Otaku can be quite a derogatory Japanese term for anyone who is unhealthily obsessed or fanatical, like geeks who live in the safety of their cyberworld. Not just your everyday nerds, these are people who don’t leave their home unless absolutely necessary, avoid eye contact, blend into the background–preferably at cybercafes and electronics stores. Remember The Net? Actual human contact is, well, fantasy.
I’ve been a little obsessed myself lately (never you mind what with…all I’m saying is “Driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cakehole”), so seeing this film was right up my alley.
Densha Otoko (2005), translated as Train Man, is the moniker that a 22-year-old ultra-shy computer and manga nerd takes on as he begins to share with his online community how he rescued a damsel in distress when a drunk commuter assailed her on the train. He shares how she wrote down his name and address and soon is reporting the arrival of a courier package–a thank-you gift from her containing a set of Hermes tea cups. So, she becomes known to all as Hermess.
His virtual friends–a motley crew that represents the various faces of desperation in solitude–are both funny and sad to watch, and they rally around their new hero as he breaks out of his nerd-world role and (GASP!) calls a girl. Before his first meeting with Hermess at a restaurant (which he checks out ahead of time…extensively), he undergoes a “Beauty and the Geek” makeover–clothes, hair, even contact lenses–to the point that she barely recognizes him when they meet. Despite his incredible awkwardness, the two begin a relationship. And, naturally, things go very wrong. When our Train Man is at his breaking point and wondering why he ever left his safe little world, it is his online friends who snap him out of it and see hope for themselves in his keeping up the struggle to fit into “real life.” Barring some scenes when you just want to choke the little guy and scream “Be a man!”, the courtship is cute and uncannily dredges up the bittersweet angst most of us felt during pubescent relationship drama.
At its core, the film is a commentary on otaku, complete with references to various fetish-inspiring “hobbies” and lots of ASCII art. But it is presented in a fun, squeaky-clean romantic manner, complete with weird sidekicks, that makes it a treat to watch. And if you happen to get too wrapped up in the saccharin outcome of little Train Man’s love life, the ending is a tongue-in-cheek reminder that otaku, not love, may be forever!
Happy movie watching!