When I was a young lad, my family had a Doberman pinscher by the name of Willy, a wonderful dog who loved to pounce on top of me every chance he could. One day, Willy caught me behind one of the many sheds that adorned our property, with my own willy hanging out from my pants. I was caught in the act of relieving myself by my dog. Willy however had never seen a human being in the process of urination (let alone a five-year-old who thought very little of what he was doing) and the whole procedure simply left the poor pooch feeling overwhelmingly thunderstruck with confusion. With his eyes as wide as they could be, Willy tilted his head to the side — completely unsure of what the hell it was I was doing — and, while the memories of my many pets since then seem to sometimes merge into one and fade into obscurity, the vision of Willy leaning his head to one side in bewilderment has never escaped my memory.
Now, while I am not in the habit of routinely relating sordid and uninteresting tales of my youthful micturating escapades, the blank-but-baffled expression that tends to accompany a dumbfounded Doberman is nevertheless an appropriate analogy to my ability to comprehend Japanese movies. It’s kind of odd, too, especially when I think back to just over decade ago, when I was reveling in the sights and sounds of releases like the excellent Lone Wolf And Cub series and the misadventures of Tenchi Muyo (not to mention the magnificent world of El-Hazard). After that, I was blown away by the despairingly auspicious Battle Royale — for a while, it seemed that Japanese movies would never rub me the wrong way.
And then I watched several films by Takeshi Miike — and I suddenly hated Japanese movies and wanted nothing to do with them ever again. Either I had changed or they had (and, in all honestly, it’s a little bit of both). Still, to this day, the odd Japanese-made title lands on my doorstep to review. And when I say odd, a name like Minoru Kawasaki comes to mind.
Minoru Kawasaki can only be described as a graduate from the Theater of the Absurd with a Master’s in Silly Comedy. Three of his more popular (?) pieces were released on DVD in the States in November ‘08 from Synapse Films (the same company that has released such must-have films like Antonio Margheriti’s Castle Of Blood and such you’d-do-well-to-avoid stinkers as Lucker The Necrophagous): The Rug Cop (the tale of a policeman with a flying toupee); Executive Koala (a psychological thriller featuring a six-foot koala accused of murder); and The World Sinks Except Japan! Of the three films, only the latter seemed like something I could even remotely sit through without convulsing too terribly much.
Boy, was I wrong: I felt like Willy did that day long ago, only it wasn’t me I now found myself staring at — it was Minoru Kawasaki as he proceeded to write his name in the snow of International Cinema right in front of me.
The World Sinks Except Japan! (Nihon Igai Zenbu Chinbotsu) is based on a short story of the same name by noted novelist Yasutaka Tsutsui. The plot has the world in chaos as the tectonic plates beneath our continents shift and tilt (much like Willy’s head), resulting in the submerging of every speck of land in the world — except Japan. With nowhere else to go (a few mountain peaks remain, but they’re inhabited by “barbarians”), millions of foreigners including diplomats, presidents, actors, and common folk alike seek refuge in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Years go by. Jobs are soon in short supply. Food is scarce. The value of the yen has skyrocketed to the point where even a candy bar a luxury item. Those homeless, dirty foreigners are everywhere, unable to embrace the society that so graciously admitted them to their shores only a short time ago. And worse news hits the fan when scientists learn that the Earth’s plates haven’t finished shifting… and that it’s only a matter of time before Japan sinks as well.
Yawn. Anyway, Synapse Films brings The World Sinks Except Japan! to our shores with another excellent transfer. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video presentation is very pristine and the accompanying Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo comes through just fine. Removable English subtitles are included for both the feature film as well as the audio commentary track with director Kawasaki and actor Takenori Murano. Additional special features include a making-of featurette, a trailer, and intros to the film by select cast members as well as director Kawasaki.
The social and political commentary of The World Sinks Except Japan! is pretty much spot-on at times, but during those times, it seems that the commentary shouldn’t be present; it’s supposed to be a comedy after all — a low-budget comedy. What’s worse, the low-budget movie’s low-budget jokes weren’t at all funny for me. All of this can no doubt be attributed to a cultural gap should I ever feel the need for an excuse… but I most assuredly do not need one right now. I accept the fact that I simply do not understand Japanese culture or humor and I am fine with that — and I see no reason to make such an effort when I can’t even understand my own culture or humor. Should I ever find myself in Japan, of course, I will make the effort — it’s only polite, after all — but as for now, I just need to forget all about The World Sinks Except Japan!