For the last six months or so, the Japanese media has been massively obsessed with Densha Otoko (“Train Man”) — the “true story” of a nerdy commuter who meets a fancy girl on a train and solicits romantic advice on the online BBS 2ch, which he successfully uses to win over said girl. (Full plot description here.) First, there was the infamous 2-ch thread itself, then that was condensed into a book. Now, there’s a feature film and a television serial on Fuji TV (with different actors portraying the characters.) There are also manga and adult video adaptions in the works.
How did a small Internet phenomena blow up into the mainstream? Well, behind the scenes, the Fuji entertainment group is doing its damnedest to make this modern tale of romance into a mass cultural boom, cashing in on every possible media format.
The tag line of the television show is “A True Love Story,” and clearly, the novel/film/program is being sold on its incredible veracity — to make all the socially-awkward Japanese otaku feel that they do indeed have a chance with CanCam girls if they all band together and dispense appropriate advice in online chat forums. The question has to be asked, however: Is any of this story actually real? The writer is anonymous, the story arc is way too perfect, and the backers are all extremely cunning and powerful. And within the context of a Japanese media constantly creating fictional “reality” entertainment for the public, the burden of proof rests squarely on the marketing juggernaut selling this ridiculous story.
Does it matter if it’s real or not? I certainly understand the quiet dismissal — it’s only a story — but if they sold this work as a fictional tale, would anyone care? “Based on a true story” is the artistic equivalent of platform shoes — providing a big boost to an otherwise weak narrative. And while an invented “true” story abuses that new false height to play with the big boys, we don’t draft artificially tall people for the basketball team.
With all this media attention, I find it odd that no one is asking to interview the real Train Man and find out the current status of his love life. Perhaps, they don’t bother to ask because they fully know that there is no “real” Train Man, and they’d rather not have the brigades of a certain advertising firm stop supplying ads because of a couple of ill-advised questions.
Perhaps there is a Train Man, and he’s just happy to have met the girl of his dreams. But I think the precedent certainly suggests the opposite, and while the seeds of doubt were apparently planted long ago, very few people in the mainstream media seem to be asking the right questions.