“Shizumanu Taiyo” – Japan’s Best Disaster Narrative

The next of my posts about movies which I studied for my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?” is about Shizumanu Taiyo (沈まぬ太陽). As mentioned in my post about Titanic, the 2016 version of Shizumanu Taiyo has the highest average on IMDb out of all the disaster narratives that were included in my study (albeit from a very small number of people, so the average could easily change with some more reviews). As with Climber’s High, there are three versions of Shizumanu Taiyo in Japanese; a novel, a movie and a TV dramatization. Unlike Climber’s High, however, the novel (which has five books) has no English translation and English subtitles don’t appear to be available for the TV dramatization. In the case of the 2016 TV dramatization of Shizumanu Taiyo this is perhaps less surprising given that there are 20 episodes, each about 45 minutes long.

A summary on IMDb for the 2016 version is as follows.

Hajime Onchi leads the committee for labor union of national airline NAL. Hajime Onchi and vice committee head, Shiro Gyoten confront management of NAL, demanding better working conditions. The working conditions at NAL is so poor that fatal incidents could occur. Hajime Onchi, always place safety first, is demoted to a remote location abroad. Meanwhile, Shiro breaks away from Hajime and joins the management side to further his career. An airplane crash involving NAL takes place. Hajime Onchi returns to Japan and faces the grieving bereaved families. To resurrect NAL, the government places Masayuki Kunimi as the president of NAL. The new president of NAL calls Hajime to investigate the widespread corruption at the airline. Hajime soon encounters former ally Shiro Gyoten as he attempts to block his investigation.


This summary doesn’t completely cover the details of the story, focussing primarily upon the crash, based on the JL123 crash. In fact, the book, movie and TV dramatization are first & foremost about Onchi and the various battles he has within the company, where there are issues of corruption and poor management. The movie version is probably better known as it is easier to access and is shorter than the TV version – but even the movie version runs to over 3 hours (and includes an interval – which even remains on the DVD version) – and due to the fact that it stars Ken Watanabe. I discussed the 2009 version (which has the official English title of “The Unbroken”, which is totally unrelated to the original Japanese which could be translated as “The Sun which doesn’t Set”) in my book Dealing With Disaster in Japan.

The 2009 version of Shizumanu Taiyo

Both dramatizations of Shizumanu Taiyo have elements which have been changed from the original novel – which, for example, did more to flag up questions about really happened to the plane. The degree to which there is consistency and change across the various versions of this story, as well as in Climber’s High and One-no-Kanata-ni, are the subject of a chapter that I am currently working on for a book on Japanese media.

In terms of the revised list of conventions that I developed as part of my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, both the movie and the TV dramatization scored a 15 out of the 17. One of the challenges that Shizumanu Taiyo flagged up was that as the disaster was only a part of the overall story (and in the case of the 2016 version in particular, arguably a relatively small part) was the degree to which I considered the conventions purely in relation to the disaster itself or whether I looked for the convention in the whole narrative. I eventually decided that the former route was the more appropriate one to take.

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