Bullet Train Book vs Movie Review

Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka (2010)

Bullet Train directed by David Leitch (2022)

Summary

In book and movie, we have a colorful cast of characters who board the shinkansen aka bullet train in Japan. They each have missions they are on, and they all become entwined as the train goes on its journey before reaching the final stop. We also have a guy who is on board to kill a teenager who injured his son, and the two of them become involved.

Book Review

Wow, I loved this book so much! If you enjoy action comedies with some dark humor but that also have some heart-this is for you! Such unique characters, I never got any of them mixed up with each other. Great, witty, funny, and intriguing dialogue. There were a lot of events that I hadn’t expected; and while at times I was curious where things would go, for the most part I never tried to predict anything because I was always so engrossed in the moment and was enjoying it so much. The ending is also so perfect! It was just such a fun book and I have already read it a second time! The day after finishing it, I started it all over again! Like seriously, I can’t say enough good about this! I know people may point out issues with the plot, but I don’t even care because the emotions it made me feel trumps any plot issues or anything like that.

I would recommend going into the book not knowing what will happen (if you have already seen the movie, there are enough changes that the movie doesn’t spoil the book) but even when I read it the second time, knowing what would happen, I still loved it. So, it isn’t a book that really relies on twists and reveals in order to be good.

Movie Review

I loved this book so much, and as I sat down in the theater, I felt like I was bursting because I was just so excited! We begin with Kimura in the hospital room with his son Wataru, and I just couldn’t wait to see the story play out.

I think it could have been better cast, and some of the characters I didn’t think had the chemistry required for a movie like this to work. However, I enjoyed the movie and I would recommend seeing it in theaters. It was more violent than I expected, but the gore is used in a dark comedy kind of way. I thought the fight scenes were well choreographed though and really enjoyed those scenes.

It has more of a Hollywood ending, having the train crash in this huge wreck, as well as having one character get kicked out of the train only to climb aboard it and while its going, he breaks into the windshield and gets in. Kind of ruined my suspension of disbelief, but it was all right.

Book set-up

Crime boss Minegishi hires Tangerine and Lemon to rescue his son who has been kidnapped. He sends them with ransom money for the kidnappers, but that is just to fool the kidnappers. He wants them to kill all the kidnappers, bring back his son, and bring back the ransom money. They succeed and are on the train with the money and the son, returning him to Minegishi.

Nanao has been hired to steal the briefcase which has the ransom money, which he succeeds in doing but can’t get off the train because each time he tries, something prevents him from doing so. He hides the case, but it is found and stolen from him.

He doesn’t know what to do, so he talks to Tangerine and Lemon, telling them he doesn’t have the case. Oh, and early on, the son is mysteriously killed, so Tangerine and Lemon are in a bad spot. But Nanao, Tangerine and Lemon sort of team up in a way, but they are still on guard with each other.

The person who stole the case from Nanao’s hiding spot is the Prince. A teenage boy who is on the train also heading to see Minegishi. He has nothing to do with the criminal underworld but saw and overheard the suspicious things going on with the case and decided to get involved. He is joined by Kimura who got on the train to kill the Prince, but the Prince tricked him and now Kimura is basically being held against his will. Kimura also has nothing to do with Minegishi or anything.

We find out another assassin named the Hornet is on board, and they are the one who killed Minegishi’s son. They are causing drama, because they want Minegishi to show up at the train station himself, so they can kill him.

Movie set up

I’m telling this out of order, but there is a crime boss named the White Death who has vendettas against these various assassins because they all played a part in some way in the death of his wife.

He hires all of them for various things-Tangerine and Lemon to rescue his son and bring him and the money back. Hires Ladybug aka Nanao to steal the case. Hires the Hornet to kill his son and then steal the money as payment. His daughter, the Prince, is also on board and part of all this, but that had not been in his plan.

We have Kimura avenging his son here as well, and as in book, his dad eventually comes on board.

The Prince and Kimura

In the book, the Prince was a much bigger character. He is also a teenage boy in the book whereas in the movie she is a teenage girl. In both, the Prince pushes little Wataru off a building and Wataru is now in a coma. His dad is Yuchi Kimura and he decides he is going to get revenge by killing the Prince for what he/she has done to his son.

