Sinking of Japan (2006)

Class: Staff
Author: J.L. Carrozza
Score: (2.5/5)
January 31st, 2007 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

I confess: I was really looking forward to Sinking of Japan. Knowing Shinji Higuchi's penchant for eye-popping visuals as well as his love of the 1973 original Submersion of Japan, I was really expecting something superb, something on par with the Gamera trilogy and Peter Jackson's King Kong. Instead, what we got was a film with a bunch of superb sequences of destruction tied together with sappy melodrama. I am not much of a fan of the original Submersion (I'm more of a Prophecies of Nostradamus guy, shall we say), but this remake seriously makes it look like a masterpiece in comparison.

Japan has begun to sink into the ocean. While the U.N. predicts this will happen in a little over 40 years, a geologist named Dr. Tadokoro isn't so sure and after conducting several tests and using a computer analysis, he comes to the horrifying revelation that Japan is set to be submerged in less than a year! He feverishly tries to convince the Japanese government to take action, but naturally no one listens. When the Prime Minister, on his way to China, is killed by a volcano erupting under his plane, only then does the government start to take action and begin to evacuate the people of Japan. Tadokoro realizes that the only way to save Japan from is by detonating a nuclear device under the crust of the archipelago.

Sinking of Japan is a disappointment in many regards. Perhaps I was a little bit hard on Higuchi's previous film Lorelei (2005), as it at least was highly entertaining and had a very compelling story, if a story with a right wing slant to it. I'm convinced that, as a storyboard artist for anime like Nadia and Evangelion and a special effects man, Higuchi has quite the talents but when it comes to directing actual films, he somewhat falls flat. I honestly, while watching the film, wished that this had been directed by Shusuke Kaneko. The thing that made the original interesting was the film's socio political elements. It begged the question “What would really happen if Japan were to sink in the ocean? What would people do? How would the governments of the world respond when asked to take in hundreds of millions of immigrants?” Submersion of Japan also had a sad, melancholy vibe to it and a nicely downbeat ending. In Sinking of Japan, however, the socio-political elements are touched upon only lightly and the film is cloyingly saccharine, featuring almost laughable melodrama straight out of Michael Bay's Armageddon. Unlike the original, which ended with Japan sinking into the ocean and hundreds of millions of Japanese refugees now displaced across the globe, this film actually ends with Japan being saved from total destruction. The film is not a socio-political disaster epic; it's just a silly disaster/action flick that is really no better or worse than such trite American films as Deep Impact, Armageddon and The Day After Tomorrow.

The film does have some saving grace, which lies solely in the film's strong visuals. The cinematography, by Taro Kawazu, is absolutely lush and gorgeous and the film's camera work is very fluent and effective. The film's special effects and visual effects work, by GMK's Makoto Kamiya, is easily its best attribute. It's simply eye-popping, easily rivals most of Hollywood's work and is quite an improvement over the obvious CGI of Lorelei (2005). Unfortunately, in one problem it shares with the original, it's simply not used often enough. The film's most impressive shots are some satellite's eye view shots of Japan sinking into the ocean as well as massive pans over the country of Japan, again from a kind of God's eye view.

In the film's other areas, it's very average. The music by Taro Iwashiro is decent at best and mediocre at worst. The acting is nothing to scream home about, particularly from Tsuyoshi Kusanagi as Onodera, though Mao Daiichi (who looks superb for her age) kind of stands out as Tadokoro's ex-wife, now a powerful government official. Kou Shibasaki, as Reiko, is charismatic, but she was much better in films like Battle Royale and One Missed Call (2004). In terms of character development, wheras the original revolves mostly around Tadokoro, the remake mostly revolves around the character of Toshio Onodera, who in the opening scene is saved by Reiko. The relationship between both proceeds to grow (and lead to several goofy love interlude sequences that might as well be from the Star Wars prequels) and in the end Onodera decides to pilot a suicide mission and detonate the nuclear device to save Japan.

Overall, I really wanted to love the film, I swear I did, but the film's flaws are simply too glaring to ignore. The film is simply a huge mess with great special effects work and beautiful cinematography but a story ruined by silly heroics and saccharine sentimentality that approaches comedic levels.