Thanks to Friend of This Blog Ed, I was able to see the movie edition of Train Man on DVD.
I’ve generally been impressed with the DVDs I’ve seen from Viz Pictures. The films they choose to bring over are well-presented and (based on my viewing, anyway) material of interest to a wide audience. For instance, I wanted to see this because I’d read the three translated manga versions, but my husband also was interested enough to watch it, although he doesn’t read much manga.
That makes sense — it’s a classic romance combined with a mythic story about the types of modern community we build for ourselves. For those who don’t know the story, a young man accidentally protects a girl being hassled on a train. She sends him a gift to thank him, and he falls in love. With the help of an online community, he transforms himself from geek to someone ready to be in a relationship. It’s a paen to old-fashioned dating. The two get to know each other through shared experience, gradually coming to be more interested as they learn more about each other. It’s also an honest portrayal of fan enthusiasm.
One of the distinctions between this version of the story and some others is how some of the supporting chat board members are fleshed out. Here, there’s a nurse, a businessman, a group of three geeks, a housewife, and a sulky teen. The latter is the type of stereotype said to populate most comic boards: he’s a naysayer who lives with his parents whom I disliked immediately. (I think I was supposed to.) I found it eye-opening to see real people and places instead of drawn pictures, especially when it came to the settings, such as a manga cafe or a typical apartment. Hermes was gracious and elegant, more so than the manga images conveyed to me.
I liked the playful approach to the visuals, too, as when a banner or windows were turned into characters. The overlaid computer symbols onscreen not only kept the picture visually interesting, but they also showed how computer-mediated communication crossed boundaries between life and screen. These two people were brought together from different worlds, just as it’s no longer possible to separate the online community from the “real” physical world. Both are real to their inhabitants.
The overlapping voices of the other chat board participants symbolized to me the chaos of the internal voices heard by those involved with infatuation or uncertainty about love. I found the split screen effect, with multiple computer users, visually arresting, and the movie wasn’t afraid to effectively use silence. While some of the male characters could be exaggerated (especially, for example, in the fanboy war scenes), the women were often the voice of reason, a refreshing jolt of cold water. The playful visuals might have been considered silly in an American film, but the point of watching a movie is to watch, so it’s great to see larger-than-life images. They liven up a relentlessly everyday story.
The lead actor was skilled at looking clueless in a variety of ways, which was exactly what the role called for. He also cleaned up very nice, also as required, thus demonstrating that it’s amazing what a good haircut will do. Again, I found a new dimension to the story when I could see the emotion in his eyes.
I originally watched Train Man two months ago. (That was the evening I got so sick from food poisoning.) More recently, I watched The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which deals with the same kind of idea — supposedly irredeemable geek finds love — in a much more American way.
I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. For one thing, I’d already seen or heard about the best gags, and once you took those away, there wasn’t as much left. In contrast, I’d already read Train Man three times but I was still finding new things in the story in that movie. For another, Train Man seemed much more universal. It didn’t try to take a male or youthful or particular perspective, but it told its story in a generic way (and in this case, that was a good thing). The 40-Year-Old Virgin, in contrast, seemed to rely on nudge-nudge male bonding discussions, and if you didn’t relate or didn’t care, the result was sections of the movie where it was easy to zone out.
The women were equally ciphers in both films, I thought. We’re not given much reason for their motivations or insight into their feelings (beyond “I hope she loves him back”). Where the two really diverged for me, though, was in their position towards their lead male character. In FYOV, I suspect we would have found the movie much funnier if we hadn’t known so many people like that in real life. I got the impression we were supposed to laugh *at* someone who was such a collector, who had hobbies instead of friends, and who made alternative sexual choices. Me, it seemed like someone who’d be interesting to know, only taking that approach made me feel at odds with the movie’s voice. Train Man, on the other hand, was sympathetic, which I enjoyed more.