Train Man and Hermes – A Love Story
Based on a true story, “Densha Otoku (literally translated as “Train Man”)” is the kind of romance that could only happen in Japan. Partly due to the ubiquitous nature of 2-channel, a country-encompassing internet chat board that puts things like MySpace and YouTube to shame. Partly due to the otaku, a style of unsocial misfit that could only be cultured in the group-based society of Japan.
I should say ostensibly based on a true story. Although the real Train Man and Hermes have never been identified, the origin of the phenomenon is a fact. What is known for sure is that, a poster known as Densha Otoku started a thread on 2-channel telling about how he helped a woman on a train who was being harassed by some drunk salaryman. In gratitude, she sent him a set of teacups from Hermes department store, which would be the equivalent of Saks Fifth Avenue or Harrods in London. Thinking that the value of the gift is far greater than the service he performed, Densha Otoku sought advice from his fellow otakus on 2-channel on what to do. And the legend was born.
There have been many adaptations of the popular story, starting with a book that reproduced the 2-channel posts, then a comic book and a TV series. This movie, starring Takayuki Yamada and Miki Nakatani, presents the whole story and does an excellent job showing the fairy tale nature of the romance. Densha Otoku is not a bad guy, just socially awkward and someone who never really learned how to relate to women. His moment of bravery is nothing daring, and he is no hero, but the small gesture of protection is just what is needed at just the right moment. Miki Nakatani, a mid-level pop star in Japan, is perfect as Hermes,. She is not a great beauty, just a sweet woman who seems to have had her share of bad luck with men, and is willing to give a nice guy a chance.
Aside from the two leads, much of real charm of “Densha Otoku” are the 2-channelers themselves. Swept up completely in the story, they swarm the fashionable districts of Tokyo, studying up on English tea and fashionable places to buy suits and go to dinner, all so they can give the best advice to our wayward hero. Showing the isolated nature of modern Japan, a husband and wife are both equally involved in the internet events, all though neither one realizes that their partner is also online. Hiding under the masks of screen names, so many modern Japanese people lead secret lives on 2-channel, and it took the story of Train Man and Hermes to break them out of their shells and get them back into the living world.
I’m glad to see “Densha Otoku” get an English-language DVD release. This is a film that I had admired for some time, and it was always a shame that I couldn’t share it with my non-Japanese speaking friends and family.