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Kevin Ouellette [Celluloid 11.02.08] movie review scifi comedy

Year: 2006
Release date: DVD (R1) Nov. 18th, 2008
Director: Minoru Kawasaki
Writers: Minoru Kawasaki & Masakazu Migita & Yasutaka Tsutsui (novel)
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Amazon link: link
Review by: Kevin Ouellette
Rating: 6 out of 10

Japan has sort of faded into the background of the world consciousness in the past few years. Aside from the typical “crazy Japan” pop culture stories that seem to never get old for some, the western world seems to ignore the existence of this once larger-than-life nation. Gone is the fear of superior Japanese products killing the US manufacturing sector—we’ve since come to terms with that as an unfortunate inevitability—and gone are the icy relations that existed when old men that still remembered World War II were running our respective countries. All we really have left is a shared military and a mutual fascination with each other’s entertainment industries. So what would happen if Japan was suddenly thrust into the limelight once again, being the only landmass to survive an epic disaster that sunk every single other nation in the world within a short period of time? That’s the question absurdly posed—and equally absurdly answered—by Minoru Kawasaki’s “The World Sinks Except Japan”.

Things begin pretty cordially when the disaster first strikes. Americans of course seek refuge on their own military bases in Japan, but space gradually gets tighter as millions of refugees arrive from all over the world. At first, Japanese citizens see the benefits of this sudden world shrinkage. They get some of the most famous Hollywood stars to appear in Japanese films, such as the mildly arrogant Academy Award winner, Jerry Cruising and his blond girlfriend, Elizabeth Clift. And although food sources are initially scarce due to the amount of agricultural importing done by Japan from the US, citizens are finally free to feast on things like whale, bald eagle, and sea lion without those pesky foreign animal rights activists getting in the way. Unfortunately, however, the good days are short-lived.

A small night spot called “Club Milt” becomes the setting for most conversation and diplomacy between world leaders. In one booth the leaders of China and South Korea take turns kissing up to Japanese Prime Minister Junjiro Yasuizumi (Takenori Murano) in an attempt to make up for any bad blood that’s existed in the past. Meanwhile “Hollywood Star A” (fake Bruce Willis) and “Hollywood Star B” (fake Arnold Schwarzenegger) perform little skits at the bar in exchange for handouts from Japanese salarymen. It isn’t long before things turn ugly. “Foreigners” (mostly Americans) quickly become the dregs of society. Once-famous actors are forced to play helpless screaming victims in daikaiju monster movies. In fact, the real entertainment value for Japanese audiences comes only in seeing these useless foreigners being killed by rampaging beasts or accidentally squished by their beer-chugging henshin superhero, Den Ace (played by Kawasaki himself). Then, just as nationalistic pride seems to be reaching critical mass, Kim Jong Ill suddenly appears to stage a coup d’état.

Speaking as an unabashed Minoru Kawasaki apologist, even I have to admit that the inside jokes and minor spoof elements of this film will probably be lost on western audiences. Tartan folded up shop before they were able to release the 2006 version of “The Sinking of Japan” and the original 1973 version has never been released on US or UK DVD, so some of the direct recreations of certain scenes won’t be recognizable to most viewers. The one thing that probably should be recognizable—the faux Hollywood movie stars—bear little resemblance to their real world counterparts since the pool of 100 foreign-looking actors all came from the same talent agency. Most of the actors playing Americans barely speak English themselves, leading to the all-too-common problem with English-speaking actors in Japanese films—terrible performances with lots of distracting grammatical anomalies. Although on the bright side, uber buxom Eastern European talento Delcea Mihaela Gabriela has a significant role in the film and that’s never a bad thing.

Ultimately, this is a funny premise that just isn’t suited for a feature-length film. There are a few humorous touches, such as the fake George Lucas filming a tacky remake of “Chushingura” by utilizing an utterly pointless blue screen for background shots. The humor is a little too sparse, however, when you factor in all the incredibly verbose scientific explanations by Minori Terada’s character that, while well-delivered, aren’t particularly funny. Add to that a bit too much forced social commentary and you have a movie that’s about twice as long as it should be at an already-paltry 98 minutes. Check it out if you’re a Kawasaki completionist or just want to see Gabriela running around in nothing but a towel (check, and check). This one may have been a mild indie hit in Japan, but unfortunately it’s likely to tank everywhere else.

Cross-posted on nipponcinema.

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