By IZUMI HASEGAWA
When I heard that Brad Pitt would be starring in a movie based on a Japanese novel, I’m sure many Japanese and Nikkei people were as excited as I was. I arrived at the movie theater excited to see how the movie was adapted, especially during the current social climate concerning topics such as whitewashing and being racially sensitive, brought up by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Based on Kotaro Kosaka’s novel “Maria Beetle,” the movie opens with a scene where the main character, Ladybug, portrayed by Pitt, walks through the streets of Tokyo. The Japanese signs depicted on screen seemed to be more accurate, at least compared to previous Hollywood productions. I thought, “Surely this time…!” and heightened my expectations for this movie.
However, as the film progressed, I realized my expectations of an accurate portrayal could not have been more wrong. Unfortunately, this work, like “Memoirs of a Geisha” (2005), was a fantasy movie with the backdrop of a fictitious “Japan.”
I’m unable to write much further to avoid spoilers, but for one, it is strange for there to be a bullet train that is also a night train. For another, it is impossible to see Mt. Fuji from anywhere near Maibara Station. But then it dawned on me that even the action scenes in the movie are unrealistic. I wondered, “Isn’t the setting itself absurd and unrealistic in the first place?”
I realized I was to enjoy “Bullet Train” like how I would enjoy a roller coaster without worrying about the little parts making up the ride. Not a second after I had made that decision, I began to see the charms of the film. I was able to fully enjoy the large-scale action that accelerates like a bullet train approaching the finale.
By making the unrealistic realistic, the audience’s sense of the unrealistic is diminished, allowing them to be immersed in this movie’s worldview, which is grounded by one of Japan’s most respected action stars, Hiroyuki Sanada. Sanada’s acting, tone, and swordplay were truly remarkable. The veteran Sanada particularly shined amid the Western actors playing more playful and comedic roles, and rising star Andrew Koji seemed to have room to grow in comparison. Every time Sanada appeared on screen, he seemed to elevate the quality of the scene.
Ladybug thinks he is a very unlucky guy, but from the perspective of a third party, the audience, he’s a transcendentally lucky guy. The same can be said for ourselves. Changing our perspective on things can make us happier. I recommend that you enjoy the ride that is “Bullet Train” by accepting that this film is not set in Japan in the real world, but in a fantasy world.
“Bullet Train” is now available to watch via digital on demand on all major platforms, as well as Bluray and DVD.
Translated by Hana Umemoto/Hollywood News Wire Inc.