Story: American scientists prognosticate that Japan will sink into the ocean within the next forty years due to the subduction of
a tectonic plate. The harbingers of this disaster can already be felt. Earthquakes of incredible dimensions plague the country and the Japanese
scientist Tadokoro (Etsushi Toyokawa) also knows the reason for that. The calculations of his colleagues were wrong. Japan is about to
sink into the ocean within the next 338 days. At first, the government elite doesn't believe his prediction, but after numerous earthquakes and
volcanic eruptions have devasteted the country, there are eventually negotiations with other countries about granting refugees a new home.
Amidst this chaos the firewoman Reiko (Kou Shibasaki) and deep sea submarine pilot Toshio (Tsuyoshi Kusanagi) get together. But while Reiko wants to stay in Japan and save as many lives as possible Toshio is thinking about taking the offer of a research project in England. Time is running out on the refugees and so the last desperate attempt to earn them more time to leave the country is to blast the tectonic plate that pulls Japan into the ocean with several explosive charges. For this, many holes with a depth of several thousand meters have to be drilled into the tectonic plate in the ocean. A task that seems to be doomed to failure because of its enormous difficulty and extent.
Review: "Japan Sinks" doesn't do a lot different than so many of its Hollywood counterparts. Big, colossal, special-effects-loaden and
at best with an interesting idea to start with. However, the rest only gets a raw deal. Which again brings us to the question why it doesn't
seem to be possible to shoot a disaster movie with an appealing story. Therefore, "Japan Sinks", which is a remake of a movie of the same title
from 1973, has a lot of problems with its character drawings, over-the-top dramatic scenes apparently couldn't have been avoided either and there
is also a love story finding its way into the film that is at no point convincing, but instead is presented in a quite clumsy fashion.
Fortunately, there are the special effects which I will go into more details later on as they stand as the movie's highlight. Actually they are
supposed to be merely a tool to convey a film in a convincing way but in a disaster flick the establishment of priorities has to be a little
different when it comes to special effects, of course. Nonetheless, the film lacks substance because of missing arrangements on an emotional
level as well as story-wise.
What's also proving disturbing is that the movie doesn't deliver a balanced mix of disaster scenes and dialogues. Oftentimes the movie drags on unnecessarily and with its running time of over 130 minutes is way too long anyway. At first, this is no real problem as the different characters are introduced and we actually are still hoping that we can weave a bond of sympathy towards them. Yet, after the first half of the movie we know that we can't expect any smoothed character development and that's also the point of time when boredom starts to creep in. At this point you can only make things bearable by focusing on the special effects scenes. This is also because the film is full of character clichés that are just to be found in any other movie of that genre. There are also relationships between the different characters that are incredibly far-fetched just to hold the film together at least somehow and not to have to put the focus on 100 different individuals. Just to name one example there is the future female government leader who was once married to the scientist Tadokoro.
The most shallow portrayal is the one of Toshio, though, played by Tsuyoshi Kusanagi. He is supposed to be the story's hero but he as well as Kou Shibasaki ("Dororo", "Battle Royale", "One Missed Call") remains without any color. Especially when it comes to Shibasaki you could have expected differently. She may be trying to bring her emotional scenes to bear as best as she can, but since there is simply a missing foundation she can build these moments on, she eventually has to fail, naturally. The whole relationship between Reiko and Toshio feels enormously artificial and seems to be intended as some kind of means to make the audience sympathize with the characters so that you find access to the film somehow and not just by making you watch in awe as cities are being destroyed. But a little bit more effort would have been nice and surely would have worked wonders. As it is everything remains cheesy and is even brought to a sad highlight when the unbelievable schmaltzy ballad of BOA is underlying a certain love scene. In "Japan Sinks" a lot of people die and a lot of innocent, too. Therefore, we are quite aware that it could also easily be one of the two main characters that bites the dust. But we don't care. If something like this is the case then a disaster film without a doubt has done something wrong.
But now let's get back to the special effects. The producers of course had to spend their limited budget carefully but what Japan is capable of doing with its budget is on par with what Hollywood productions do. In fact, "Japan Sinks" can even outdo America in certain respects! That is because nowadays everything is rendered at the computer in Hollywood. Sadly, there are certain moments where you can still see the difference between reality and illusion. Japan on the other hand mixes CGI-effects with physical FX-effects which means that there are also miniature models that get blast and the effects then get improved by adding some CGI-effects. Thus, the physical behavior of buildings exploding and other bodies are more realistic. In the end, it's the effects that are so much fun to watch even though in a childish fashion. You can't give a movie it's purpose with this alone. You also shouldn't wonder about the movie's logic. Blasting a tectonic plate? Yes, why not!? It's at least half as outrageous as in Hollywood's "The Core" where a team of scientiest drills its way into the planet's core...
"Japan Sinks", based on the novel by Sakyo Komatsu, also doesn't sell itself the best way possible. The actually pretty nice soundtrack by Taro Iwashiro for example oftentimes feels a bit too cheap in coporation with the mood created in the film. Finally, you also can never grasp the decisions of the different characters which spoils the overall picture. The will to sacrifice oneself by some of the heroes isn't motivated by anything at all and so we actually don't wonder anymore about any of the strange decisions. However, that everything is heading for a happy end isn't really that obvious. That's refreshing, even the more because even if everything would fall into place eventually, there would still be enough victims to prevent anyone from using the word "happy" here.
It would have been nice to see some of the more interesting aspects of the film like the economic development of the country or the matter of the refugees being taken in by other coutries pushed more into the foreground. The way it is, there is simply action, lots of pathos, patriotism and dialogues that are seemingly unnecessarily making the movie drag on. It's questionable if this is enough to give it a recommendation, but the appeal of a disaster movie is in fact watching everything go down to hell in an "aesthetic" manner. And that's where the film can score. Therefore, fans of the genre surely will get their money's worth.