aka Doomsday: The Sinking of Japan; Japan Sinks
Director – Shinji Higuchi, Screenplay – Masato Kato, Based on the Novel by Sakyo Komatsu, Producer – Toshiaki Nakazawa, Photography – Taro Kawazu, Music – Taro Iwadi, Visual Effects Supervisor – Katsuro Onoue, Director of Special Effects – Makoto Kamiya, Production Design – Yasuaki Harada. Production Company – Toho.
Etsushi Toyokawa (Dr Yusuke Tadokoro), Tsuyoshi Kusunagi (Toshio Onodera), Ko Shibasaki (Reiko Abe), Mao Daichi (Minister Saori Takamori), Mayuko Fukuda (Misaki Kuraki), Mitsuhiro Oikawa (Shinji Yuki), Jun Kunimura (Acting Prime Minister Nozaki), Koji Ishizaka (Prime Minister Yamamoto)
Japan is rocked by severe earthquakes. In front of a panel of government ministers, top seismologist Yusuke Tadokoro makes the dire prediction that the tectonic plates beneath the country’s land mass are collapsing and that the country will sink underneath the waters in 338 days time. This is greeted with outrage, denial and panic. The government starts making plans to evacuate the populace. In the midst of one of the earthquakes, submersible pilot Toshio Onodera is rescued by emergency worker Reiko Abe at the same time as he is trying to save a young girl Misaki. As the two of them meet up afterwards, he is attracted to Reiko. The prime minister is killed when his plane crashes in the ash cloud from a volcanic eruption. The acting prime minister then takes the step of lying to the populace and saying that the submergence of Japan is five years away, while making plans to evacuate those he can. Tadokoro comes up with a risky idea that involves detonating a series of powerful explosives in the hope of reversing the disaster.
During the 1970s when the disaster movie was at its height with Hollywood hits like Airport (1970), The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974), Japan’s Toho company, the producers of the Godzilla films, leapt aboard the bandwagon with Submersion of Japan (1973). Adapted from the novel Japan Sinks (1973) by science-fiction writer Sakyo Komatsu, whose works also became the basis of Sayonara Jupiter (1984), the film proved a great success in Japan. In the US, the rights were picked up by Roger Corman who did what US distributors had done with the original Godzilla (1954) and kept the effects footage and hired director Andrew Meyer to shoot new material around it featuring Lorne Greene as the US ambassador and the result released as Tidal Wave (1975). The same book was later remade as the anime tv series Japan Sinks: 2020 (2020).
Sinking of Japan, known internationally under various different titles, is a remake of Submersion of Japan, and again comes from Toho. The new director Shinji Higuchi had premiered with the J-pop fantasy film Minimoni The Movie: The Great Sweet’s Adventure (2002) and co-directed Lorelei (2005), an alternate history scenario about Japan winning World War II. Subsequent to this, Higuchi made the historical comedy The Floating Castle (2012), the two-part live-ation anime adaptation Attack on Titan (2015) and Attack on Titan II: End of the World (2015), and the big-screen reboot of Shin Ultraman (2022).
The remake is essentially an attempt to revisit the Sakyo Komatsu novel but with CGI effects technology being employed to create a much more elaborate depiction of the title catastrophe. Certainly, this version gives the impression that the filmmakers have made all effort to research the geology and science of the premise and present it in a way that makes what is happening seem eminently credible. To this extent, the film is often like a series of illustrated manuals where everything from the pieces of equipment being wheeled into operation and the names and significance of the numerous ships are given an on-screen title card to let us know what is happening.
The film has clearly had a reasonable budget thrown at it and produces some often impressive scenes of mass destruction. Unfortunately, Sinking of Japan is not a very interesting film. In Toho’s Godzilla films, the human element is almost irrelevant to the mass destruction and monsters attacking each other. You can, for instance, go through all twenty-eight of their Godzilla films in vain searching for a single memorable character arc. Sinking of Japan feels almost exactly like a film comprised of these human scenes but with the monsters taken out. The special effects are used sparingly and most of the human drama is a series of not terribly exciting scenes between submarine pilot Tsuyoshi Kusunagi and his attraction to Ko Shibasaki’s emergency worker.
Where the film does start to become more interesting is in the grand sociological perspective it takes. Unlike the average disaster movie, it is not focused around individual pieces of spectacle and drama as various cast members try to survive in the disaster zone. Rather it takes the perspective of asking how an entire country might adjust to its imminent destruction. It covers various angles of approach as the government tries to relocate its people in other countries, or the acting prime minister who lies about the magnitude of the disaster and then tries to ensure his own survival. Unlike a Western disaster film, the characters seem far more fatalistic and we see them philosophically greeting the end – the prime minister wondering if he should not choose to die along with his country or the old woman wanting to be destroyed along with her family home because it is where her ancestry and personal memories reside.