Reviews of Tidal Wave (1973) and related work
- Remake: Sinking of Japan (2006)
- Parody: Everything Sinks, Except Japan (2006)
- Remake: Japan Sinks: 2020 (2020)
Tidal Wave (1973)
Rapid tectonic developments cause the islands of Japan to sink beneath the sea. There is enough time to negotiate with other countries and evacuate, but who will want an insular people when its place is gone forever?
Prominent title in Japanese “post-nuclear sublime” cinema, made at record cost by the studio behind Godzilla (1954) after a hugely successful novel by the same title from the same year. Rich in nihonjinron-, Sonderweg-type mythology yet played with remarkable seriousness.
‣ Sinking of Japan (2006)
Higuchi Shinji (director).
Just as the original novel was adapted the year it came out, this version was occasioned by a 2006 sequel to the novel. All that posturing and no sekai-kei, no nihilism, just romantic moekko anti-apocalypticism.
‣ Everything Sinks, Except Japan (2006)
Parody on the occasion of the remake, adapting a novel published shortly after Komatsu’s original. It turns out very little is lost without the seriousness.
‣ Japan Sinks: 2020 (2020)
Seen in 2020.
A Filipino-Japanese family negotiates the sinking of Japan along with random people they meet along the way, including the Estonian Youtube influencer who breaks the news that Okinawa is gone.
Yūasa Masaaki. What is up with that guy.
In the year of his triumph with Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! (2020), Yūasa made this derivative low-budget re-re-adaptation of Komatsu’s 1973 novel. Like his Devilman: Crybaby (2018), it’s got rap, rape threats, a wild cultic party, grating apocalyptic anguish, hard drugs and bizarre violence, in this case including one scene of a decrepit morphinist hero shooting people with a bow and arrow off a spinning handicap scooter.
That may sound funny, but there is almost no comic relief or supernatural fantasy in this production. Instead, there is plenty of crappy spectacle. An open shelter somehow catches fire and almost everyone in it is killed, inexplicably failing to walk out. On day two after the biggest earthquakes, survivors are attacked by a wild boar, as if boars could find nothing to scavenge at that point. One character in the weirdly depopulated apocalyptic landscape steps on a civilian’s perfectly intact high-explosive land mine, presumably an illegal extreme rarity. Nuclear power plants have Chernobyl-style meltdowns, leading to radioactive rain, instead of shutting down safely like the modern reactors (5 and 6) did at Fukushima. An invisible, immediately lethal cloud of gas blankets a valley. A barge full of Japanese racists explodes, again for no apparent reason. I think this stuff was all meant to seem plausible. Granted, it’s not as dumb as the out-of-control machinery in A Wind Named Amnesia (1990), but it isn’t plausible.
More than Higuchi’s 2006 version, this one takes the focus off Onodera and Tadokoro. The former participates, but not as an action hero. He’s almost completely disabled by an incurable spinal injury, which is an interesting touch. Tadokoro barely appears but is commemorated with a statue, in the classic lab coat of mad scientists in Tezuka comics. Like Higuchi, Yūasa does the stereotypical thing in contemporary Japanese animation: He shifts the focus onto a cute girl, here a talented teenage athlete protagonist who must bear the burden of everybody else’s sacrifice.
The structure is simplified. The disaster is abrupt. Almost everyone is killed saving the protagonist, as well as her younger brother and the rogue geologists’ bizarrely private data, whereupon she has a refreshingly ugly cry about the memory of everything she’s lost, and then she becomes an Olympic athlete anyway. It is not clear whether sinking helps her run. Importantly, the story is not that of the 1973 film, where millions of people are already evacuated before the big one hits, and where the theme concerns the position of a “unique” people thus made homeless. The 2020 version completely loses track of this theme and has none of the resilient power of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō (1994) to replace it.
The 2020 version discusses nationalism but is much more ambivalent about it. It celebrates national pride (Haruo exclaims “Japan rules!”) but rejects racism outright. It acknowledges the cosmopolitan nature of the Internet and its importance to society. It has a long, counterproductive detour into a money-hoarding cult surrounding a psychic medium, and it ends by looking 8 years ahead. These differences in no way justify the remake. For a children’s view from below of a major earthquake in modern Japanese animation, prefer Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 (2009).
This was made at Science Saru, the same studio as Eizouken. I speculate that it may have taken on this project because name recognition raised the probability of making up budget shortfalls. It does not appear to have been an auteur’s labour of love. Ho Pyeon-Gang is credited with series direction, Yoshitaka Toshio with script and composition, numerous others with episode direction and animation direction. It may be a case of too many cooks on such a short, sub-1-cour ONA. There are certainly good parts. The first half of episode 8 is the best of them: Isolation on the open sea.
I like that the script actually includes a geological explanation, although it is bad: Supposedly, the archipelago is floating on a collapsing bubble caused by the melting of a subducted Pacific Plate “megalith”, apparently in the asthenosphere, as if the mesosphere of the Earth were not also melted and churning on a time scale smaller than the 100 Ma existence of Japan. I like how episode 6 explains why the episode titles are all written in katakana: That is the normal decoding script for Japanese Morse code, the use of which makes sense in Onodera’s paralyzed state because he is a submarine pilot. There are other good moments: A few nice apocalyptic backgrounds, a few shots of decent animation, a number of scenes showing that the characters are genuinely traumatized by specific events, not jaunting their way through a cozy catastrophe. Yet all of these good things sink beneath the poorly animated waves.
The English dialogue and text composition are bad. A lot of the virtual camera work is bad, just linearly interpolated pans across a few points. Amateur stuff. The episode 9 rap about nationalism is bad. A lot of the art direction is bad. The whole thing looks bland and flat like Devilman and reminds me of Ralph Bakshi’s unshaded rotoscoping, both in style and story. The characters are pretty boring and don’t develop. There isn’t any larger point to it all, even if you read it as a comment on the contemporary recession of the Japanese economy. It is essentially Devilman without humour or imagination.