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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Shinkansen Daibakuha (aka The Bullet Train) (1975)

A bomber (Ken Takakura) plants a device on a high speed train that is programmed to detonate if the train drops below 80 kilometers per hour. He demands a hefty ransom for himself and his two colleagues in crime (Kei Yamamoto, Akira Oda) before he will reveal the location and how to dismantle the bomb. Directed by Junya Sato, this is the film that "inspired" the 1994 American hit SPEED. While Sato's film is a solid effort with much to commend, in this case Hollywood comes out ahead. At over 2 1/2 hours, it's hard to keep the tension level and Sato spends a lot of excessive time giving us background. Unlike SPEED, Takakura's bomber is the hero of the film, an ordinary Joe driven to the brink by bankruptcy and an unsympathetic wife who abandons him and takes his son. He's the only character who gets a detailed background and how he came to this point in time. In the American release, his backstory was removed which caused the running time to drop under 2 hours. The passengers on the train are portrayed as hysterical buffoons and the police are incompetent to the point of eye rolling. The 1994 Hollywood film may be more cliched but it was a tight economical thriller with very little flab. With Sonny Chiba as the train's conductor.

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