A remote train station on Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido that served as a filming location for the award-winning 1999 movie "Poppoya" (Railroad Man) saw an influx of visitors last month as train service on the little-used section of the line officially ended.

Ahead of the final run on March 31, the operator JR Hokkaido used additional carriages on its local trains to accommodate railroad enthusiasts and movie fans coming to bid farewell to the scenic part of the Nemuro Line, which opened in 1907 and became a tourist draw after the release of the film starring the late Ken Takakura.

"On a clear day, the view of Mt. Ashibetsu is really spectacular, especially when the mountain is capped with snow," said Tokio Ohashi, 23, praising the line's scenery during a visit from Sapporo on March 11.

Photo taken on March 11, 2024, shows JR Hokkaido's Ikutora Station in Minamifurano, with the "Horomai Station" sign used in filming the 1999 movie "Poppoya" still displayed. (Kyodo)

In the film, Takakura plays an isolated stationmaster who carries on with his duties while mourning the deaths of his wife and child. He continues to work with steadfast devotion even though the branch line is slated for closure with the area's population in steep decline.

The Yasuo Furuhata-directed movie swept top honors at the 1999 Japanese Academy Awards, with Takakura's portrayal of the stoic figure also winning the best actor prize at that year's Montreal World Film Festival.

Filming took place at Ikutora Station in the central Hokkaido town of Minamifurano, presented in the movie as the fictional Horomai, a depressed mining town. The Horomai Station sign used during filming still hangs on the station building, while memorabilia including the movie's poster and images of Takakura are displayed inside.

Although train service on a portion of the line including Ikutora had already been replaced by buses due to extensive typhoon damage in the area in 2016, visitors made their way to the filming location in growing numbers before the larger segment closed.

Photo taken March 11, 2024, shows photos of the late actor Ken Takakura displayed at JR Hokkaido's Ikutora Station in Minamifurano. (Kyodo)  

Movie fans took photos and lingered on the snowy platform, taking in the atmosphere captured so memorably in the film.

"The paint has come off over the past 25 years, but at one time the station was green," said Haruko Goto, 74, president of the Ikutora Women's Association.

The local association helped to feed the film's cast and crew of some 200 people during their two weeks on location in January 1999.

Goto and other members at the time recall Takakura enjoying their "imo dango," or potato dumplings, a local specialty. But the actor once surprised them with a bad review, saying the snacks had come out inedibly salty that day -- prompting them to realize that salt meant for hard-boiled eggs had likely been poured over the potato dish by mistake.

Keiko Sato, 84, who was association president at the time of filming, looked back on the incident with humor.

"It's my most vivid memory" from the on-set experience, she said of Takakura's comment, which marked the first time he spoke to her. "He was an impressive figure. It felt like a movie."

Haruko Goto (R), president of the Ikutora Women's Association, and Keiko Sato, a former president of the association, pose for a photo at JR Hokkaido's Ikutora Station in Minamifurano on March 11, 2024. (Kyodo)

The international star, best known to Western audiences for his role as a tough cop alongside Michael Douglas in Ridley Scott's 1989 film "Black Rain," kept in touch with Minamifurano locals after the filming for "Poppoya" concluded, sending occasional letters up until his death in 2014 at age 83.

The popular railway-themed movie also led to countless interactions with people from all across Japan who came to visit after being enchanted by the story of love and perseverance in the wintry setting.

Under the new system, effective April 1, bus service replaces trains for all seven stations between Furano and Shintoku on the Nemuro Line, a span that also includes Nunobe Station, a filming location for the early-1980s television series "Kita no kuni kara" (From the North).

Haruko Goto (R), president of the Ikutora Women's Association, and Keiko Sato, a former president of the association, pose for a photo in front of JR Hokkaido's Ikutora Station in Minamifurano on March 11, 2024, with the "Horomai Station" sign used for the 1999 film "Poppoya" still on the building. (Kyodo)

Two of the stations including Ikutora in the eastern part of the segment were already out of service, with train operations having remained suspended since the deadly typhoon that hit the area in late August of 2016.

With the expectation that trains would return to Ikutora at some point, members of the women's association continued decorating the station's interior with flowers and keeping the place tidy. But despite the lack of train service in recent years, the "Poppoya" location reportedly draws some 30,000 visitors annually.

The disused station will likely continue to be a tourist attraction, as JR Hokkaido is expected to transfer it to the town of Minamifurano, which plans to keep displaying memorabilia related to the film in the station building.

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