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Ghost Train

Erika Sawajiri investigates in Ghost Train.
AKA: Otoshimono  
AKA: Lost Property  
Year: 2006  
Director: Takeshi Furusawa  
Writer: Takeshi Furusawa, Erika Tanaka  
  Cast: Erika Sawajiri, Wakatsuki Chinatsu, Oguri Shun, Aya Sugimoto, Itsuji Itao, Miyako Asada
  The Skinny: A standard J-horror flick that gets by with a few effective scares and an affecting friendship plotline. But the filmmakers take everything too seriously, and lack the strong screenplay and acting to back their intentions up.
Kevin Ma:
     A child picks up a rail pass on an empty train platform and incurs the wrath of an angry long-haired ghost, who demands it back. The child freaks out, but keeps the pass anyway. Soon, the child is taken away by the ghost and its giant batch of hair, never to be seen again. But before he embarks on his last train ride, the child manages to tell his friend Noriko and her older sister Nana about the pass. Actually, I can't blame the ghost for being mad at the kid; those passes are really expensive.
     That's the setup for Ghost Train, the latest entry in the Japanese horror genre. Erika Sawajiri (who, including this film, has acted in five films and one television drama in 2006) stars as Nana, a goody-two-shoes who has a sick mother in the hospital and is not very popular at school despite being the class president. One day, Noriko picks up another rail pass and brings it home with her. Next thing you know, she sees the missing boy on the train platform on her way to see Nana's mother the next day.
     Noriko tries to follow him and also disappears without a trace. Nana begins to investigate, but when a video camera captures Noriko walking in an empty train station at 2 in the morning, the police inexplicably take it as a good sign that she is still alive and well. At the station, Nana crosses paths with Shunichi (Oguri Shun), a station agent demoted from conductor because he keeps reporting something on the tracks, and delays the trains by stopping to investigate. However, even though he was demoted for his paranoia, Shunichi refuses to help Nana because believing her would cost him his job.
     Meanwhile, Nana's class rival, bad girl Kanae (Wakatsuki Chinatsu), is given a bracelet by her boyfriend, who picked it up on a train seat. It turns out that the bracelet belongs to the ghost as well, and Kanae accidentally pushes her boyfriend down onto the train tracks when his possessed body tries to kill her. But before he gets run over by a train, he warns Kanae to beware someone named Yaeko. Soon, Nana, Shunichi, and Kanae form an unlikely alliance to investigate the mysterious Yaeko before she comes after Kanae, and Noriko disappears for good.
     As a typical J-horror flick, Ghost Train offers much of the same: a complicated backstory, cheesy jump scares elicited by music, a female ghost with long hair, and a child ghost in pale makeup. Director Takeshi Furusawa has reportedly watched a lot of horror movies, which likely contributes to Ghost Train's generic feel. However, Furusawa's feel for horror probably enhanced his skills as an assistant director under Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The skills show; Ghost Train does have a few effectively scary moments, particularly a sequence where the camera builds tension by focusing purely on Nana in a dark apartment while the audience is aware that a ghost is lurking nearby. Editing is also used creatively during one scene where Kanae's possessed boyfriend appears to be standing far away, only to appear right next to her when the angle switches. These types of creative techniques help the filmmaking team hide the film's obvious lack of budget.
     Still, despite those inspired moments, Ghost Train is mostly business as usual. Contrivances build up, and the backstory gets increasingly complicated as the film nears its end. Before you know it, the film has spiraled downwards, resulting in an over-the-top ending highlighted by a huge plot hole and bad computer graphics. Meanwhile, Furusawa and co-writer Erika Tanaka take the plot so seriously that they seem to be intentionally trying to drain all the fun out of the film. However, the finale is so exaggerated (including a rather cartoonish sequence where some ghosts get run over by a train) that it's not hard to let out a laugh or two.
     Actually, the screenplay does have one pretty big surprise. The film's central human storyline, Kanae and Nana's friendship, is actually surprisingly affecting. Setting them up as adversaries in the beginning may make their sudden bonding seem convenient, but Chinatsu and Sawajiri make a cute team of ghost hunters, and that likability makes them easier to connect to, even if their acting skills are lacking.
     There isn't much in Ghost Train that makes it unique from the dozens of horror movies that come out of Japan every year. If it were really good, then it would be filled with unbearable tension, and yet still be great fun. If it were really bad, it would still be fun in that unintentional laugh-inspiring kind of way. Instead, Ghost Train is average, delivering a reasonably affecting plotline, a few effective scare moments, and a product indistinguishable from other films in its genre. Mediocrity may be Ghost Train's biggest offense. (Kevin Ma 2007)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Intercontinental Video
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 EX / DTS ES
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen