April 23, 2009

Ghost Train

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Takeshi Furusawa - 2006
A.D. Visions Region 1 DVD

To what extent does one consider the horror film as a work of symbolism rather than just evaluating the work for its surface values? I was ready to dismiss Ghost Train until a point approximately fifty minutes into the film there seemed to be more than the familiar Japanese horror film tropes. There is also a thread that seems to be pan-Asian, with the ghost story as a metaphor for urban alienation. What piqued me was the realization that even though Ghost Train takes place in Tokyo, for much of the film, it is a strangely empty, depopulated Tokyo that we see. And while I can't really say that Ghost Train is about female empowerment, the male characters are essentially weak, if not comfortably impotent. Without undue emphasis, Ghost Train can be read as a look at the tenuous sense of family and belonging in contemporary Japan.

The symbolic aspects of Ghost Train seem appropriate when one considers that director and co-writer Furusawa previously worked as an assistant to Kyoshi Kurosawa on two films, as well as co-writer with Kurosawa on Doppelganger. While Ghost Train does not achieve the creepiness of Kurosawa's films, there are a few thematic similarities. That much of the horror is suggested also seems to indicate that Furusawa was making a film for a wider, younger audience. Also referenced lightly is H. P. Lovecraft, with the main character, Nana, considering Miskatonic University, as well as a glance back at Quatermass and the Pit, the cult classic of horror and urban alienation in the tunnel of a subway station.

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The Ghost Train is a subway train, with a ghost that primarily haunts a station. The Japanese title translates as "lost and found", and the story is about lives lost and found in the dark of the subway tunnels. A significant part of the film also takes place in the lost and found section of the train company, where the story is partially explained. Nana loses her little sister, Noriko, as well as coming close to losing her hospitalized mother. Isolated from her peers at high school for being too studious, Nana finds friendship with bad girl Fujita in the course of discovering the cause for the disappearance of several people who had all found the same train pass. Nana also finds a new sense of self at the end of the film.

Ghost Train was co-written by a woman, Erika Tanaka, who seems, from what little is available in English, to be interested in women with paranormal encounters. The only man who takes action is the train operator who was confined to the lost and found room after claiming to see something in a tunnel. Even then, it only after the badgering of Nana that he investigates the mystery of the tunnel. The other men are simply interested in keeping the trains running as scheduled and covering any possibility of scandal. Some parts of the story, even within the context of a horror film, don't make sense. There is too much reliance on mysterious long haired women and pale children who seem to have returned from the dead. Still, if one is to view popular culture as indicative of times, Ghost Train is worth a look at a handful of young Japanese women who refuse to be passive about their lives, or even their deaths, while the men clumsily uphold a status quo that is quickly disappearing.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 23, 2009 12:36 AM