19 Sep, 2006

Manga Recon @ the Movies: Densha Otoko

By: Erin Finnegan

What do you mean you haven’t heard of Densha Otoko? The name translates into “Train Man” in English. Spawned from a forum thread on the extremely popular anonymous Japanese message board 2channel, Densha Otoko is the true story of an otaku who saved a girl on a train from a belligerent drunk. The girl (nicknamed Hermes) sends the otaku an expensive thank-you gift, and the otaku turns to 2chan for advice about how to ask her out.

The message board threads related to the story were adapted into a best-selling novel in 2005 in Japan. The novel was so successful that it was adapted into a TV show, a movie, a stage play, and four different manga series. Three of the four manga series are being imported to the U.S. this year by three different companies—Viz, CMX, and Del Ray. When asked if the original novel would ever be imported, manga industry reps at New York Comic Con lamented that 2chan’s version of l33t is nearly impossible to translate. I believe one of the reps said that their translator actually laughed at the idea. Nevertheless, you can read the original message board thread online in English, thanks to a translation done by fans.

Likewise, the television series has been fansubbed and is widely available on the internet. It probably has little hope of being officially imported into the U.S., but I did once catch an episode on RCN cable here in the city—totally untranslated—last year. If we’re lucky, maybe someday they’ll show it on ImaginAsia’s TV channel.

I have seen a few episodes of the Densha Otoko TV show, and it is quite good. But before you start searching the net for torrents, maybe you should head to the ImaginAsia theater this weekend and watch the movie instead. I highly recommend watching it before you see even a single episode of the TV series. If you don’t, your enjoyment of the film will be interrupted as you continually compare the two adaptations in your head.

Bringing an internet thread to life presents a number of challenges. The only other time I can think of a chat room adapted to screen is the “Chat Room” episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Even though the posters on 2chan are anonymous, they are all very important characters in Densha Otoko. In the television show, this supporting cast of internet weirdoes is an extremely large and varied group. In the film adaptation, there are only five regulars (well, seven, since one is a group of three nerds in a manga cafe), and the posters are not as comical.

Another element that makes the strange transition from computer monitor to silver screen is the ASCII art in the message thread which is relevant to the plot. You might be familiar with emoticons in English internet-speak, but the Japanese use totally different emoticons. Thankfully, these symbols are clarified in the film. The bowing man art is usefully overlaid with an image of Densha Otoko bowing.

The speed at which the film version of Densha Otoko is made-over is a bit jarring—he’s in his nerd clothes for only a few scenes before he’s dressing like a metrosexual for the rest of the film. I would like to have seen more nerdy outfits, however, it was intriguing to see a well-dressed, good-looking guy still manage to totally screw up a date due to nerdishness.

There are many small yet powerful moments in the film. In one scene free samples of a product called “Men’s Water” are being given out to male pedestrians. One promoter shoves a sample at Densha, but when she sees that he is an otaku she yanks it away. It’s a very memorable scene that spells it out to the audience: in Japan, real otaku aren’t considered men. They are barely even considered human. Later, Densha passes by the same promoters after his make-over, and the same woman gives him a sample of “Men’s Water” without a second thought.

A comparison to the TV series is inevitable, but I will try to keep it brief. Takayuki Yamada does an excellent job of acting as a nerd—his stuttering and mouth-breathing peppers the soundtrack with realistic creepiness. But compared to his TV counterpart, Atsushi Ito, one can’t help but think that Yamada is just too good-looking to be a real otaku. Ito has really big lips that just say “nerd” in a way that Yamada’s handsome face cannot.

The over-the-top comedy style of the TV series is largely absent from the film version, which will probably make the movie more appealing to an American audience who might be unfamiliar with the tropes of live-action Japanese comedies. In fact, I might not watch the Densha Otoko TV show with my mom, but I would consider watching the film with her.

Before you read the manga or download the TV series, get out to a theater and catch the Densha Otoko movie. It’s not going to be in theaters for very long. It is a solid enough film that you can bring your non-nerd friends along to see it. Also, be sure to watch to the end of the credits. ^_^

Links:
Movie Website: trainman-movie.com/
Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Densha_otoko
The Original Thread: rinji.tv/densha/
ImaginAsia: iatv.tv/
Village Voice Film Clock: villagevoice.com/nycguide/index.php?page=…9063
Fandango showtimes: fandango.com/TheaterPage.aspx?tid=AABDJ

4 Responses to "Manga Recon @ the Movies: Densha Otoko"

2 | Tori

March 15th, 2007 at 1:08 pm

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hmm.. im gonna try and watch this =P
thanks,

3 | lifeisgood

January 7th, 2008 at 9:29 pm

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so where is this 2chan channel?

4 | Tally

January 10th, 2008 at 12:07 pm

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blah, I hate hate this movie…if you can try, try watching the TV show instead. The TV show runs for about 11 episodes and a special.

http://wiki.d-addicts.com/Densha_Otoko

The actors/actresses are that much more believable in their corresponding roles than in this horrible movie >.<

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