Disaster movies remain a relatively under-studied “genre” of narrative, particularly in relation to which conventions are used within such narratives. One of the key works is by Yacowar (2012) and not only categorized disaster narratives into eight types, but also highlighted 16 conventions that exist in these movies. However, that study was done in 1976. Furthermore, Yacowar’s study was primarily on English-language narratives. Just as Mileti (1999) has suggested that disasters are “designed” by a range of cultural and social influences, are disaster narratives similarly constructed through inherent cultural and social influences?
This article not only looks at the conventions in 38 disaster narratives covering the 40-year period from 1978 to 2018, but it also analyzes 22 Japanese-language narratives in order to assess the degree to which conventions may be universal. Japanese disaster narratives were chosen due to Japan being linguistically and culturally different from the countries where English-language narratives were made, and that Japan has a developed film industry and one that has produced many disaster movies over the years.
The article finds that many of the conventions suggested by Yacowar no longer apply, but that there are 17 conventions that can be placed into one of three groups; those found in English and Japanese narratives, those found only in the former and those found in the latter. That there are three separate groups reveals that there are clear differences between what constitutes a disaster narrative in different areas. These differences, ultimately, are likely to not only influence the degree to which a narrative will be successful in its own country, but also the degree to which it could be exported to other countries.
I hope that if the Barry Grant book Film Genre Reader, which contains the original Yacowar chapter, is updated again, that my article could replace the chapter by Yacowar.
This is a list of narratives studied (with links to posts about them where appropriate) for the article (Note: Bold text is used to indicate narratives classified as being ‘historical’ for this study):
- 252 Seizonsha Ari (252: There Are Survivors)
- Blackout Effect (aka: 747)
- Crash Landing: The Rescue of Flight 232 (aka A Thousand Heroes)
- Crash: Mystery of Flight 1501 (aka Aftermath)
- Crash: The Crash of Flight 401
- Dante’s Peak
- Deep Impact
- Deepwater Horizon
- Doragon Heddo (Dragon Head)
- Flight 90: Disaster on the Potomac
- Flight 93
- Fukkatsu no Hi (Virus/Day of Resurrection)
- Ground Control
- Hard Rain
- Hiroshima (Hiroshima)
- Into the Storm
- Itai: Asu-e no Tōkakan (Reunion/Corpses: 10 Days to Tomorrow)
- Jishin Rettō (Megaforce 7.9/Earthquake Archipelago)
- Kansen Rettō (Pandemic/Infection Archipelago)
- Kibō-no-Kuni (Land of Hope)
- Kuraimāzu Hai (Climber’s High) (2005)
- Kuraimāzu Hai (Climber’s High) (2008)
- Kuroi Ame (Black Rain)
- Mari to Koinu no Monogatari (A Tale of Mari and Three Puppies)
- Nihon Chinbotsu (Japan Sinks) (1973)
- Nihon Chinbotsu (Japan Sinks) (2006)
- Nosutoradamusu no Daiyogen (Prophecies of Nostradamus)
- One-no-Kanata-ni (Inseparable Souls: Fathers, Sons, and The Crash of JAL123/Beyond the Ridge)
- Rokku: Wanko no Shima (Rock – Dog’s Island)
- San Andreas
- Sekai Daisensō (The Last War)
- Shizumanu Taiyō (The Unbroken/The Sun Which Doesn’t Set) (2009)
- Shizumanu Taiyō (The Unbroken/The Sun Which Doesn’t Set) (2016)
- Shuto Shōshitsu (Tokyo Blackout/Disappearance of the Capital)
- Special Bulletin
- The Chain Reaction
- The Core
- The Day After
- The Day After Tomorrow
- The Hurricane Heist
- The Impossible
- The Last Message: Umizaru (Sea Monkeys)
- The Perfect Storm
- United 93
- We are Marshall
- When Time Ran Out…
- World Trade Center
See also my book Dealing With Disaster in Japan: Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash and my post Narratives on the World’s Worst Plane Crash: Flight JL123 in Print and on Screen (note that these were written prior to the release of some narratives about the crash which are discussed in the IJMED article).
I would like to thank all those people who were interviewed during the course of the research for their contributions. I would also like to thank those who read drafts of the article and provided advice, in particular David Clarke, Nick Hodgkin, and Griseldis Kirsch, and also to the anonymous journal reviewers.
I would also like to thank those who have aided with funding the research; Japan Foundation Endowment Committee, Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and Cardiff University.