The Hikari 109 high speed train is making its scheduled 9:38 departure from Tokyo for Hakata, carrying 1,500 passengers the 1,100 kilometres and with top speeds above 200km hour, circumstances dictate that there will be no stops along the way, the head of railway security Miyashita having received an anonymous call advising that there is a bomb aboard, activated when the “Shinkansen” bullet train accelerates past 80kph and then detonating if it drops to that speed again.
The threat verified when a freight train similarly tampered with explodes as described, the extortionists demand five million in US dollars to reveal how the bomb can be located and deactivated while the train is still in motion, those aboard increasingly agitated as it becomes inescapable that something is very wrong with their journey and those in the control room attempt to resolve the situation, led by Shinkansen director Kuramochi, liaising with the police and train driver Aoki.
Originally released in July 1975 and now released on Blu-ray by Eureka from a 2K restoration of the original film elements, The Bullet Train (新幹線大爆破, Shinkansen Daibakuha, literally Shinkansen Big Explosion) is told through three parallel strands, the control room led by the stoic and honourable Kuramochi (Super Giant’s Ken Utsui), Hikari 109 with Aoki (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift‘s Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba) and his crew trying to maintain order as the habitual reserve and calm of the passengers evaporates, and the criminal gang who conceived “the perfect crime.”
The plan having been crafted by Tetsuo Okita (Black Rain‘s Ken Takakura) so that there would be no bloodshed, that the money would be collected and they would provide the necessary information and vanish abroad anonymously, inevitably it does not go that way, the first complication the arrest of the hot-tempered Fujio (The Warped Ones‘ Eiji Gō) who obtained the dynamite following a bar brawl, now being transported in the very train in which the explosives are concealed.
The flashbacks to the circumstances which brought Okita and his associates together and forced them to this extreme situation designed to elicit sympathy, men who had dreams they were denied, they are only partially successful, as generic as the passengers and their predictable behaviours, the more interesting strand the efforts to identify and track the criminal gang despite increasingly preposterous obstacles confounding the investigation such as a café bar undergoing spontaneous combustion for no apparent reason.
A film which does nothing to debunk the theory that Japanese disaster films require endless scenes in meeting rooms – see Shin Gojira and Fukushima 50 for other examples – Eureka’s new Blu-ray of The Bullet Train contains both the original Japanese theatrical version of 152 minutes and the alternate international version, dubbed and edited to 115 minutes, with supplementary material of an audio commentary from Jasper Sharp and Tom Mes, a discussion of the film by Tony Rayns, a documentary on the film by the biographers of director Junya Satō, an archive featurette and Kim Newman investigating the origins of explosive cinema from Joseph Conrad to Arthur Hailey.