she manages humanise the cliché of J-horror heroine. Shun Oguri is solid as male lead even if his big action hero moment is undercut by the fact that a getaway in a train is very rarely exciting.
Released: September 30th, 2006 (Japan)
Running time: 92 mins.
Director: Takeshi Furusawa
Writer: Takeshi Furusawa, Erik Tanaka (Screenplay),
Starring: Erika Sawajiri, Chinatsu Wakatsuki, Shun Oguri, Aya Sugimoto, Miyoko Asada, Koki Kato, Shigeru Saiki, Aja,