The World Sinks Except Japan Review
It’s 2011 and global warming has finally claimed most of the Earth’s land. Only Japan survives in a sea of bigness, but it’s about to face a severe impact when refugees from all over the world attempt to acclimatise to the Japanese way of life. Soon the country begins to face its own identity crisis as A-list celebrities begin taking over the airwaves and other folk are left off no better than slaves, while Chinese and Korean dignitaries play fetch for the Japanese Prime Minister. Scruples are thrown out of the window in Minoru Kawasaki’s parody/satire of global politics and mad TV shows.
It had to happen sooner or later, and sure enough Minoru Kawasaki has churned out a pretty terrible movie with The World Sinks Except Japan. More loosely based on Yasutaka Tsutsui’s short story titled ‘The End Of The World Except Japan’ - a spoof in itself - and released the same year as Nihon Chinbotsu [The Sinking of Japan], which was a remake of the 1973 disaster spectacle based upon Sakyo Komatsu’s novel, Kawasaki’s film adopts a - unsurprisingly - parodying approach as it seeks to make fun of the conventional disaster flick. Ideally it should have provided the perfect fodder for Kawasaki, then, who is a self-proclaimed fan of these types of features. However, his approach toward picking apart the politics of these two literary works is awkward at best. Belying the intentions of parody is the fact that the The World Sinks Except Japan is played a bit too seriously for its own good; in the past Kawasaki’s films have benefited from this given their subject matter and the desire to place animals at their forefront, but there’s a sense here that as much as the director wants to have fun he also wishes to respect the inherent social critique of the novels/movies he’s attempting to lampoon. As a result his film is oddly structured and it never seems to know which direction to head in, preferring to play it a little safer by force-feeding us a bunch of sentimentality. To put it more simply it’s hugely boring and repetitive. Most of the feature relies on long-winded scenes of exposition via talking head figures, with serious family issues thrown in to the mix. It’s little more than people sitting in rooms spouting semi-meaningful dialogue for ludicrous stretches, while we’re left scratching our heads as to what the whole point is exactly. Perhaps most frustrating of all is that Kawasaki repeatedly hits us over the head with the xenophobic attitudes toward foreign intrusion. Yes it’s all camped up a little, albeit rather embarrassingly, but there‘s only so much Mickey-taking of western traditions and foreign perceptions of Japanese culture that one can stand before wishing to change the record. On the other hand there is an equal amount of self-deprecation in relation to Japanese patriotism and economical standing, which indeed is welcome, but frankly it only helps to offset the overall tone.
It’s not all bad, mind you. There’s probably a good 10-15 minutes worth of decent comedy here. We have egotistical American stereotypes, from world leaders to pretentious Oscar-winning actors (Blake Crawford as Jerry Cruising being one of the few actors to actually enjoy being silly) as the film makes light of the entertainment industry, while a few well-targeted shots at media sensationalism sees it work better as a satire on the shallowness of human nature. When Japan decides that its had enough of foreigners settling on its turf and depleting vital resources, it decides to raise morale by making television dramas and films in which Americans are trodden upon - quite literally in fact. The ‘Den Ace’ sequence in which Minoru Kawasaki cameos as a man who transforms into a 50 foot superhero to fight a Godzilla-like monster that has been killing hundreds of gaijin is amusing in that whenever the hero falls over he wipes out just as many innocents. There’s also a very good moment featuring a mock weather report as the host forewarns that we can “expect to see many foreigners tomorrow”, in addition to some bizarre cameos from the likes of Pucci-Bruce. But moments such as these are so far few in-between that it’s difficult to justify sitting through the entire picture for them, when in all likelihood a good hour and a half’s sleep would be far more entertaining.
Synapse’s 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation is another very respectable one. There’s little more to say other than the transfer is lively with plenty of strong colours and a good level of detail, being slightly let down by a fare amount of aliasing. Once again though Synapse prove their worth in issuing another artefact-free transfer, which doesn’t do a bad job in showcasing the film as close to authentic as possible.
The Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo is standard at best. Minoru Kawasaki has never seemed to go for the luxury of 5.1 surround, but then he shoots his movies in the space of a week so it’s easy to cut the guy some slack. The World Sinks… is pretty much a talky piece and for that the centre channels work fine, offering a clear, distortion-free track. While there are very brief moments involving world destruction the speakers don’t get any kind of aggressive workout, which pretty much adds even more to the cheese factor.
The main attraction here is an audio commentary with director Minoru Kawasaki and actor Takenori Murano who plays PM Juniro Yasuizumi in the film and who also appeared in the TV version of Nihon Chinbotsu. They’re both engaging speakers, even if most of the time their conversation tends to divert away from the main feature’s topics. However, despite not learning a massive deal about the ins and outs of production we do learn about things such as Kawasaki’s current personal life and Murano’s out-of-touch nature when it comes to the differences between DVD and VHS. These moments are often fun as the pair riff off each other, whilst Kawasaki displays an impressive knowledge of the actor’s CV. They do occasionally touch upon the larger aspects of the film and cover the original novel and talk about other actors and directors; especially interesting to hear that all the foreign actors in the film could speak perfect Japanese but deliberately spoke badly for the feature. It’s also refreshing to hear Murano voice his dislike of certain scenes from Kawasaki’s film as he‘s particularly frank about becoming tired during certain takes. Later on we even get to hear some very serious words from Hiroshi Fujioka, who starred in the original Nihon Chinbotsu movie and appears in a small role for Kawasaki’s parody.
If you’ve seen half a dozen or so Japanese ‘Making Of’ specials then you’ll already know what to expect with the one included here. Running close to forty minutes it’s little more than a disjointed series (unlike the day to day structure of the previous Kawasaki titles) of behind-the-scenes footage, interspersed with brief interview segments and moments involving the cast and crew joking around.
A little over six minutes the Director and Cast Introductions piece sees several members of production talk about how they feel about the film as it tackles serious issues but keeps fairly light. Kawasaki mentions how his film isn’t meant to be insulting but a satire touching on serious issues; something which he’s poured all his efforts into. It’s a shame to see he and the cast speak so fondly and insist the film will make us laugh from start to finish, as these brief messages only go on to re-enforce exactly what’s wrong with it.
Also included is the theatrical trailer and the full “Den Ace” promo.
The World Sinks Except Japan is a hopelessly misguided flick that has its priorities all over the place; it‘s hard to accept it as an all-out parody when it sticks so closely to replicating the serious undertones of the source material, thus shaking up the overall tone of the narrative and leaving it in the end as an - ironically - depressingly cynical one. As much as I admire Minoru Kawasaki as a director I found myself wanting to forward through much of this unnecessarily drawn out feature, which has all but a few decent gags. A low point indeed in the career of a rather innovative individual.
Last updated: 23/06/2018 17:37:10