March 11, 2007

THE SINKING OF JAPAN (2006) a blockbuster

(2006, Japan, IMDB: Nihon Chinbotsu)

Recommended... if you're not expecting a Hollywood disaster movie.

Hong Kong region 3 NTSC DVD (Edko Video)

Basically, an undersea geologist predicts a disaster in the tectonic plate movements under the islands of Japan. While the Government race against time to save the population, we follow a young oceanologist and his girlfriend’s family amidst a series of natural disasters.

This is based on the same book as the 1973 film The Submersion of Japan, reviewed here...

America make large-scale disaster movies with high body counts, killing off characters that have been carefully introduced. The destruction is usually showcased as spectacular carnage rather than tragedy. Now, I have a nostalgic appetite for those bad-taste epics, but of course the Japanese do it differently.

It's awesome, rather than gruesome. The destruction of cities and landmarks is done realistically, but respectfully doesn't show citizens in their final moments. In fact, I can only remember one onscreen death scene in the whole film!

Like the 1973 film, there’s a downbeat parade of the icons of Japanese life from all over the country being displayed and destroyed. It bleakly fantasises about the end of Japan and the idea that the race would be dispersed around the world. The implied message could almost be, if they want neighbouring countries to open their borders in a time of crisis, perhaps they should be more generous with their own present restrictive policies on immigration. The Prime Minister, played by Koji Ishizaka, (with a hairstyle that reminds us of the last actual PM - Junichiro Koizumi), and his cabinet have great difficulties persuading other countries to accept evacuees.

The fantastic fx shots of mayhem are layered with sprays of flooding water, clouds of falling ash and dust, for depth. Some of the vistas of destruction are slightly stylised, perhaps to take the edge off.

Despite the opportunities for drama, the central love story is rather melodramatic, with a faintly painful pop song cutting in at a key moment. The love interest is the fiesty fire-fighter Reiko, played by Kou Shibasaki, (from One Missed Call and Battle Royale).

I shamefully didn't recognise Tetsuro Tamba, in what must have been his final role as Reiko’s grandfather, presumably a casting homage to his role as the Prime Minister in the 1973 film. Admittedly, there was an awful lot of chaos going on.

This is a vast improvement on the original film, with a far faster pace, some interesting twists and great FX. It doesn't feel too much like a disaster movie because it plays more as a tight-knit drama. The movie starts on the wrong-foot with a kind of far-fetched Hollywood action sequence that misleads the audience as to the kind of film it is.

The region 3 DVD is 2.35 anamorphic widescreen, has good DTS sound, but only one trailer for extras. Available here on HKflix, for instance.

The trailer (with no English) with lots of effects shots here on YouTube.

UPDATE (February 2008): now on DVD in the US under the title Doomsday...

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  1. I know this is a bit late, but how is the video quality for the Region 3 copy of this movie?

  2. Video quality was very good - this wss an official release of a major title.