THE BULLET TRAIN (1975)

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The Bullet Train

THE BULLET TRAIN (1975)
aka Shinkansen Daibakuha
Directed by Jun’ya Satô
Japanese Language with English Subtitles
Available on Blu-Ray from Eureka Entertainment

A group of radicals plant a bomb on a busy bullet train in Tokyo. Activated at 80km per hour, the bomb will detonate if the train drops below that speed. To prove that their threat is serious, they’ve also rigged up a similar bomb on a freight train. After the train authorities are alerted by the bombers to their wicked dead, they manage a controlled stop of the freight train to ascertain whether or not its an empty threat. Realising it’s very much real, the train headquarters, Japanese police and Government officials must race against the clock in order to save the 1500 passengers onboard. With advanced technology built into the train to bring it to a halt in the event of any obstructions further up the track, and with other trains already on the route, they must do whatever it takes to avoid the train from slowing down or stopping. With the disgruntled passengers onboard unaware as to why they’re unable to get off at their usual stations, it’s not just a case of keeping the train driver calm and focused, but the people onboard too.

Long before Hollywood action flick Speed, starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and Dennis Hopper, which featured a bus rigged with explosives, primed to detonate should it slow down under a certain speed, a Japanese film from Toei named Shinkansen Daibakuha (aka The Bullet Train in English-speaking territories) put audiences on the edge of their seat as a well-used mode of public transport suddenly became a ticking time-bomb. The idea that something so innocent could be turned against the people is what makes award-winning movies THE BULLET TRAIN and SPEED, such great films for action-movie lovers to watch. Part of the allure is to see how on earth the vehicle can be prevented from slowing down when there’s so many problems that can crop up, not to mention the distressed passengers causing a kerfuffle, but also who is behind such a devious attack and what do they want to gain from holding the power over so many lives?

In THE BULLET TRAIN, Sonny Chiba stars as train driver Aoki who is likely wishing he didn’t turn up for work that day as he becomes co-responsible for the lives on the bullet train, Hikari 109, travelling from Tokyo to Hakata. With much of the decisions in the hands of the headquarters who schedule and oversee the train tracks, routes and systems, he’s at their mercy that they can find a solution before it’s too late. That doesn’t mean he’s out of the woods. Being in charge of the controls, brakes and manual override, his ability to remain calm in this situation is paramount in order to ensure the train stays above the threshold speed when necessary.

It’s nail-biting stuff as we witness the stress reach palpable levels inside the rail HQ as they must overcome problems on the track that could cause the train to stop. Likewise, as the passengers begin to get wind of what’s really happening and why they’re unable to stop at the usual rail stations, it reaches fever pitch for the conductors and security on board who must manage the fear and unpredictability of what these people can do. With businessmen on the train missing multi-million yen meetings for their employers, the fear and panic of screwing up their careers seems to take over. Rational thinking goes out the window for quite a few of the passengers and this creates a problem for the others on board as emotions escalate.

From the other side of the fence, we have the three amigos behind the bombing. Tetsuo Okita (Ken Takakura) is the main brains behind the operation but even he realises things aren’t going as swimmingly as they’d hoped. The cat and mouse segments between the radicals and the police are exciting to watch as the bombers demand $5 million in exchange for saving the lives of those on board the bullet train. Of course, the Government isn’t going to want to give up money willingly, thereby risking copycat criminals who may pull similar tricks to extort money, but if they don’t stump up the cash it could mean the death of all those travelling on the train. As the film unfolds, we learn more about the three radicals and why they have chosen the path they have. With just hours until the train must come to a standstill, the police must decide whether to give the terrorists the money and trust them to keep to their word that they will help to defuse the bomb, or take more direct action and catch the criminals themselves.

At 150 minutes long, THE BULLET TRAIN is quite a lengthy movie to sit through, though I suppose modern-day audiences will be used to it with recent theatrical releases sporting a similar duration. Whilst the film manages to keep the viewer engaged with the story on screen throughout the running time, it does drag a little at certain moments. Although, even if segments were tightened somewhat, I don’t think it would lessen the length that much, with most of the scenes helping to craft this full-bodied disaster thriller into a story the viewer cares about.

A tremendous set of performances combined with an ingenious idea that injects real thrill and fear into the viewer is what makes THE BULLET TRAIN such an exhilarating watch. Whether it’s a train or bus (let’s not talk about cruise ships), the idea that your life could be hanging in the balance should the vehicle drop in speed is terrifying. The real nail-biting scenes for me though are the ones in the train transport headquarters, where rail director Kuramochi (played with tremendous grit by Ken Utsui) is forced to take the reins of the situation and strategise on how to overcome the numerous life-threatening obstacles Hikari 109 must face whilst protecting all the lives on board. That man deserved a raise!

Terrific, heart-pumping entertainment!

Rating: ★★★★★★★★½☆

SPECIAL EDITION BLU-RAY FEATURES*

  • Limited Edition slipcase featuring new artwork by Tony Stella (First Print Run of 2000 copies)
  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 2K restoration of the original film elements
  • Original Japanese theatrical version and alternate dubbed International version included
  • Optional English subtitles
  • Brand new audio commentary by Jasper Sharp and Tom Mes
  • Brand new interview with author / critic Kim Newman
  • Brand new interview with Tony Rayns
  • “Big Movie, Big Panic: Junya Sato on The Bullet Train” archival featurette
  • Trailers
  • PLUS: A limited edition collectors booklet featuring a new essay by film writer Barry Forshaw (First Print Run of 2000 copies)
    *All extras subject to change
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About Bat 4431 Articles
I love practical effects, stop-motion animation and gore, but most of all I love a good story! I adore B-movies and exploitation films in many of their guises and also have a soft spot for creature features. I review a wide range of media including movies, TV series, books and videogames. I'm a massive fan of author Hunter S. Thompson and I enjoy various genre of videogames with Kingdom Hearts and Harvest Moon two of my all time favs. Currently playing: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Yakuza Zero and Mafia III.

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