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In 1973 a very popular film called Nippon chinbotsu (Japan Sinks) was released; it was half destruction spectacle and half social commentary about international relations. The Japanese island chain falls slowly into a sub-aquatic abyss, necessitating the relocation of the entire population. The film's valuable message emphasizes the interrelation and interdependence of the world's nations. Roger Corman released the show in America in 1975, hacking out an hour of footage (presumably the thoughtful material about peace and cooperation) and keeping the earthquake and destruction scenes. It was called Tidal Wave.
A 2006 remake was called Nihon chinbotsu, and as soon as it was announced, Japanese director Minoru Kawasaki chose to make a low budget parody version, based on another book. The script had been written in the 1970s and originally featured parodies of Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao. Kawasaki's The World Sinks Except Japan is a farce with nominal production values. The destruction spectacle is either homemade versions of Toho effects or digital animation purposely scaled to a believability level not much higher than Terry Gilliam. But the script is quite a surprise, a fairly thoughtful examination of what might happen if Japan stayed afloat while the rest of the world sunk below the waves.
As unprecedented tectonic plate activity (?) causes all the continents of the world to sink, Japan alone is pushed higher and dryer because of a ... because we say so. A funny scientist never quite gets through his complicated explanations before going daffy and wandering away. An exodus of foreigners lucky enough to reach Japan crowd the shoreline and must be put up in tent cities. In a karaoke bar in Tokyo, three young professionals try to unwind after their hard day's work. One is a film producer who welcomes Oscar-winning star Jerry Cruising and his equally famous wife; the Americans already speak Japanese and find work instantly. Another of the Japanese men is married to an American from Texas; she's upset that her family has been lost. Another has a beautiful traditional wife but worries about the future, especially when she says she's pregnant.
Also frequenting the bar is the Japanese Prime Minister, now the most powerful diplomat on Earth. Around him circle the world leaders of former nations. The Bill Clinton-like American prez is in denial of his reduced status, while the Russian, Chinese and Korean heads of state flatter the Japanese PM in hopes of special favors. The Chinese diplomat, for example, dismisses past rancor between their two nations: What objections can China have if it is now underwater? The PM is pleased with the Chinese reassessment of relations.
Japan eventually runs out of patience with its uninvited foreign guests, as hunger drives them to steal Koi from gardens, and to sleep in sacred shrines. As TV ads stress that progress in Japanese culture will only come with a perfection of language skills, a Gaijin Attack Force of armed troops is formed to police foreigners and deport unruly elements. With public sentiment turned against Americans, Jerry Cruising is forced to take extra work (he's crushed underfoot by giant battling monsters). When his millions of American dollars become worthless, Jerry must move to a cardboard box. His classy girlfriend becomes a streetwalker.
All of this is handled on a small budgetary scale and is broken up by parodies of TV programs, morale-building public service music videos (all the world leaders dance and wave) and an occasional cheesy special effect. It's like a number of college comedy skits jammed together with no pretense of realism. The bilingual actors playing Americans are not particularly distinguished, but do a good job under the circumstances. The fellow playing the Hollywood star is a translator who was Bill Murray's stand-in for the movie Lost in Translation.
In may be nonsense, but The World Sinks Except Japan is at least as credible as The Day After Tomorrow. Kawasaki and his co-screenwriter Masakazu Migita have fun with stereotypes and nationalist sentiments, but the main characters play their roles fairly straight. The filmmakers clearly sympathize with the downtrodden Gaijin, even as their country turns against them. It's refreshing to see Japanese self-criticism. American news coverage of Japanese politics rarely looks beyond the issue of Japanese nationalists refusing to admit to aggression in WW2.
The Japanese husband with the American wife gets the notion that he's superior, and hires three maids to dote on him. The American wife runs away and meets Jerry Crusing, who once was her favorite star. She decides to stay with Jerry, even though the authorities want to arrest and deport him -- to where, we're not exactly sure ... the tip of the Himalayas are said to be above water. For a conclusion the karaoke bar is invaded by "northern troublemakers" led by a man who seems to be a parody of the ruler of North Korea. But just as the political fate of Japan is threatened, more geological havoc ensues: Japan is finally starting to sink as well.
The World Sinks Except Japan is a political parody with a thoughtful base under its farcical elements. It takes a fairly serious look at national perceptions, in particular the pig-headed refusal of peoples to realize that we're all on the same tiny planet and ought to get along. A lot of the show-biz comedy is specific to Japan but that doesn't make it any less interesting. If you like political Science Fiction, this is a good show to check out.
Synapse's DVD release of The World Sinks Except Japan uses the same extravagant ad image of a colossal cataclysm. It's bound to upset some buyers, when they find nothing in the film to match it.
The DVD is appointed with good extras. Director Kawasaki and the actor who plays the Japanese Prime Minister handle an informal commentary that stays interesting for about half the movie before falling apart into remarks about actors and descriptions of new scenes as they happen. Kawasaki does admit that this show is much more serious than his other light parody films, movies about Wrestling Squid, Crab Goalkeepers, Executive Koalas and a detective who uses his toupeé as a weapon. Kawasaki's odd career seems to be making progress, as he's just released a Kaiju Eiga monster movie that revives the creature known as Guilala. 1
A Making-Of featurette collects behind-the-scenes shots of scenes being filmed; everybody seems to be having a good time. Several of Kawaski's cast join him for an informal introduction to the DVD. The trailer is included as well.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
1. Minoru Kawaski's Executive Koala and Rug Cop are available from Synapse as well.
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