Eye For Film >> Movies >> Sinking Of Japan (2006) Film Review
Timing is everything.
Now the truth is that Higuchi Shinji's Sinking Of Japan (Nihon Chinbotsu) was made four years ago, and is based on a novel written by renowned Japanese SF writer Komatsu Sakyo back in 1973. Indeed, even then Komatsu's novel spawned Moritano Shino and Andrew Meyer's similar Tidal Wave (1973). Yet by a bizarre scheduling coincidence, Higuchi's apocalyptic earthquake epic is released straight-to-DVD on these shores in the same fortnight that massive seismological activity has wreaked havoc throughout Chile and sent tsunamis abroad, so that the ominous text with which the film opens ("One day soon. Maybe tomorrow.") has acquired, entirely by accident, an uncannily urgent topicality - not to mention the heady air of exploitation.
All of which Sinking Of Japan sorely needs, for while the film certainly grabs the attention with its opening sequence, it struggles to hold it over its excessively long duration. The film begins by throwing the viewer right into the thick of things, with the city of Numazu in Japan's Shizuoka Prefecture reduced to flaming ruins two hours after an earthquake has struck beneath Suruga Bay.
Shy oceanographer Onodera Toshio (Kusanago Tsuyoshi) emerges in a daze from his overturned car, only to see young girl Misaki (Fukuda Mayuko) about to be engulfed in a massive fireball as a powerline collapses into a pool of spilt petrol. At the very last second, a figure in protective gear swings in from a helicopter and pushes both Toshio and Misaki out of harm's way. This is Reiko (Shibasaki Kou), herself orphaned years ago, as Misaki has just been, by an earthquake, and now employed in the fire department's special rescue unit. The three strangers then watch a mountain across the harbour spew lava into the red-glowing sky.
If this opening suggests that events are about to unfold on a big and bold scale, in fact Sinking Of Japan meets this promise only superficially. As the film's title suggests, the disasters occasionally portrayed here in their full CG splendour – shifting tectonic plates, tsunamis, eruptions, ash storms, landslides, etc – are engulfing an entire nation, and leading up to Japan's total obliteration. Without question it is these sections that constitute the film's money shots, and justify why Higuchi, previously the SFX designer on several Godzilla and Gamera features, is in the director's chair.
The human drama, however, that cements all these set-pieces also serves to undermine their grandeur by making Japan seem a nation of five important people and millions of expendable extras. Hence Tadokoro (Toyokawa Etsushi), the seismologist who single-handedly discovers that mantle convection will drag the whole Japanese archipelago underwater within a year, just happens to be Toshio's boss – while Takamori (Daichi Mao), the minister who ends up running the evacuation of Japan after the Prime Minister (Ishizaki Koji) dies and his Deputy jumps ship, just happens to be Tadokoro's ex-lover.
With all the main players so intimately interconnected, it almost makes sense that Reiko should just happen to run into Misaki again in a different part of the country after they have become separated – for in Sinking Of Japan, it is a small world after all. Such plot contrivances might be acceptable were any of these characters remotely interesting or engaging, but they are not.
Add to this Iwashiro Taro's truly awful score, setting, for example, an intense romantic scene between Reiko and Toshio to an excruciating ballad in duet (the lyrics of which are even subtitled), and you have a disaster movie in more senses than one.Reviewed on: 15 Mar 2010