Irwin Allen made them popular. He also took them to the point where seriousness was seemingly replaced with silliness. A box office bonanza like The Poseidon Adventure or The Towering Inferno was, in a few short years, replaced by outrages like The Swarm and When Time Ran Out. Since then, the disaster film has walked the very fine line between spectacle and spoof. Independence Day is a perfect example of the new contemporary conceit, with The Day After Tomorrow an equally effective representation of the subgenre's extremes. In 2006, Nihon Chinbotsu (Or Japan Sinks) took modern technology and the standard post-apocalyptic histrionics to imagine the mighty island nation being destroyed by shifts in the Earth's various plates. As he does with almost all categories of cinema, the country's reigning cult crackpot Minoru Kawasaki took the piss out of the entire project by making Nihon Igai Zenbu Chinbotsu, or as offered by Synapse Films, The World Sinks...Except Japan. And in perfect parody style, it's a razor sharp shredding of all involved.
When a famed scientist discovers that the Earth's core is unstable, the prospect of world destruction looms. Sure enough, America slowly sinks into the ocean, leaving a large refugee population looking for a place to live. When the rest of the planet does a similar seismic swan dive, Japan becomes the last viable location to sustain life. Of course, the crowds of foreigners force the government into some uncomfortable decisions. Soon, a secret police force known as GAT is organized to deal with the increasing criminal element among the newcomers, while politicians plot against each other to take over the tiny country. In the meantime, a reporter must deal with his angst-ridden American wife, a TV producer takes on a faded Hollywood star as a client, and a former box office champion finds himself homeless, hungry, and increasingly homicidal.
Wow - Minoru Kawasaki sure hates the US...and if he doesn't, he sure has an odd, acerbic way of showing his approval. Like all great political commentaries, The World Sinks...Except Japan pulls no punches and never shies away from its intended target. In this crazy post-apocalyptic comedy, Kawasaki turns the last remaining survivors of a sunken America into a bunch of whores, thieves, egotists, backstabbers, and aimlessly arrogant assholes. Sure, he saves a nice swatch of scorn for his fellow countrymen, and a few more point barbs for Asian affiliates China and Korea. Indeed, it's safe to say that no one is safe from Kawasaki's cranky comebacks. While you'll have to look closely to see some of the subjects scorned (is that supposed to be Tom Cruise? And who exactly is she representing?), the overall approach is no holds barred and everything's up for ridicule. There even seems to be some unintentional slights, most coming from the Western actors with questionable English accents trying to sound as clipped and Caucasian as possible. Clearly, Kawasaki can't imagine we will take them seriously right?
Actually, the answer is a little ambiguous. As he has throughout his career, Kawasaki stands in stark contrast to the regular rules of filmmaking. He will incorporate whatever he wants into any specific type, never caring that the moviemaking basics require something different. For example, the end of the world as depicted here makes similar efforts by Roger Corman seem epic by comparison. A few fake CGI cityscapes crumble, and one memorable shot has the Arc de Triomphe in Paris plummeting into the sea, sloppy pseudo stop motion animation style. Again, this could all be part of Kawasaki's plan. He truly does want to undermine every convention within the genre type. This is particularly true of the TV producer's perfect nuclear family lifestyle. The scenes between the character and his doting wife are so syrupy and saccharine that diabetics and the obese need to steer clear. Of course, when Kawasaki throws the couple a last act curveball, the wholesomeness turns horrific very quickly.
But it's the politics that will please and perplex the average fan. Again, America is ripped apart and raped repeatedly, our self-absorbed sense of entitlement coming back to bite us in the bottom over and over. Non specific world leaders (more types than anything else) are depicted as depraved and slovenly, dedicated to personal pleasure and shrill self-aggrandizement. Kawasaki gets a lot of mileage out of the long standing tensions between Japan and their Asian neighbors. Korea and China are depicted as double crossing boot licks, kissing ass one moment, plotting the overthrow of their 'enemies' the next. It is in this regard that The World Sinks...Except Japan gets most of its mileage. If you hate Postal-level commentary, then this bonsai Uwe Boll will test your limits for likeable, occasional lame kitsch. But if you peek beneath the surface and see what director Kawaski is striving for, if you add the necessary "T" to a key word in the title, you'll get the much bigger picture being inferred. Indeed, the rest of the planet may 'stink', but this is one disaster that keeps its eye on the troubles at home as well.
Thanks to Synapse Films, we have the opportunity to see the films of Minoru Kawasaki in their original theatrical ratio and language. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen is colorful, crisp, and loaded with detail. Even the sequences suggesting TV commercials look excellent. While definitely on the low end of budgetary bonanzas, The World Sinks...Except Japan offers a fine digital presentation.
Offered in a clean, crisp Dolby Digital 2.0 mix (and in the original Japanese - no dopey dubbing here) The World Sinks...Except Japan provides a professional level of aural appreciation. Sure, the sonics are a tad flat and there's no real ambiance to the backdrop, but the overall quality is right up there with better, bigger budgeted films. The English subtitles are easy to read.
First up in the added content department is a full length audio commentary with Kawasaki and actor Takenori Murano. Offered in Japanese with excellent English subtitles, this is clearly a conversation between friends. Frequently forgetting the film to go off on their own unrelated tangents, we are treated to personal insights as well as a few onset anecdotes. There is also a collection of introductions from Kawasaki and the cast, a trailer, a TV spot, and a well-meaning Making-of documentary.
Maybe you have to be in the mood to enjoy Minoru Kawasaki's films. Perhaps his peculiar approach, about as random and slapdash as possible without being considered chaotic, will rub you the wrong way. Whatever the case, something like The World Sinks...Except Japan will not appeal to everyone. It's an unusual entertainment, and requires an equally unhinged temperament to enjoy its oddities. Easily earning a Highly Recommended rating, it is definitely something to be sampled before being dismissed. In an arena where the repugnant 'X-Movie's (Date, Epic, even Disaster) are seen as the standard bearers of the spoof, something like The World Sinks definitely stands out. In fact, it has much more to offer than your typical lampoon - for good and for bad.