The Crowd, the Train, and the Absurdity of Perseverance without Hope by Michael Fisch

The introduction of high performance train in 1957 made it an especially important year in the genesis of Tokyo’s contemporary commuter train network. Coincidently, in the same year Japan’s Daiei Studies released the film Man’in densha⁠1 (The Full-Up Train). Directed by Ichikawa Kon and written in collaboration with his wife, Natto Wada, Man’in densha is an intellectually driven satire of postwar Japan that mobilizes the packed train as its central metaphor for the irrationality of postwar rationalization. Although very little time is actually devoted in the film to the depiction of packed trains or commuting, it is significant for the way in which packed commuter train in the film embodies the lived irrationality of operation beyond capacity. In this context, however, Man’in densha deploys the packed train in a somewhat predictable, albeit comical, critique of social conditions that draws on the relation between the train as mass transportation to the structures of mass production under capitalism. At the same time, Man’in densha is far more interesting for the philosophy of technology that it struggles less successfully to articulate. It is remarkable in this regard for trying to move beyond the particularist discussion of a Japanese experience of modernity vis-a-vis concern with its failed military aspirations, which dominated scholarly discourse in initial postwar era.

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