In the movie, the Prince pushed Wataru in order to lure Kimura to her so she could use him to kill the underground kingpin, the White Death. Kimura is an assassin of some sort and was involved in passing a suitcase from the White Death on to another person, which is how she tracked him. In the movie, Kimura had never met the Prince before and the reason he knows she is on the train is because she gives him a note telling him she did it and where to find her.

In the book, the Prince and Kimura had interacted a few times prior to the train and the two have much bigger backstories than the movie shows.

The Prince in the book

I’ll get to Kimura in the book, but to focus on just the Prince. In the book the Prince is a psychopath and we see how he fools his teachers, and how he manipulates all of his classmates. He accidently killed a man when he was eleven, and yet felt no remorse and ever since has been obsessed with death, emotional and mental manipulation, and torture. He has his group at school that he manipulates and he has caused serious drama, leading to death within his own school. But he has this innocent look, and adults have a hard time believing him to be capable of anything bad because he comes off as this goody-two-shoes.

He has no connection to the kingpin guy (in the book the main boss is Minegishi, but in the movie it’s the White Death).  It is just coincidence he is on the train with these assassins. He is wanting to go to Minegishi’s lair though and is going to use Kimura to scout the place out.

The Prince feels it is too easy to manipulate and control people. Every adult has a weakness when it comes to their family, namely their children, and the Prince thinks how ridiculous it is that people who put themselves through so much suffering just for the sake of someone else.

Anyway, he doesn’t have any challenges in life, and that is why he is wanting to face Minegishi. He didn’t push Wataru in order to lure Kimura, that was just to get back to Kimura. However, he does pay someone off to give Kimura the info that the Prince will be on the train and that is how Kimura knows to get on the train.

While on the train, the Prince sees and overhears the drama with the suitcase, and is eager to get involved and see how he can mess things up.

The Prince in the movie

A reveal in the movie that we get in the end, is that the Prince is actually White Death’s daughter. She feels he doesn’t pay her enough attention or give her enough credit for what she is capable of and so she is on the train heading his way to kill him. She got Kimura on the train so she can get him to do her dirty work. She has this innocent side like the character in the book, but she doesn’t come off as the psychopath he was in the book. We also don’t get any back story on her the way we had in the book.

Kimura in the book

The movie seems to reference that Kimura is an alcoholic, but in the book, this was a bigger thing. We learn that Kimura had been working for the underground, but for the last few years he quit and is now a security guard. In a flashback we see that when he was drinking, he had three run-ins with the Prince’s group. He butted in their conversations and saw what a hold this Prince had on them. A third run in, was when one of the school kids goes to Kimura’s house and asks for his help because things are getting out of control with what the Prince is having them do. Kimura goes to the park and actually succeeds in stopping the Prince with his plan and gets the best of the Prince and his cronies. The Prince is upset about this, and that is why he later gets Wataru to follow him to the top of a building and he then pushes him off.

In these flashbacks, Kimura can be so frustrating! He should just mind his own business, but because he is drunk, he just keeps getting involved and even puts Wataru’s safety at risk. Twice he leaves Wataru alone! But once Watrau is hospitalized, he quits drinking.

Kimura in the movie

In the movie, Kimura is still in “the business”. We don’t get too much of a backstory on him though. I felt much more invested in his character in the book because we spent so much time learning about him and the Prince. Through their many conversations on the train, as well as before that, we just learned so much more about him and the Prince. Like I said, his past actions could be so frustrating, yet as the reader I was definitely rooting for him.

Lemon and Tangerine in the book

We have the two guys who were hired by Minegishi to resuce his son and return him and the ransom money back to Minegishi. They end up both getting out of their seats, and when they return, they see that the son has been killed and the briefcase of ransom money has been stolen.

In the book they have this constant back and forth that I found very fun and entertaining. When they find Little Minegishi dead, Lemon says how he should have left some kind of clue before dying. This leads them to this whole conversation about what kind of clue they would leave for the other person, so the one still alive can know who the killer is. Lemon also talks about how he is immortal and even if someone kills him, he is going to come back to life.

