I have previously written a post about the two movie versions of Nihon Chinbotsu (日本沈没) known as ‘Japan Sinks‘ in English. I had studied the two versions discussed in that post for my article about disaster movies. After that I came across an animated version of the story on Netflix (see “Japan Sinks 2020” – Japan Gets That Sinking Feeling… again). Yet another version (the fourth to watch, in addition to the book that I have also read) is now on Netflix, but originally made by TBS, – this time with the title “Japan Sinks – People of Hope” (日本沈没-希望のひと)
You can find some information about “Japan Sinks – People of Hope” in the entry on IMDb, although when I last checked it, it hadn’t been that updated. I also think that the rating for it was a bit on the low side for what I think it deserves, but this may reflect a cultural bias within IMDb, which I have touched on before, as I suspect that the majority of those providing reviews are not Japanese or have an appreciation for the way in which many Japanese stories and characters tend to behave.
Yet again (this is now the fifth version that I have read/seen), the story has evolved/changed. At the heart of the problems, and a suspected trigger to the sinking of Japan, is climate change. I am not a geologist, but I found this concept very hard to accept. Climate change is happening. Earthquakes also happen. Japan sinking? I would hope this cannot happen, so the story will always have an element of unbelievability. But linking climate change and changes to tectonic plates was something I struggled with. More believable was how climate change could lead to new viruses becoming a problem… whether the series really needed this additional twist, especially as it was dealt with quite quickly, I’m really not sure. It seemed as though there was a desire to have a COVID-19-reference, but, perhaps as we have largely got through that pandemic now, it didn’t, as least for me, have the impact it was probably looking for (c.f. “No Time To Die” and the Bond franchise’s virus-related story (at least that one was written and made before COVID-19 rather than being a response to it, but it still suffered as a result).
There was much that I enjoyed about “Japan Sinks – People of Hope”. I enjoyed many of the characters – particularly Dr. Tadokoro who is one of the main characters. Amami and Tokiwa were great – but seemed too young to be in the positions that they were, but perhaps that’s just me getting old, or perhaps this was an attempt by the programme to suggest that leaders can be younger than in the past and there is a need to focus on ability over seniority. In terms of seniority, the politician Satoshiro stole the show. I’m surprised that he doesn’t get higher credit on the cast list. There was so much I could relate to in his mannerisms and approach from my studies and observations of Japanese politicians – indeed, there were times when he reminded me of former PM Nakasone. As for the PM – a largely ineffective person (although well acted)… so again, quite believable. Another character that I liked was Sera, partly as it was nice to see the actor Jun Kunimura in something again (although he was in films such as “Kill Bill: Volume 1”, I associate him most with the TV version of “Shizumanu Taiyo”… but he was also in the 2006 version of “Japan Sinks”). Sadly, the female characters were not as strong as they could have been. The key one, Shiina, seemed to be developing into an interesting, determined reporter, but once a slight hint of romance came along, she seemed to slip into the background and by the end was largely irrelevant and reduced to an emotional mess.
More than the lost opportunity with Shiina, the thing that disappointed me most about the series was how it handled the actual sinking. The amount of Japan that sinks varies in all five versions, I think (I’ve not gone back to double-check this), but the way this one handled it was pretty weak. In some ways it started well, focussing on Kanto, and the images of Tokyo having sunk in areas were well done. But as the disaster spread, parts of Japan seemed to simply slip beneath the surface of the ocean. No waves, tsunami, signs of pollution (although referred to in an earlier episode that this would become a problem), etc. There was not even any mention of any concerns, as much of Japan sinks, of the nuclear power plants – which is odd given the events at Fukushima in 2011, back in the real world. It all seemed quite tame and ineffective in the end after a promising start. Much like Shiina, I guess.
One of the things that the series did do well was the discussions of how to get Japanese accepted into other countries. This led to some interesting parts about what “Japan”, “Japanese”, and by extension “a country”, “a nation”, “nationality”, etc mean. This is something that continues to be a part of my research and also in my book “Japan: The Basics”. There may be a place for some of the discussion in “Japan Sinks – People of Hope” in the update to “Japan: The Basics”. At the very least, it’s given me some further things to think about.
Returning to my first article about disaster movies (see also my second article on the topic: “Japanese Disaster Narratives of the Early Twenty-First Century: Continuity and Change”) and the list of conventions that I developed, although I was not keeping track of the conventions as I watched the series, thinking back through the series now I think that 10 of the 12 conventions in Group A (that would be expected in both Japanese and English-language disaster movies) were present (I think the date for the disaster was set, and I don’t think that a main character died), 3 of the 3 conventions in Group B (ones that are usually in English-language disaster movies, but not in Japanese ones) were present, while only 1 of the 2 in Group C (ones that are usually in Japanese disaster movies, but not in English-language ones) were present as I don’t think any dead bodies were shown. A total of 14 out of 17.
Overall, if you like watching Japanese TV series (English subtitles, etc. are available), then you may enjoy “Japan Sinks – People of Hope”, but otherwise, this may not be the best introduction to such series.