Densha Otoko and the first date: Fantasy vs. Reality

Throughout the development of Train_Man’s relationship with Hermes, Train_Man seeks advice from the people in his online discussion, which vary from a married couple (each unaware of the other’s participation in the discussion), three young male friends with no dating experience, a nurse who has assumedly gone through a recent breakup, and a young, sarcastic hikikomori who never leaves his room and ignores his mother. The others provide Train_Man with advice on what to wear, which restaurants to go to, even lines and questions he can ask Hermes on their dates.

After calling to set up a time and meeting place for their first date, the scene cuts to a panning shot of a shelf covered with jars inside the restaurant which Train_Man  had visited previously in order to plan for their date. During the shot, we hear the beginning of the couple’s conversation.  Although a little nervous, Train_Man is successfully talking to Hermes and introducing her to otaku phrases and gestures, as she repeats them back to him. Interestingly, Train_Man delivers his jokes smoothly and is much less awkward than he has been up until this point in the film.

     There is non-diegetic instrumental music, in which a trumpet plays an uneasy, awkward melody. Although the date depicted is not awkward or uncomfortable, the music implies that there is something slightly off about the scene, perhaps expressing Train_Man’s nervousness. The scene alternates medium close ups of the couple from a centered, symmetrical angle, and a medium profile shot of both characters sitting at the table within the restaurant. Suddenly, Hermes turns and faces the camera as the background  turns pure white. Using the phrase Train_Man just taught her, she says that she wants to stay for one night. By this point, it becomes pretty clear that the whole scene is not what really happened, but rather the fantasy of Train_Man and the other people in the online discussion. Finally, the fantasy is interrupted by bullets which shatter the screen as the scene collapses on itself.

okawari kibon!
okawari kibon!

The scene shifts to three friends who are part of the online discussion, dressed in army fatigues, discussing what may be happening on Train_Man’s date. Next, Train_Man sits down at his computer, having arrived home after the actual date in order to describe his evening to his friends.

     Next, the scene then cuts to the events of the real date, beginning with the same panning shot as the fantasy. Train_Man immediately chokes on his drink, showing the extent of his nervousness.  The non-diegetic music has taken on a different tone, a more relaxed and airy flute melody, perhaps showing that in spite of the fact that the real date is more awkward, Train_Man feels more true to himself. The scene features similar medium close ups and a medium profile shot of the two at the table, but rather than the straightforward shots of the fantasy, they are framed from a more diagonal angle, and at times broken up by glasses sitting on a table or shot over the other character’s shoulder. The use of interference within the frame and more indirect camera angles takes away the sense of perfection that was present in the fantasy and gives the date a sense of reality. Additionally, some of the shots are taken from below the table, depicting Train_Man, who is reading lines on his phone, showing the his reliance on technology. The conversation is repetitive and awkward, and lacks the easy wit of the conversation in the fantasy. Finally, the music stops when Hermes brings up the topic of the day they met , thanking him for his kindness and bravery.  Suddenly, she gets a phone call which she leaves the table to answer. While Hermes is on the phone, the camera starts to move as Train_Man looks around inside the restaurant. All of the other costumers in the restaurant are couples. It becomes clear that Train_Man is comparing himself to the other couples around him, and feels insecure and disappointed with the state of his relationship.

The shot of the couple is obstructed by glasses.
The shot of the couple is obstructed by glasses.

Through the fantasy date, viewers are given a glimpse of the “ideal” role others have created for Train_Man to fulfill. Although in the fantasy Train_Man is cool, collected, and witty, there is still something off about the fantasy. The odd music clashes with the atmosphere and conversation, creating tension. Furthermore, everything about the camera angles and framing is a little too “perfect.” In the end, the scene shatters like fragile glass.

In contrast, during the real date Train_Man, despite his efforts, acts more like his true self, asking strange questions and repeating lines from his phone. The entire atmosphere is different; different angles give a view of the scene, a waitress interrupts the conversation, and the two look down at the table in nervousness rather than looking into the camera.

Throughout the film, Train_Man struggles to conform to norms which stand in opposition to his true character. The ideals take shape through the carefully planned dates and the collective fantasy scenes of the dates before they actually happen. In the fantasies, Train_Man is relatively calm, confident and funny, yet when he tries to take on these traits in reality, they backfire and leave him frustrated. Train Man depicts Train_Man’s attempts to meet the standards of the ideal man set forth by those in the online community, assuming that Hermes has the same standards. However attempting to meet these ideals only causes more stress on their relationship. Ultimately, Train_Man must risk the relationship by putting aside all of these ideals, and achieves success when Hermes loved him all along for his true personality. Although Train_Man initially tries to conform to the norms of what would be considered an ideal romantic man, Train Man proves that this “ideal” is not always the ideal in reality. The film goes against the typical romantic comedy structure when Train_Man must act outside the image of the ideal romantic man, and renegotiate his role as a modern man.

For scene descriptions and analysis from My Sassy Girl

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