CIFF notes: The Drudgery Train | Bleader

Thursday, October 18, 2012

CIFF notes: The Drudgery Train

Posted By on 10.18.12 at 12:36 PM

Mirai Moriyama and Atsuko Maeda play mismatched friends.
  • Mirai Moriyama and Atsuko Maeda play mismatched friends.
I suspect the superb Japanese feature The Drudgery Train will not receive a commercial U.S. release anytime soon. Nobuhiro Yamashita isn't a name director (though one of his features, Linda Linda Linda, played at Facets several years back), nor is his style especially pronounced. Even in the context of Japanese cinema, the movie doesn't really fit into any trends of art or genre filmmaking: it's a character study with traces of humor, magic realism, and violent psychodrama, though none of these qualities determines the complex central portrait. And, perhaps most damningly, its main character is an abject loser who experiences neither redemption nor perdition as a result of his lifestyle. Based on a novel by Kenta Nishimura (who isn't a "name" here either), Drudgery Train renders his life valuable through the impressions it grants to the spectator—which is what great fiction is supposed to do. It plays again in the festival on Saturday at 5:45 PM and on Sunday at noon.

Like James Gray's novelistic We Own the Night, the movie takes place in the late 80s without being "about" that era. The past serves to color a story that could take place in the present or 100 years ago. The movie's antihero, Kanta, is a timeless figure, someone who resists the forces of history simply by working menial jobs and keeping to himself. At 19, he's supported himself for five years by working in a Tokyo warehouse, though he usually blows his money on liquor and peep shows before he can pay his rent. His lonely routine (a subject at which Japanese literature and film typically excel) gets broken up by the appearance of another 19-year-old employee, a shy young man who's been adrift since finishing high school.

The episodic plot follows their friendship's wax and wane. Kanta introduces Shoji to low-level sin; Shoji teaches Kanta how to talk to girls; but mainly, they bond over a shared lack of direction until Kanta's self-destructive tendencies become too difficult for his friend to bear. Few movies really get the period of aimlessness between adolescence and adulthood. It's hard to dramatize those early suspicions that there may be consequences to your actions—or, for that matter, the way that lack of expectation can make dead moments pregnant with meaning. The Drudgery Train nails both of these things.

Tags: , , , , ,

The Bleader Archive

Popular Stories