[From February Issue 2010]

Super-Express 109 A.K.A. The Bullet Train (Directed by SATO Junya)

A suspense movie released in 1975. The cast consists of stars of the Japanese movie industry of the era. Especially notable is TAKAKURA Ken, who plays the main character. He was a leading actor for his Japanese gangster movies and is also an internationally acclaimed actor, co-starring in the American movie “The Yakuza” with Robert MITCHUM in 1974. In 1989, he co-starred in “Black Rain” directed by Ridley SCOTT, with Michael DOUGLAS and Andy GARCIA.

The story begins with a phone call made to the Kokutetsu – the Japanese National Railways (JNR) – saying, “We’ve set a bomb set on the Hikari 109.” With 1,500 passengers on board this shinkansen (bullet train) has already departed Tokyo bound for Hakata in Fukuoka Prefecture. The bomb will arm automatically when the speed of the train exceeds 80 km/h, and will detonate when the train slows back down to 80 km/h.

To prove that this is no prank, the perpetrators say they have set the same kind of bomb on a freight train running the Yubari line in Hokkaido. When the locomotive engineers jump off the train, the freight train loses speed and bursts into a ball of flames. The perpetrators ask for a 5 million dollar ransom. In those days, that was equivalent to 1.5 billion yen. The bombers are hard-hitting. They say the ransom is cheaper than the 1.6 billion yen train plus the lives of the passengers.

The perpetrators are a three-man team: OKITA (Takakura Ken) is the leader and the caller whose small factory went bankrupt, leading to his divorce. KOGA is the man who set the bomb on the freight train. He was involved in radical political activity when he was a university student. The youngest and the one responsible for placing the bomb on the train is OHSHIRO – he came to Tokyo from Okinawa, hopped from job to job, and was saved by Okita when he was near death selling his own blood.

The police identify the perpetrators and track them down, but fail to arrest them. KURAMOCHI, the head of the bullet train control room, relays orders to the train drivers to prevent a crash. Meanwhile in the bullet train, the train crew desperately try to reason with the passengers who start to panic. In the midst of all this, Okita finally calls the police and tells them how the ransom delivery will go down.

Koga and Ohshiro die while on the run, but Okita obtains the money as planned. Okita had agreed to inform the whereabouts of the planted bomb and the directions on how to deactivate it in exchange for the cash. However, the drawing is destroyed in a fire. But JNR somehow finds the bomb, disables it, and the train comes safely to a stop. A few hours later, the police on a stake out at Haneda Airport locate Okita as he attempts to flee Japan.

Okita bolts. The police advance on him. And as the police shoot Okita to death, the airplane that Okita was to board takes off overhead, into the night sky. The Japanese version is 152 minutes. The international version omitted the scenes where they reveal why the perpetrators become what they are and puts more emphasis on the suspense. Overseas versions are shortened.