Lemon has the character trait of loving Thomas the Tank and talks about it a lot and compares everyone to a different character. We learn that he was raised by two alcoholics that died when he was young and that Thomas was how he coped.

Tangerine loves to read and will quote various books.

Tangerine and Lemon in the movie

In the book Tangerine and Lemon are referred to as twins, because they look very similar, even though they aren’t actually even related. In the movie they keep this, and also call them brothers despite one being black and the other being white. But in the movie, the two were raised together.

They keep Lemon liking Thomas the Tank and the two of them have their banter but to be honest, I didn’t think they had the best chemistry and so their banter didn’t come off as funny and genuine as I would have wanted.

Ladybug in the book

In the book we have Nanao, who is also referred to as Ladybug. His main trait is that he always has bad luck. As a poor kid, a fellow student told him if he wants to get anywhere in life, he needs to become a footballer or a criminal. So, from a young age he practiced stealing and doing different fight moves. His signature thing in the book is breaking people’s necks. And as said, things never go as planned and even when a job is supposed to be easy, his bad luck messes things up and the jobs are always harder.

He is the one that is hired to steal the briefcase with the ransom money, however once he has it, he is unable to get off the train because he comes across an assassin named the Wolf who is getting on.

The Wolf says he is on the train to get revenge and shows him a picture of who he is after. Nanao doesn’t pay too much attention to this, since they are in the middle of a fight. But he ends up accidently breaking the Wolf’s neck. The Prince walks by as Nanao is trying to hold the Wolf up and get him to a seat and tries to pretend the Wolf is just drunk. The Prince notices the briefcase as he walks by and later comes looking for it. Nanao hides it in this trash area after sitting the Wolf down, and this is where the Prince later finds it.

The Wolf in the book

In the book we hear about his former crime boss named Terahera, who was killed by the Hornet. The Wolf worked for Terahera and everyone knew how much he respected him and how much his death effected the Wolf. People in the business don’t care for the Wolf though, because he is always doing jobs that involve hurting kids or women and when he shows Nanao the picture of who he is after, it is a woman Nanao doesn’t recognize. Turns out it is a photo of the Hornet, an assassin (or assassins, because a couple times in the book we hear that people suspect the Hornet could actually be two people) but they use needles which cause the person to go into shock and die. This is what was used on Minegishi’s son to kill him. The Hornet is who killed Terahera, and so the Wolf is on the train to kill the Hornet.

Anyway, the reason he wants to kill Ladybug, is because a while before, Ladybug had come across the Wolf beating up on some kids and so Ladybug stepped in and beat up the Wolf.

Ladybug in the movie

 Ladybug is played by Brad Pitt and again, he is known for having bad luck. In the movie, he also is coming back from some time off where he was going to a lot of therapy. This is a big theme in the movie where he is trying to be Zen and see the silver lining and encouraging people to process things and heal. This was fine, but it did get a little old.

The Wolf in the movie

As in the book, he gets the case, but then can’t get off because he runs into the Wolf. Here, the Wolf is wanting revenge on the Hornet for having killed his wife and family and friends on the day of his wedding. He wants to kill Ladybug, because Ladybug also happened to be there at the wedding pretending to be a waiter. It was never clear why Ladybug was even at that wedding though.

The Hornet

In the movie, as in the book, the Hornet kills people by giving them an injection. In the book, when they get the shot, they just die of shock and that’s that. In the movie, it is a type of snake poison and it causes people to bleed from the holes in their body, namely their eyes.

 I get this helps the audience see that the same killer is involved because the dead person always has the bleeding eyes. But if you saw my Firestarter book vs movie video, I am just over the bleeding from the eye’s things. I get it is shocking and can have a cool look, but it seems so overdone and I don’t like it.

In the book, we also find out that the Hornet is two people. The snack trolley girl, as well as the conductor. In the movie, Brad Pitt sees the photo of the Hornet, and shortly after we see that she had been dressed in this cartoon outfit, but then takes out the snack trolley girl and walks in on Brad Pitt and they fight.

