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Death Train - Kyofu Ressha (Kazuyuki Sakamoto 2004)


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Death Train [Kyofu Ressha]

Genre: Mind-Bending Death Tale

review in one breath

An innocent summer train ride turns into a mind-shattering nightmare for three high school girls. This is the third tale in the "Hino Hideshi Theater of Horror" hexology, and is easily the most thought-provoking and potentially horrific episode of the series. This is a bizarre and intricate story which provides viewers just enough clues to follow through its otherwise indiscernible progression but resolves in a rather enigmatic way which ultimately requires of audiences some after-thought if they hope to understand the nature of the nightmare.


intro

Like the man who proudly claims "I ate the WHOLE thing!" after swallowing the last bite of an entire roasted pig, I can now proudly (??) boast that "I watched the WHOLE thing!!" after sitting through this last remaining episode of Hideshi Hino's Theater of Horror. For the most part, this is in fact nothing a sane person should boast about, since a majority of the tales were lack-luster at best and far from enjoyable. But there were a couple good tales in the mix, and after seeing the entire collection, I can say that Death Train is the most sophisticated and promising of the entire lot.

The entire collection consists of the following six films:

Boy from Hell (director: Mari Asato)
Dead Girl Walking (director: Kôji Shiraishi)
Death Train (director: Kazuyuki Sakamoto)
Doll Cemetery (director: Kiyoshi Yamamoto)
Lizard Baby (director: Yoshihiro Nakamura)
Ravaged House (director: Kazuyoshi Kumakiri)

As you can see from the list above, each tale is directed by a different director. The director here is Kazuyuki Sakamoto whose resume is quite lean at the moment. But the producer is Takafumi Ohashi whose other productions include Kyoufu gakuen (Frightful School Horror, 2001), Ju-Rei 2: Kuro Ju-Rei (Uncanny 2004), Mizuchi (2006) and Kuchisake Onna (Carved 2007). Perhaps due to Ohashi's skill and experience this particular tale easily rises above the rest in this collection.

Though every episode is the product of a separate director and producer, each is based on the manga publications of Hino Hideshi whose tales are invariably derived (or so he claims) to some degree upon personal experience. In other words, Hino's tales are horrific exaggerations of real-life scenarios he has encountered in his past. At age 62, Hino (born 1946) possesses plenty of experience to draw upon, much of which seems to involve traditional aspects of Japanese superstitions.

And perhaps for this very reason Death Train offers Western audiences something rather unique regarding traditional Japanese imaginations of the potentially dark side of after-life experiences. Admittedly, this topic has been explored in only a handful of Western films, the only one of which I think offers a similar (though far less intricate approach) is The Others (2001) directed by Alejandro Amenabar. And while Amenabar's insightful film released three years prior to Death Train (2004), it is important to note that Hino first published this tale in manga form in 1985, 16 years prior to its Western parallel.

Though helpful, the comparison of Amenabar's film with the implications of Death Traini falls short on too many levels. For one thing, Amenabar is clearly working from a Judaeo-Christian perspective of the afterlife, while Hino draws solely from Shinto-Buddhist themes. And these differences are significant.

In several episodes of the Hino collection, gore seems tertiary at best and purely gratuitous at worst. In Death Train, however, there is no doubt that the recurring depictions seek to mimic well-established film imagery of Shinto-Buddhist Hell. One can easily look back as far a Nobuo Nakagawa's 1960 Jigoku/Hell to find the same horrific depiction of recurring physical decimation/annihilation for those in punishment of Hell.

The mind-boggling twist in Death Train is that neither audience or character knows what is real and what is nightmare. Indeed the audience will undoubtedly lose track of whose perspective they see the narrative through. This in itself is a very cool and polished trick. Wisely and fortunately the tale leaves you with a single enigmatic scenario which you'll need to discern for yourself.

verdict

This is actually a very engaging tale. There's plenty of seemingly meaningless slop gore depicted, but (I suggest) this needs to be understood in light of classic film depictions of Hell. Once that connection is made, I think you'll find this to be a rather sophisticated, bitter-sweet tale.

Or at least that's how I will remember it.

Version reviewed: Region 1 Subtitled DVD (with English subtitles)

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Herein lies some rather impressive forebodings of the afterlife, if you are able to discern them. Oodles of Z-grade gore, some cringe worthy but most harmless. The intent here seems to be to invoke classic film depictions of the Eight Gates of Hell. No doubt you were staring at her shapely posterior as she slept on a summer morn. but then she gave you the EYE. I'm giving this my full "strange" status because I love this tale's weird complexity. Despite its being low-budget and less-than-spectacular, this simple tale points deeply into unchartered J-Horror territory.

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