[From November Issue 2012]
Railroad Man (Directed by FURUHATA Yasuo)
This movie is based on a novella by ASADA Jiro that won the Naoki Prize. Its Japanese title is “Poppoya.” The word “poppoya” comes from the “sho shoo, poppo” noise made by steam locomotives. Employees working for the railroad, or “railroad men,” proudly called themselves “poppo-ya.” Released in 1999, the movie is about SATO Otomatsu who, nearing retirement, looks back on his life as a poppo-ya. Shortly before he retires something miraculous occurs.
Otomatsu is the stationmaster of Horomai, the terminus of the Horomai Line, a route that is about to be closed down. Once a flourishing coal mining town, the population of Horomai is now down to about 200 elderly people, and hardly anyone uses the Horomai Line. Despite this Otomatsu removes snow from the platform and carefully keeps a diary, never failing to carry out his duties.
One day, after the New Year’s holidays, SUGIURA, an old friend from the time Otomatsu was taking his apprenticeship in the locomotive business, visits. At Otomatsu’s home in the station house, they drink sake and reminisce about the good old days. Sugiura, who is the stationmaster of Biyoro City, is the same age as Otomatsu and is also nearing retirement. He suggests Otomatsu joins him in applying for a job at a resort hotel, but Otomatsu turns his offer down.
When, after 17 years of marriage, Otomatsu’s wife finally became pregnant with a daughter, Yukiko, she sadly died shortly after being born. Two years ago his wife also passed away. As the life of a poppo-ya is all he knows, Otomatsu believes that he isn’t fit for any other kind of work. Although he doesn’t regret that he always put work first, even though this meant he wasn’t around during these family deaths, he feels responsible and cannot leave the station house where he lived with his wife and daughter.
It gets late, Sugiura falls asleep and a young girl appears at the station building. She says she’s looking for a doll that her younger sister left behind in the station during the day. Otomatsu offers her a drink and together they have a pleasant conversation. The girl leaves, forgetting to take the doll along with her. Sugiura wakes up and hears Otomatsu’s story, then jokes that the girl was a snow fairy.
The next day, a girl wearing a high school uniform, who says she is the “oldest sister” appears at the station house. She is a railroad enthusiast and asks questions about the subject, so Otomatsu enjoys her company. After he receives a phone call, he discovers the true identity of the three sisters.
Though the station name is fictitious, Ikutora, a real station on the Nemuro Honsen Line in Hokkaido, was used as the location for the film and this station is still visited by movie fans. The central character is played by TAKAKURA Ken, an actor who used to star in Japanese gangster movies and later became known for his performances in “The Yellow Handkerchief” and Ridley SCOTT’s “Black Rain.”