In the book, Nanao had told Tangerine and Lemon that Little Minegishi was killed by the Hornet, and they can find out who the Hornet is by looking in the pocket of the Wolf. They call him on the phone and tell him the photo is the snack trolley woman. When Nanao hears this, the snack trolley girl just happens to be in the same car as him. He gets off the phone and is like, excuse me, but is there a hornet on board? She plays innocent and is like, you mean the insect, I don’t believe so. Then they turn around to go their separate ways, but Nanao looks in the reflection of his glass water bottle and sees her coming up from behind and then they fight.

In the movie, she comes in and they just start fighting right away.

In both, she gets Ladybug with the shot, but then he also gets her. She then grabs her anti-venom shot but he gets it from her and gives it to himself and she dies.

Lemon and Kimura getting shot

In the book, the Prince was just always around and he and Lemon had multiple interactions. Near the end, he comes across the Prince and Kimura and asks them again about the briefcase and if they have seen it. The Prince plays innocent and wide-eyed, acting like it is a scavenger hunt to find the bag (by this point, they have opened the case, seen the money, and then put it back on on the rack). Anyway, as they continue on their way, Kimura, going along with the scavenger hunt kind of thing and not really thinking, says something about it being full of money. Of course, he realizes his mistake right away as does Lemon. In the movie, this happens as well, but it is Prince who slips and calls it a briefcase, not a suitcase which tips Lemon off.

But in both, Lemon ends up shooting Kimura and putting his body in the bathroom.

As he is talking with the Prince, he realizes the Prince isn’t right and prepares to shoot him. However, in both book and movie, Ladybug had put sleeping powder in Lemon’s water, and he drinks it. Right before shooting Prince, it kicks in and he quickly gets sleepy.

He assumes he is dying and tells the Prince the secret code he and Tangerine came up with earlier, as a way to clue the other in as to who they were killed by. He also grabs the Prince right before passing out, and when doing so puts the Diesel sticker on the Princes back. (The sticker being the worst character in Thomas the Tank). In the movie he puts the Diesel sticker on the Prince, but they don’t have him say the secret code because that wasn’t a thing in the movie.

In the book, the Prince then drags Lemon into the bathroom and shoots him in the head and he is for sure dead. In the movie, she shoots him in the chest and puts him in the bathroom. We think he is dead, and Tangerine finds him and he too assumes he is dead (why didn’t he check his pulse??) but we later see he had a bullet proof vest on and was just passed out from the sleeping powder. 

This ends up being a Romeo and Juliet type thing. Tangerine thinks Lemon is dead and mourns him, then Tangerine dies, and Lemon wakes up and then mourns Tangerine.

Kimura Senior in the book

In the book, we get flashbacks to Kimura with his dad who is a stockroom manager. He is disappointed in his son, partly because he is an alcoholic. Kimura doesn’t tell Kimura Sr that he has been in a shady line of work, and has no idea that his dad and mom were once an assassin duo. The reader doesn’t know this either about Kimura Sr until near the end.

While on the train, he calls Kimura to ask about Wataru. The Prince thinks it will be fun to humiliate Kimura by showing him his own dad has no faith in him. He tells Kimura to tell his dad the truth and so he tells him he is being held hostage on the shinkansen. The dad thinks Kimura is drinking and being dumb. The Prince then takes the phone and says he is a kid sitting next to Kimura and Kimura Sr tells Prince to take away any alcohol Kimura may have. The Prince plays it off as the innocent school kid and is like okay I’ll try.

After Kimura is shot, as he lays in the bathroom the Prince tells him that Wataru is now going to die as well and sees the desperation on Kimura’s face. He thinks it is fascinating to make someone on the brink of death feel even worse.

He decides he wants to torment Kimura’s dad as well. So, he calls him up using Kimura’s phone and says something about Kimura being in trouble, but then he’s like I shouldn’t have interrupted your dinner, I’ll let you go now.

From there we are taken to the Kimura Sr household. We learn that he and his wife had been an assassin duo but they retired when their son was born. They decide something fishy is going on and head out to get on the train with their bullet proof vest and guns.

