As you may have guessed by now, I am a fan of Japanese anime and Asian movies. In fact, most of my personal DVD collection contains movies from Japan and South Korea. I find Asian film makers more exciting, daring and emotionally involving in their concepts. A case in point is The Sinking of Japan, a Japanese disaster movie, when compared to a western disaster movie – 2012.
I have watched both, but it is the Sinking of Japan that touched me emotionally, and made me care for the characters and the situation they were in. The special effects in 2012 were certainly awesome, but a futuristic movie is about more than special effects. It is about humanity, how it came to be where is is in the future, and how it reacts.
In 2012, the only comfort I drew from the generally awful bunch of survivors was that there was a Buddhist monk among them. This lot will need one. I found the quiet acceptance of his fate by the Abbot in the Himalayas, and the strong character of the Russian pilot, to be affecting as well. But these were rare moments. Mostly it was about outrunning falling buildings, gaping holes and huge waves. The ending, when they all returned to Africa, the birthplace of mankind, was downright hokey.
There's a fair bit of outrunning things falling down and opening up in The Sinking of Japan as well, but miraculous escapes due to the awesome driving skills of the main protagonist don't loom large. In fact, when we first meet deep sea submarine pilot Toshio (Tsuyoshi Kasunagi), he is stuck in an earthquake, and he and a young girl called Misaki (Myuko Fukuda)are about to be rescued by Reiko (Ko Shibasaki).
These three form the heart of the story. Misaki's mother is in a coma, so she is adopted by Toshio's family. So is Reiko, who is attracted to Toshio. Together they and the people connected to them face the imminent sinking of Japan due to the movement of tectonic plates. It'd a terrifying scenario, as eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis consume the islands, and Saori Takamori (Mao Daichi) tries desperately as disaster minister to evacuate as many as possible to other countries.
2012 adroitly manages to sidestep the horrifying loss of life as its disaster unfolds, concentrating on saving the heroes and reuniting the main protagonist with his wife – even her lover is casually dispensed with as he gets in the way of a happy ending. There's a feeling with 2012 that it is all about the spectacle, and the lucky few who will survive – who cares about the rest?
Saori cares, and so does Shinji Higuchi, the director of The Sinking of Japan. He cares enough to show us the character of these people. There is one telling moment when Prime Minister Yamamoto (Koji Ishizaka) says to Saori that some people in Japan believe the country should do nothing, just cease to exist with the land. Yamamoto says that probably only the Japanese could even think of such a thing.
But he chooses life for as many of his people as he can, although he loses his own. Saori seeks help from her former husband, Professor Tadokoro (Etsushi Toyokawa), who is also Toshio's boss. Toshio wants to take Reiko and Misaki and escape to England, but Reiko cannot leave while there is still a possibility of rescuing even one person.
The glimpses into the humble home lives of Toshio and his family, the powerful feeling that, yes, these are simple ordinary people like you and me, and the willingness of Higuchi to show the courage and selflessness of most people when faced with catastrophe, shows that he studied and understood disaster very well. This is how real people react – they help each other, even when it is hopeless.
Of course there is a huge personal sacrifice made by one of the characters and of course, there are genuinely caring politicians and those out for their own survival – but Higuchi remembered that, while disaster movies are good fun and great for special effects, it is the impact on humanity and the loss of life that really matters – 2012 director Roland Emmerich never got beyond his own awesomeness.
I wouldn't recommend any disaster movies for kids, but if they have to watch one, let it be one that shows humanity in a human light.
I purchased DVDs copies of both reviewed movies from my own funds.
Sinking of Japan:
Sinking of Japan (Standard Edition) DVD