The Bullet Train - Though remarkably similar to Speed, the Bullet Train was made in 1975 and is very much in keeping with the classic Hollywood disaster epics of that decade.
The control room of the Japanese bullet trains gets a call from a man claiming to have rigged bullet train Hikari 109 with a bomb - the catch being that it will detonate if the train drops below 80km/h. To confirm that it's not a hoax, the bomber has set a similar device onto a remote goods train, and when that explodes it becomes a race against time to deliver the ransom or catch the bomber before the Hikari 109 reaches the end of the line.
Despite the cover, Chiba isn't really the star of the show, playing the central but supporting part of the train driver Aoki, and it's plain that the film is mainly being marketed for cash-in purposes by Optimum. Nevertheless Bullet Train is well worth watching as despite the two and a half-hour running time, Bullet Train manages to maintain the suspense throughout, through both the story of the fate of the train and of that of the gang members who have put it in jeopardy.
There are solid performances, particularly from Ken Takakura as the lead bomber Okita, and Ken Utsui as Kuramochi, the head of the Bullet Train control room, but as with the many Hollywood disaster pictures of the 70s, Bullet Train is more of an ensemble effort with a number of characters recurring throughout. Also rooting the film firmly in the 70s is the funky wah-wah soundtrack.
As well as misleading about the role Chiba plays, the cover sells Bullet Train as something of an action-fest, perhaps in keeping with the other Chiba titles in Optimum's library. This isn't to say that the film is lacking in action, which comes mainly in the form of chase sequences, but that over the course of the lengthy run time there is a good balance of action and drama, examining the tough decisions that have to be made by both sides and how those involved must deal with them. Also, unusually for this genre, we get to see flashbacks that help cement the relationships of the bombers and rounds them out as characters, bringing conflict as to where your sympathies should lie.
Bullet Train has received the remastering treatment according to the cover, and this is evident when watching the clean print, but the picture still retains its age with that special murky quality unique to the 70's. The stereo soundtrack does the job with dialogue and effects clearly delineated. Extras are thin, mostly consisting of a brief biography and a poster gallery and trailers for all the Optimum Chiba releases.
Bullet Train is a solid if predictable 70s thriller, which holds its own against the Hollywood offerings with a depth not usually granted to films of this genre.