I absolutely loved both of these characters. The wife was so cute and fun, while the husband was more serious. They were both so awesome though and we also learn how they were tough back in the day and didn’t mess around.

Kimura Sr in the movie

The phone call in the movie is pretty similar, but after this the Prince tosses Kimura’s phone. Kimura Sr calls back later, and Ladybug picks up the phone and this is when Kimura Sr decides to get on the train. In the movie, it is just him because his wife was killed when the White Death took over. We learn that Kimura Sr had worked for Minegishi but then things got crazy when White Death killed Minegishi and took over and the White Death killed Kimura’s wife.

I was so bummed they got rid of her character in the movie! I had been surprised in the book to learn that Kimura Sr used to be an assassin and loved that turn of events in the book! In the movie, this whole aspect just didn’t come off as satisfying as it had in the book. Also, in the movie Kimura Sr has this badass kind of look, so I wonder if viewers were even surprised to learn about his past.

Book Ending

In the book, Tangerine finds Lemon’s body, and then sees the Prince has the sticker. He is going to kill the Prince, when Nanao walks in from behind and the Prince pulls the innocent face and yells for help. Nanao instantly kills Tangerine by breaking his neck.

After this he is sitting on the train with the Prince, when Kimura Sr and the wife get on board.

The Princes phone rings, the guy from the hospital has been instructed to call after every stop, and if the Prince doesn’t answer, the guy can kill Wataru. When the phone rings, Kimura Sr is holding a gun on the Prince and tells him not to answer. Nanao doesn’t know the Prince is bad and tries to get a gun from the bag, but the loose snake wraps around his arm and he freaks out and runs out to get it off.

The Prince tells Kimura Sr that the call was from his man in the hospital and that now his grandson will die. However, we learn that Kimura had called an old co-worker, a guy who is now a go between, and asks him to head to the hospital to watch out for Wataru. He is able to let Kimura know the guy is dead and Wataru is okay, and the Prince then tells them that Kimura is dead in the bathroom. However, both husband and wife are like, no way he’s dead, he loves Wataru too much to die.

From here, they pull into the last stop. Kimura Sr. shoots the Prince and carries him off the train as if he is injured and goes unnoticed in the chaos. Meanwhile, Nanao gets off the train and meets Maria who had been on the train but in a separate part that you couldn’t walk to.

Then they see the conductor, the other Hornet, kill Minegishi who had been on the platform waiting for his son.

Very ending of the book

The last chapter of the book, we learn that Kimura was indeed alive and was taken to the hospital where he survived. I loved this, because throughout the book, the Prince thinks how loving others is a weakness. Yet we see that Kimura’s love for Wataru is what kept him alive.

We also are led to believe that Kimura Sr and his wife most likely killed the Prince and disposed of his body in an old school style (chopping it up into pieces), which ensure the body will never be found. Throughout the book, I just disliked the Prince more and more and he kept escaping death! It got to the point where I started to think he would survive. Which I really didn’t want! I wanted to see him die lol. We don’t officially see his death though, but I actually like that touch. Though I personally will hold firm to the belief that he was indeed killed off.

We also learn that when the guy was protecting Wataru in the hospital, Wataru woke up from his coma!

We find out that Nanao had been contracted by the Hornet to steal the briefcase, so they could have something distracting Tangerine and Lemon.

We then see Nanao at the grocery store to redeem a grocery lottery winning ticket type thing he had gotten off of Tangerine’s body. Turns out the prize is a box of tangerines and lemons. Representing Tangerine and Lemon, who claimed if they died, they would just come back and keep living.

Movie ending

The movie ending has quite a bit going on. The Prince and Kimura Sr don’t have a satisfying interaction, she just ends up running away and he’s like, whatever, fate will get her. Then they go check the bathroom and both Kimura and Lemon have come to. As they are pulling into the final stop, they plan to overtake the White Death. We see the White Death interact with his daughter who he doesn’t really care about. And we learn that he is the one that hired everyone because he had vendettas against all of them for one reason or another and wanted them all on the train in hopes they would kill each other. Ladybug was filling in for this guy named Carver though, so Ladybug never did anything against the White Death, but the White Death assumes Ladybug is Carver.

