Review: Bullet Train

Popped in another DVD from my six-disc Sonny Chiba set: Bullet Train, a superbly-crafted Japanese take on the classic disaster movie formula, in which 1,500 passengers find themselves trapped on a speeding Shinkansen that’s been rigged to explode if it drops below eighty kilometers per hour (sounds familiar, I know, but Toei actually beat 20th Century Fox and Keanu Reeves to the punch by about two decades).



Although I must question its inclusion in this particular collection (Chiba’s conductor plays a supporting role, at best), it remains a true gem of an old school thriller, emphasizing simmering tension and complex characterization over cheap spectacle. This extended cut of the film even sets aside ample time to flesh out the motives of Ken Takakura’s surprisingly relatable villain: yes, he’s willing to endanger thousands of innocent lives for financial gain, but he sincerely regards his accomplices as family (having lost his wife and son to economic hardship), often putting his own safety and freedom at risk in order to protect them from the police.


True to the genre, and to my immeasurable delight as a fan of Japanese character actors, Bullet Train also features numerous celebrity guest stars, including Tetsuro Tanba, Takashi Shimura, and Kunie Tanaka. Date Saburo makes a brief appearance, as well, but considering his track record, it was probably just another thankless bit part.


[Originally written October 19, 2017.]

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