Written by: Michael Den Boer on December 20th, 2016
BluRay released: December 13th, 2016
Approximate running times: 152 Minutes
Aspect Ratios: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Sound: DTS-HD Mono Japanese
BluRay Release: Twilight Time
Region Coding: Region A
Retail Price: $24.95
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.
Bullet Train comes on a 50 GB dual layer (42.7 GB) BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. The source used for this transfer is in great shape and when compared to previous home video releases this transfer is superior in every way. With the biggest areas of improvement being color saturation and image clarity.
This release comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD mono mix in Japanese and included with this release are removable English subtitles. The audio is in great shape. Dialog is clear, balanced and robust when it needs to be.
Extras for this release include, an option to view the Twilight Time catalog, an eight page booklet with an essay about the film written by Julie Kirgo, an interview with director Junya Sato titled Big Movie, Big Panic (24 minute 40 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles) and an option to listen to the Isolated Music & Effects track.
Topics discussed in the interview with Junya Sato include, how American films like Towering Inferno & Earthquake inspired Toei to make Bullet Train, the premise of the film & developing the screenplay, alternate titles that were proposed but not used for this film, Toei’s handoff approach while making this film, how this film has fared around the world & it’s various versions / edits, the cast, special effects and the state of modern day Japanese cinema.
Overall Bullet Train gets a solid release from Twilight Time.
Note: This Blu-Ray release is a limited-edition release of 3,000 copies.