The Drudgery Train – Review
Kanta is a 19-year-old labor worker who only went far as middle school. He’s now hooked on alcohol while playing around. Kanta develops feelings for Yasuko, who works in a used bookstore, but he has never had a girlfriend or, currently, any friends. Kanta also meets Shoji who he becomes friends with. Jealousy soon threatens their friendship.
Based on the novel by author Kenta Nishimura, The Drudgery Train starts out as a rather peculiar comedy that steadily transforms into a tale of following one’s true dreams regardless of the obstacles placed in their way. Director Nobuhiro Yamashita, known famously for his popular quirky comedy Linda Linda Linda (2005), delivers a similar sense of humor with this film albeit with a much darker tinge. The Drudgery Train isn’t necessarily a good spirited viewing experience for the most part, instead focusing on the minute details of a man whose life hasn’t exactly gone the way he wants it too, and with little-to-no desire as to improving his situation. Where the film succeeds is how it reflects the dire situation of such a man with that of his peers, provoking him to reevaluate the floundering state of his own life.
We see Kanta as a man whose misguided attempts at friendship and love have led him to a point of accepting his rather substandard living conditions, both from a physical and psychological standpoint. Locked into a life of menial work, broken relationships, and never truly having a home to call his own, Kanta is seen as a man who is content in having no success in the future. As we slowly learn how he deals with his situation throughout the film, we begin to see how people around him are all seemingly improving their own lives through the attitude of improving themselves in order to do so. While it is a slow and arduous task to say the least, Kanta soon attempts to transform his own life as well albeit with a couple of minor—and huge—missteps along the way. Scriptwriter Shinji Imaoka does a great job in never having Kanta—or any of the film’s characters for that matter—appear as hackneyed archetypes. We see that as individuals attempting to rise above what life has given them. Imaoka also delivers a telling narrative regarding what Japanese lower-class individuals often experienced, with Kanta continually coming face-to-face with the dashing of their dreams as well as their hopes for a better future.
Mirai Moriyama, who has consistently been proving his immense ability as an actor with each subsequent film of his, plays Kanta as a socially awkward individual who does not exactly fit in, well, anywhere. From his lurching, hunched stance to his numerous smoking binges, Moriyama handles the role of Kanta with incredible poise, offering all the graceless mannerisms expected from an individual who has difficulty relating to others as well as having little respect for himself. Kengo Kora as Shoji is equally as good, playing up the part of the shy and reserved Shoji, who is quite the opposite to Kanta. We see Shoji as one attempting to better his own situation, egging on Kanta to do the same, with their diverging lifeways putting a strain on their relationship. What is a surprise though is Atsuko Maeda as the role of Yasuko. Given her rather underachieving lead performance in Moshidora (2011), it was nice to see Atsuko finally receive a role that befits her ability as an actress instead of simply having her in a film for the sake of her star presence. While her role as the unattainable girl within the film plays into her real life status as an idol, it never seems exploitative, instead relying on the subtleties that her character calls for.
The Drudgery Train works primarily as a character study more so than anything else. Yamashita directs the film with a considerable focus on Kanta and how he handles certain situations that he is confronted with. Whether this is seen in how he views the opposite sex, which stems primarily from his numerous visits to a massage parlor, to his excuses for not paying his rent on time, we as an audience initially see Kanta as simply an underachiever. While Yamashita portrays these instances and others as darkly comedic, it also elaborates on Kanta as a man not really completely in tune with those around him. It could be argued that most of what happens or has happened to him is through his own faults. Some viewers may also view him as a man who just received the short end of the stick in the game of life. Whatever perspective one chooses to have, what is interesting to see is that Yamashita and Imaoka present a very ambiguous take on how we interpret Kanta’s actions, in turn presenting him as an eccentric individual that is bizarrely perplexing.
With The Drudgery Train, Yamashita has once again delivered a film that impresses, but perhaps more surprisingly, he has also delivered a film that explores the aimlessness often experienced by youth. Moriyama delivers a compelling performance that equally complements such a premise, with a defining role that showcases his ability as an actor. The use of social commentary regarding the Japanese under-class is also expressed as well, with both Yamashita and Imaoka exploring the complexities that arise on a daily basis for such a group of people. The Drudgery Train may not be a film that one would deem as sympathetic, but it is a film that suggests that there is hope out there for those individuals searching for a better life—one just seek it.
Author: Miguel Douglas
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