Written by: Michael Den Boer on August 24th, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, July 5th, 1975
Director: Junya Sato
Writers: Junya Sato, Ryunosuke Ono
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Ken Takakura, Etsuko Shihomi, Eiji Go
DVD Released: September 19th, 2005
Approximate Running Time: 152 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo Japanese
DVD Release: Optimum
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £12.99
Synopsis: Tetsuo Okita (Ken Takakura) has fallen on hard times over the past year with his business going bankrupt and his wife leaving him. Okita concocts a plan to solve his financial problems and with the help of two of his former workers who have remained by his side during these hard times. They have attached a bomb on Hikeri 109 bullet train that will go off if the train ever goes below 80 mph after the train has started. They contact the authorities with their 1.5 billion yen ransom demand and too prove that they aren’t bluffing they have attached a similar bomb to a cargo train. To save them some time the authorities tell the lead conductor Aoki (Sonny Chiba) to keep the train at a speed of about 120 mph which will give them about ten hours to defuse the bomb before the train reaches its final destination.
Genre filmmaking was at its peak in the 1970’s and in many cases this was due to the fact that directors at this time had more control then they ever had before or since. Big budget disaster films The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno were drawing big crowds around the world so it would only be natural for the Japanese to want to make their own home grown disaster films. Bullet Train was directed by Junya Sato who also directed the excellent True Account of Ginza Tortures and the first Golgo 13 film.
Junya Sato’s directing throughout Bullet Train is nearly flawless as he lets the performances tell the story instead of showing off with fancy camera angles. One minor setback with this film it is special effects which for the most part look acceptable despite a few shots that really look cheap. Junya Sato also co-wrote the films screenplay with Ryunosuke Ono.
The intricate plot is well written as each new obstacle is revealed to its fullest effect. This film was cut by nearly forty minutes when released outside of Japan upon it original release and for this release we are blessed with the full-length version of Bullet Train. The bulk of the missing scenes take place during three flashback sequences which are important to the overall feel of the film as they add more character depth and give the viewer more insight into why Okita puts his plan of terror into action.
The cast filled with colorful characters most of which are sympathetic and likable. Ken Takakura performance as Tetsuo Okita is mesmerizing as his character is on the verge of breaking down and losing everything. Sue Shihomi has a brief cameo as a telephone operator.
Sonny Chiba may not be the lead in Bullet Train, still he plays one of the film’s most important characters as the bullet trains lead conductor Aoki. Virtually every moment that involves a scene with Chiba in the film sees him sitting nervously behind the wheel of the train and even though his character lacks mobility Chiba is able to convey so much just in his facial expressions.
The police are by far and away the least sympathetic characters in the film as they go back on their promises time and again. They are often overzealous as they try to capture criminals and in most instances, they kill the criminals before they can get any information from them. This type of inept police work also helps keep the plot going as now they have to find another way to find and disable the bomb.
Surprisingly Okita and his two sidekicks are the three characters that are the easiest to identify and care about. Some of the elements in the plot of Bullet Train would spring up nearly twenty years later in a film called Speed. Overall Bullet Train is a tense drama that will have you on the edge of your seat right up to the films tragic conclusion.
Optimum presents Bullet Train in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original aspect ratio. Optimum just like they had done for their previous Sonny Chiba releases has sourced their Bullet Train transfer from a 35 MM print. The colors are nicely saturated as they faithfully represent the low key color schemes present through out. The black levels look solid as there is a lot of detail present in every frame. There are no problems with compression or artifacts and edge enhancement is kept to a minimum. This transfer is progressive scan still; there are some minor instances of blurring that is present during scenes that contain a lot of movement.
This release comes with only one audio option the films original Japanese language track that is presented in a Dolby Digital stereo. The dialog is crisp and easy to understand. The music and effects are evenly balanced as they never overpower the other. There are no problems with hiss or distortion. Overall this is another satisfying mix from Optimum. English subtitles that are easy to read and follow have been included.
The extras for this release are the same as the ones included in Optimum’s previous Sonny Chiba collection and they are as follows the films original theatrical trailer and a bio on Sonny Chiba. Other extras include a gallery of original Japanese poster art that includes the following films The Street Fighter, Return of the Street Fighter, The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge, Yakuza Deka, Yakuza Deka: The Assasssin, The Bullet Train, The Killing Machine and two posters for Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment. Rounding out the extras is a Sonny Chiba trailer collection that includes the following titles The Street Fighter, Return of the Street Fighter, The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge, Yakuza Deka, The Killing Machine, Yakuza Deka: The Assassin, Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment and G.I. Samurai. Bullet Train is also available as part of Optimum Asia’s Sonny Chiba collection volume 2 which also includes Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment and G.I. Samurai. Optimum Asia adds another quality release to their Sonny Chiba collection that restores nearly forty minutes of footage that is missing from Crash Cinema’s region 1 Bullet Train DVD release giving fans of the film a chance to finally see its full length version of the first time ever with English options. Overall another solid release from Optimum.