Long story short, the train crashes and the Prince is run over by Lemon who is driving a tangerine delivery truck.

The White Death dies by shooting the gun that explodes on whoever shoots it, old Kimura dies, but young Kimura goes on his way. And Marie picks up Ladybug and they go on their way.

Final movie and book tidbits

There is quite a bit with book and movie I didn’t even get to here, especially with the book because there really is so much to it. But there is an important side character named Suzuki who talks about his wife having died and was somehow connected to Terahera. Turns out Bullet Train is kind of the second book in a trilogy and I didn’t even realize! The first book is called Grasshopper and has to do with Suzuki! He seemed so important, yet when reading Bullet Train, I couldn’t make sense of his importance. Now it makes sense, since this is a second book. I ordered Grasshopper, but it doesn’t arrive til the end of September so it’ll be a little while till I get to read it!

I mentioned the snake that gets on Ladybugs arm. In both we hear how the snake was stolen, but in the movie, we learn it is a poisonous snake and that the Hornet is the one who stole it because she uses its venom to kill people. In the book it was just randomly there.

In the movie, Channing Tatum plays a random guy on the train who Brad Pitt pays to distract Tangerine by wearing Pitt’s hat and glasses. Something similar happens in the book, where Nanao pays a guy and a drag queen to distract Tangerine.

We also get a Ryan Reynolds cameo in the role of Carver, the guy who was supposed to be on the train, but he called out sick which led to Ladybug taking on the job. Logan Lerman plays the White Death’s son, and even though he dies early on it was still fun seeing him. In the past I had crushed on both Logan Lerman and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who plays Tangerine).

Speaking of Tangerine, in the movie he and Lemon are British and I don’t want to sound like the annoying American, but their accents were hard to understand at times. Early on, I was wished there were subtitles! I got more used to their voices though as the movie went on.

In the movie, the Prince makes the gun that explodes on the person who shoots it. This is finally used by the White Death and that is how he dies. In the book, Tangerine had this gun because he got it off a guy he killed when rescuing the son. He saw the contraption and saw what would happen if someone fired the gun. Throughout the book, different people have the gun and you keep waiting for it to play a crucial part-Chekov’s gun. But it is never used! I kind of liked that we never saw it used though because it was like an anti-Chekov’s gun.

In the movie, the Prince rigs the briefcase to explode when opening it, which happens when they make the final stop. This wasn’t in the book though; nothing happens with the briefcase after the Prince returns it.

And lastly, this book and movie take place in Japan and in the book all of the characters are Japanese. Yet in the movie the only Asian cast members are Kimura and his dad. Could’t they have cast at least a few of the other main characters with Asian actors?? Come one!

Book Themes

There are a number of themes discussed in this book. Old vs young/respecting your elders/old school vs the new school. In that debate, we see the old school win, when Kimura Sr outsmarts the Prince who thinks he is so special and better than everyone else.

There are a lot of sections about mob mentality and whether a person will go with what they think is right, or just what everyone else says and does.

Also talk of morality, specifically why is it bad to kill people. That is a question the Prince often asks, and people have various answers but Suzuki gives the most in depth response.

Then we have Nanao whose code name is ladybug. Ladybugs are said not to be lucky, but that they hold everyone else bad luck. Nanao is an empathetic person, and maybe his bad luck comes from him taking on the burdens of others.

Book vs Movie

Even after hearing this episode and knowing the spoilers, the book is still so worth reading! The movie is worth watching, but it doesn’t come close to being as good as the book. I wish they had kept things more like the book in regards with Kimura Sr and his wife. I also wish we would have spent more time with Kimura because it would have helped us feel more invested in his character.

It’s hard to say what I would have thought of the movie had I not read the book. It has an older Guy Ritchie or Quentin Tarantino vibe but doesn’t quite pull it off the way Tarantino movies do. I wanted to love it, but ultimately would give it a 3 or 3.5 out of 5 stars.

But yes, the book wins for sure. I would still recommend seeing this in theaters because it is important to support non superhero movies gosh dang it! But also, because it is one that has that movie theater experience you just won’t get when you watch it at home.