Old Fart Who Loves Japanese Pop Culture 日本の大衆文化を愛する中年

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Poppoya: Railroad Man (1999) A Review

The film opens as a black steam locomotive explodes across a snowy white landscape, black smoke billowing from the engine. The scene shifts to the interior of the locomotive and we see two grimy railroad men, a fireman and an engineer. The only color shown so far in this stark beginning is the locomotive's boiler burning with a bright orange yellow flame as the coal is shovelled in. The scene shifts to color and a ready to retire but much more modern diesel locomotive and we are in present time, the train ploughing through the snow covered tracks to a small station. The stationmaster stands with flag and whistle on the platform awaiting its arrival. Yasuo Furuhata directs this film, which is gorgeous from the bleak snow covered landscape of the train tracks where all is white and clean and fresh, to the homey interior of the old station with the pot bellied stove heating drinks for the engineers and conductors to the living quarters of the station master with his museum like display of old locomotive and train lanterns, whistles, name tags and other memorabilia.

The story uses a series of flashbacks to tell the story of the Railroad Man Sato Otomatsu in an amazing performance by Ken Takaura, Sato is a man who is defined by his job. At one point when asked why he couldn't do something that was important to his family he explains he was on duty, "I'm a railroad man what else could I do". He tells his friend he can do no other work, that he doesn't know how and that he is stubborn like his father before him. The friend replies "You are an engineer, you can do anything."

The plot revolves around the upcoming forced retirement Sato will be faced with. His friend Sugiura Hideo portrayed by Hidetaka Yosioka, who is a railroader himself faced with mandatory retirement is urging his friend to come work at a newly developed resort. Through flashbacks it is revealed that Sato saved Sugiura when they worked together as engineer and fireman. Sugiura's son works in management for the train company and delivers the news that the train line that ends at Sato's station is to be closed down even earlier then expected.

Shinobu Ootake plays the quiet, vibrant Sato Shizue seen only in flashbacks. She is wonderful in her role as the wife, a women in love with a man, in love his work, she doesn't seem to mind that the railroad is always put before the family, and even apologizes that she gave birth to a girl, knowing her husband wanted a boy, someone to step into his footsteps as a railroad man.

The sparse DVD has animated menus with a slide show of images from the film on the main menu. It has no other extras except for a chapter selection menu and audio and subtitle options.

This film is on my top twenty five list. I am a huge fan of director Frank Capra and this film reminded me of his style. I won't say why as I truly believe that this film needs to be experienced. One of my favourite ways to see a film is without knowing anything about it. I find that once I find a director that I like or an actor or actress I'll try to rent or buy DVD's that they are involved in. I've stumbled upon many fine movies this way that I'd never have seen, of course I sat through some stinkers too but for the most part I like picking movies this way. My reason for renting this DVD and eventually buying a copy was Hirosue Ryoko is a particular favourite actress. She doesn't have a large part but she is truly magical.

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