“Doragon Heddo (Dragon Head)” – Sub-standard title for an above-standard Japanese disaster movie

In the next of my posts about movies which I studied for my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, I am writing about Doragon Heddo (ドラゴンヘッド) (Joji Iida, 2003), known as Dragon Head in English. The very brief summary on IMDb about the movie reveals:

A teenage boy wakes up and finds himself on a train. He vaguely remembers being on a class trip when something terrible happened, and he is one of the few survivors.


IMDb has this movie classified as ‘science fiction’ (as well as ‘drama’ and ‘mystery’). As I have discussed before (see for example Outbreak, Everest, Deep Impact, Firestorm and The Last Message Umizaru) and in the article itself, IMDb has no ‘disaster’ genre. But, also as I have discussed before (see for example The Core, Shuto Shōshitsu (Tokyo Blackout) and Deep Impact) and in the article, the issue of what is ‘science fiction’ is complicated and as it didn’t meet the definition of ‘science fiction’ that I used for my article, I included in the study.

Like many Japanese movies, it doesn’t have many ratings on IMDb (751 at the time of writing) and I suspect that there is a cultural bias in the ratings too. The movie was made for the Japanese market, and as my article points out, there are different conventions about what should be in a Japanese disaster narrative compared to English-language ones and that this means that some narratives do not work well in the other area and simple dubbing or translating will not do the job. The current rating of 5.6 (at the time of writing) on IMDb is harsh in my view. One of the reviews on IMDb provides a better summary of the movie and why it’s worth watching…

After sitting through predictable bore fests I finally get a disaster movie that is worth two hours of my life.

Dragon Head (based on a manga of the same name) starts off like your run of the mill train wreck movie with two teenagers teaming up up to escape the carnage as well as a totally flipped out third teen only to discover the world that they knew has all but been wiped out by an horrific disaster leaving only an almost deserted waste land where even the Sun is blocked from view by volcanic ash actually raining down to Earth like thick snow.

Basically the movie centers around the two leads trying to make it back to Tokyo and their adventures along the way with a cast of unique and at times plain creepy characters showing up along the way, there are some flaws here and there but overall this is a great emotional, bleak, depressing yet in the end hopeful movie that I fully enjoyed and I personally thought the two lead actors did a superb job and at times the visuals and landscape were depressing yet stunning.


The one thing I would say about the movie is that the title doesn’t really do it any favours – particularly in an international market which may not be familiar with the original manga.

In terms of the revised list of conventions that I developed as part of my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, the movie has 15 out of the 17, the only two missing being ‘contemporary relevance’ and ‘panic’ (the way that the movie starts means that there was no chance for panic to be depicted).

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