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by Brian McKay

"Strangers on a Tokyo train"
5 stars

One thing I noticed during my visit to Tokyo last year is that (with the occasional exception of a young couple or a gaggle of schoolgirls) hardly anyone talks to each other on the subway. Even when crammed in like sardines, people will read, listen to music, sleep, or otherwise blithely ignore each other’s existence. People who wait on the same platform and ride the same train for years may never even take the time to learn each other’s names. But what if, one morning, one person decided to change all that?

That person is Yumi (Yumi Endo), a pretty-but-shy girl in her twenties who has ridden the train to work with the same group of people for three years, but never spoken to any of them. Letting her curiosity finally get the best of her, she begins to make in-depth observations of her fellow commuters and take meticulous notes. Her attention is particularly drawn to a handsome but quiet young businessman who she recognizes all the way back from her kindergarten years, but who she is sure has completely forgotten about her. Although they have not spoken all this time, he has quietly won her over through small but significant acts of kindness or bravery towards his fellow commuters – like the time he rescues a schoolgirl from being groped by an older man, simply by offering her his seat and then facing the other man down until he slinks away.

The schoolgirl in question is another member of the group that Yumi has been spying on. As we follow her path, we see that she is a lonely teen desperately seeking acceptance from a group of “cool kids” who take advantage of her because she has money to spend, and then ridicule her mercilessly. She also has an absentee mother who apparently keeps putting money in her daughter’s pocket to compensate for the fact that she’s never around. As she grows increasingly depressed, the schoolgirl finds herself on a seemingly inexorable slide towards suicide – and the only thing that might prevent her from taking that route is a tiny gesture of friendship from Yumi.

Meanwhile, Yumi receives a text message on her cell phone telling her that she’s been fired for being late “yet again”. Far from upset, however, she embraces the opportunity to follow the young businessman and learn more about the object of her attraction. The result is a surprisingly heartwarming and funny pursuit through the streets of Tokyo that will bring her face to face with her destiny.

Doki-Doki (The Japanese expression for a beating heart that denotes nervousness or butterflies in the stomach) was the centerpiece of the S.F. Asian-American Film Festival’s Tokyo Stories shorts compilation, and was by far the strongest entry. Although I hate to toss out descriptions like “sweet-natured” and “good-hearted”, it is all that and more, having a way of sneaking under one’s radar to deposit a payload of the warm fuzzies. It is perhaps vaguely reminiscent of Amelie, only without all of the surreal touches and over-the-top silliness that were often overused to the point of distraction in an otherwise wonderful film. And like the recent Danish Dogme film Open Hearts, it works so well because the characters and their emotions feel sincere, natural, and uncontrived. What’s most surprising is that this thirty-minute short film (which could have easily been expanded into a full-length feature) was made not by a Tokyo resident, but by Chris Eska, a young director who was raised in a small Texas town before moving on to UCLA Film School (where Doki-Doki received top honors)

In many ways, the aptly titled DOKI-DOKI is about fear – the fear of embarrassment or rejection, or simply of breaking out of one’s own shell. Yet amid all of the fear and trembling is a message of hope, expressed in the notion that one can control one’s own destiny.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 03/10/04 09:26:33
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival. For more in the 2004 San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/05/20 Ada rare film to find, amateurlishy poignant for a thesis film. 5 stars
2/10/18 shags nice 4 stars
2/19/15 yulfiana shit like star wars and twilight 1 stars
2/15/15 filmiw23 IDIOT 1 stars
2/14/14 free xrum8 5 stars
8/01/06 Leticia Alaniz Creative, Moving, & True! An observation at what big city commuting has become. 5 stars
7/15/06 Denis Awesome movie, I enjoyed it at 100%, the actors play so well that it is impossible not to b 5 stars
8/08/05 scott outstanding, creative, touching 5 stars
7/25/05 KJ It's about making connections with people 5 stars
4/30/05 Lisa Michelle Jones the most amazing, perfect, delicious, fiercely intelligent film I've seen, utterly sublime! 5 stars
2/03/05 Ashley Sheikh This is a beautiful, incredible film, and must be seen to be believed 5 stars
1/24/05 Taylor Coulson Awesome movie, check it out! 5 stars
1/12/05 Tom Jensen First film I've ever seen with real actors that could have been made by Mmiyazaki Hayao! 5 stars
1/05/05 Tom Wiswell This is storytelling via film at its very best. 5 stars
12/29/04 Nichole Great short film, can't wait to see it again. 5 stars
12/28/04 Ally This is a GREAT film, I'd watch it again! 5 stars
12/27/04 Mari Beautiful and emotional picture. Chris Eska is truly talented! 5 stars
12/26/04 Roger Lee Jr Beautifully done, Mr Eska has a future in film! 5 stars
12/24/04 Nan Lee I would love to get this on DVD 5 stars
12/23/04 david :)!!!! 5 stars
12/23/04 Andrew Rangel I loved the film, Being a japanese language student and a film student it was great 5 stars
12/23/04 Allie I'm glad I watched it. 4 stars
12/23/04 Angie great! 5 stars
12/23/04 Smack Absolutely fantastic 5 stars
12/22/04 Kati James Great film! 5 stars
12/22/04 Dan Keeps you intrigued and guessing all the way to the end. Absolutely Excellent! 5 stars
10/27/04 Pete didn't like it 1 stars
8/12/04 michelle wat an awesome movie its the greatest morale in life 5 stars
8/12/04 Francis This is an unbelieveable work of art 5 stars
8/12/04 David This has to be the worst movie I've ever seen 1 stars
8/11/04 Joe I saw this on PBS last night as well, great short!! 5 stars
8/10/04 Nayiba Such tanlent! 5 stars
8/10/04 Julie I saw it on KCET (L.A.) last night and I loved it 5 stars
8/09/04 Jason Excellent movie 5 stars
8/09/04 David Paisner Truly a fantastic film. Black and white film use serves the film extremely well. 5 stars
8/04/04 Steve Ramirez well made movie 5 stars
8/03/04 Connie I thought this was better than Sophia Coppola's Lost in Translation. Subtle and moving. 5 stars
7/24/04 Lindsey Wonderful! Encaputures E.M Forster's "Only Connect" 5 stars
7/14/04 Andrés show sthe effect one person can make, empowering and beautiful 5 stars
7/11/04 Jim very good 5 stars
7/11/04 Bob Allen Doki-Doki captured my heart. Great story, great direction. Thank you! 5 stars
4/14/04 Carly Must See 5 stars
3/22/04 Bingo was his name-o Very cool. 4 stars
3/13/04 Rena Ferrick i love this movie 5 stars
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  N/A (NR)



Directed by
  Chris Eska

Written by
  Chris Eska

  Yumi Endo
  Sae Takenaka
  Hayato Sugano

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