History lesson first. One of Japan’s best-selling novels in recent years was Sakyo Komatsu’s Japan Sinks, a bit of Crichton-like popular SF about seismic activity causing the Japanese islands to disappear into the Pacific. It was adapted into a hit movie not just once but twice, thus converting itself into a prime target for satire. No less a satirist than Yasutaka Tsutsui, he of Paprika fame, took it upon himself to pen just such a lampooning: The World Sinks Except For Japan.
And now we have a movie version of said parody, courtesy of Minoru Kawasaki — he of Executive Koala and Calamari Wrestler and a whole slew of other satire / parody / black comedy hybrids. The underlying idea is to poke fun at Japan’s nascent insularity, or at least the worst aspects of it. Like the very material it parodied, it ended up being a big hit, although those of us who weren’t there for it are likely to not laugh as hard. Some bits are dead-on, some are not, and some are just aimless milling around.
The title explains the premise. Global warming, seismic cataclysms and disaster a-go-go send every continent in the world — except for the Japanese archipelago — to plunge beneath the ocean. World leaders and what few refugees survive flock to Japan and eke out a hardscrabble living. Hollywood actors are reduced to walking around with sandwich boards advertising soapland houses. The government cracks down on the blight foreigners pose, while the Japanese themselves watch all this suffering happening at arm’s length — although, as they soon find out, their own days are numbered as well.
Most of the movie breaks down into a bunch of tenuously-connected snippets without much direction. They’re continuums: we drop in for a bit, watch the weird things going on, and then cut to some other bit of action. Some are funny, as when a displaced American actor (who bears a more than passing resemblance to big-in-Japan Richard Gere) lands a role on a TV remake of 47 Ronin. A few are so prescient they almost carry the movie by themselves: a chintzy karaoke song in praise of Japan, capped off with an ominous shot of the Miyajima Torii completely underwater.
The movie's few bits of really biting satire don't last long
enough to add up to much beyond fleeing potshots.
The problem, again, is that there’s not enough narrative drive to the goings-on. The few really biting pieces of satire — like a bit about Americans who pose as WWII soldiers to give the old Japanese vets someone to beat up on — come and go. Most of the major characters (a TV producer, the aforementioned actor, the scientists, etc.) have their own mini-plotlines, but they don’t go much of anywhere. Especially since the movie’s ending is about as downbeat as this sort of thing gets — barring, that is, the laugh-out-loud scene where Kim Jong-Il comes out of freakin’ nowhere, just like he did back in Monster X: Attack the G8 Summit.