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Japan 2006


Takeshi Furusawa

Erika Sawajiri
Chinatsu Wakatsuki
Shun Oguri
Aya Sugimoto
Miyoko Asada
Itsuji Itao

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Ghost Train

Story: Nana (Erika Sawajiri) has to look after her sister Noriko, since her mother has been hospitalized. Unfortunately, Noriko finds a briefcase at the train station she visits every day and she soon has to find out that this briefcase seems to be cursed. Soon thereafter Noriko disappears without a trace and Nana goes on a desperate search for her. Nana realizes that the briefcase has already been found by several individuals before her sister did and every single one of them disappeared, too. Suddenly, Nana starts to see a strange female figure, who seems to be looking for something...
On her search for her sister Nana makes friends with her classmate Kanae (Chinatsu Wakatsuki), who also seems to suffer from a curse. She found a bracelet in a train, that she can't get rid of anymore. Moreover, she also starts to see a strange woman. Is this the same curse?
Nana and Kanae eventually can get some help of railway official Shunichi (Shun Oguri), who on one of his daily routes saw a terrible ghostlike vision of a woman on the tracks. Together the three try to get behind the secret of the mysterious woman, remove the curse and find little Noriko.

Review: Didn't the trailer look promising? Nice Asian horror, a little bit more gore than usual and an interesting setting in a train. In the end, however, the audience doesn't get any of that, but instead has to face the umpteenth version of the worn-out Asian ghost-story. We accompany the protagonists as they are senselessly stumbling from one clue to the next, and to make things even worse "Ghost Train" isn't even a skillfully crafted work. The direction looks amateurish at times and the dull cinematography makes the movie look like a second rate TV-film, which deprives it of anything left that could have guaranteed for at least a little bit of fun. Which wasn't much to begin with...

How come that moviemakers are still stuck with the old cursed-object formula, which we were already bombarded with almost before "The Ring". This time there are even two objects. We have a briefcase and a bracelet that chooses its victims and doesn't get its claws off them until a mysterious blackhaired woman pulls them into a bottomless pit. Or something like that. In the end "Ghost Train" doesn't know itself what story it wants to tell. Of course everything is brought onto screen according to a well-proven formula, but the film loses its focus more often than it is forgivable and the pacing drags towards absolute rock bottom again and again.

The characters or maybe even acting achievements surely can't save this movie either. Loaded with Japanese female models you shouldn't expect too much, anyway. Main actress Erika Sawajiri couldn't show much of her skills in "Shinobi", yet she made a much better impression there than she does here. Her acting is amateurish and shallow, which is also the fault of the script, as her character is really one-dimensional and poorly elaborated. The same goes for Shun Oguri, who sometimes vanishes completely into the background only to be in the center of events again when the plot demands it of him. In general, you get the strong feeling that the characters are subordinated to the story and that they are merely playing their little part until it is their time to leave the stage.

It's not easy for the viewer to keep your interest in a movie when there is no protagonist to relate to. Yet, a compelling story could have made up for it. Sadly, we accompany the protagonists on their search for answers and realize that there is no progress until incredible coincidences bring the different characters together, and the next piece of the puzzle somehow gets into their hands. That's frustrating and moreover the pacing is on a constant "yawn"-level. This becomes even so worse that we desperately cling to Chinatsu Wakatsuki as she portrays Kanae as a more interesting character than we would have thought at the beginning. Which doesn't mean a lot, anyway. And so we end up getting upset about the sudden and bumpy friendship that unfolds between her and Nana, and also get annoyed by some emotional scenes, that just don't manage to be credible.

What's really bad is that the horror factor of the film only stands out because of its unevenness and boredom. Every now and then there might be a scene where you give a jerk, but in the end there isn't really anything that can frighten you. The few special effects don't really look convincing and the gore factor is negligible, especially since one would have expected to see one or two more gory scenes than what we actually get here.
After the tiresome first half, the film briefly gains some momentum, only for the director to make an all-out braking again. Towards the end it gets better a bit and there are even a handful of nice ideas that find their way onto screen, but even they remain underdeveloped. After the mystery around the ghost has been solved there are still many questions left unanswered and some of the story pieces just don't fit into the picture. However, if you've come this far then it doesn't matter anymore, anyway...

"Ghost Train" is really disappointing, especially since there were some high expectations involved when hitting the play button. In the end the movie proves to be amazingly uninventive and at times poorly directed. The ending offers some scenes that try to reconcile with the viewer, but that just isn't enough. "Ghost Train" might sound interesting, yet it is nothing more than just another unneeded entry into the Asian horror genre, where a bunch of new ideas really would help to keep the genre alive.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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