I bet you can’t guess where this one’s headed. Based on Sakyo Komatsu's best-selling novel, Sinking of Japan is Higuchi Shinji’s remake of Moritani Shiro's 1973 classic. It comes complete with a big budget, Hollywood style special effects and superstars Kusanagi Tsuyoshi and Shibasaki Kou in the leading roles. In a nutshell, this is the closest you’ll get to a Japanese disaster movie directed by Michael Bay, but with less emphasis on the words ‘fun’ and ‘cheesy’ of course. Sinking of Japan takes itself very seriously indeed, but then, Japan is sinking I guess (the clue is in the title) so it's probably not the best time to break out uplifting dance numbers and jaunty sing-a-longs in the style of Glee.
Due to tectonic plate collisions (that’s where it lost me too), Japan is literally sinking into the ocean. Scientist Tadokoro (Toyokawa Etsushi) and submarine pilot Onodera Toshi (Kusanagi Tsuyoshi) discover that it will cease to exist in less than a year's time, which kind of ruins plans for future film nights. With earthquakes, tidal waves and volcano eruptions rocking the nation, Toshi develops a close relationship with young orphan Misaki (Fukuda Mayuko) and rescue worker Abe Reiko (Shibasaki Kou), but only because ever since James Cameron’s Titanic, the screenplay has kind of demanded it.
The one way to save the country is to break off the plate that is pulling Japan into the ocean through strategic deepwater detonations. It’s a suicide mission then, so we’re back in the loving arms of Michael Bay territory here, and Toshi is the only one left to operate the submarine. If you haven’t all ready got that sinking feeling, it’s time to put on those ill-advised speedo’s and paddle for all your worth.
Lets start with the good stuff; the special effects are stunning throughout. Some of the most impressive I’ve seen from a Japanese movie and that’s saying something. The success of this kind of disaster movie really does hinge on the realism of events that transpire. It’s a beautifully staged production from start to finish and Higuchi Shinji should be applauded for the work he’s put in behind the camera. One thing you can be sure of here is wow-factor. It’s an area of expertise that Roland Emmerich has made a career out of, and on that particular playing field, Shinji - with the aid of cinematographer Taro Kawazu - doesn’t let his fan base down.
It’s a shame that the visionary director is unable to learn from the flaws of big budget action spectacles like Armageddon and 2012, choosing instead to walk in the shadows of Hollywood convention. Higuchi Shinji drowns the film in tiresome science and cringe-worthy sentimentality. I felt like I was back in school watching a History video as subtitles flashed across the screen to explain tiresome exposition. No need for quirky scientists like Jeff Goldblum in this one, why waste your time on character development when you can get away with subtitles and flashy CGI to explain the films internal logic?
Besides, there isn’t enough time for all that. This is a modern disaster movie after all, or weren’t you listening? Time to bring on the clichéd romance and dubious melodrama in an attempt to spark human interest. Sinking Of Japan fails to learn any lessons at all, but with Titanic’s box office potential waiting to be exploited, why should it? Sinking of Japan is more than happy to bathe in the same shallow waters as its Hollywood counterparts. There’s even time for a Celene Dion style pop ballad, as the films budding romance reaches for sentimental excess and comes away with a severe case of motion sickness.
Sinking Of Japan should’ve been Japan’s middle finger to Hollywood, the effects are spectacular enough, but even the set pieces fail to spark interest. Without engaging characters the outlook is frosty, not that I’m saying you need character development to make a movie of this magnitude work. Michael Bay isn’t exactly known for his character driven dramas. Without emotional impact though, the big action scenes are too fleeting, mere glimpses of awe rather than in-your-face-bang for your buck. The ending should’ve tugged on a few heartstrings, but the actuality is one of boredom, and Sinking of Japan’s rendition is somewhat out of tune.
Looking good will only get you so far, and beneath the surface sheen Sinking of Japan lacks character, heart and drive. Not to mention a sense of fun, something you could never accuse Michael Bay of. A thought provoking disaster movie is all well and good, but if you’re going to lace your movie with Hollywood convention, you’re better off going with camp and cheesy. Sinking of Japan could’ve been a worthwhile venture had Higuchi Shinji not spent the entire week before catching up on all things Emmerich, as it stands, this is commercial fluff with pretentious trimmings.
I like a little fun to wash down my cheese, and while it may look like the epic taste sensation advertised on all of the posters, Sinking of Japan is still the same old limp, tasteless burger Michael Douglas fell down for in '93, and we all know how that one ended. AW