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[Netflix art.]
AKA: 日本沈没2020
Genre: Sci-Fi Drama
Length: OAV series, 10 episodes, 25 minutes each
Distributor: Currently available streaming on Netflix.
Content Rating: TV-MA (Strong violence, deaths.)
Related Series: N/A
Also Recommended: Tokyo Magnitude 8.0
Notes: Based on 1973 novel Japan Sinks by Sakyo Komatsu.

Japan Sinks 2020


The Mutoh family (dad Koichiro, mom Mari, teenage daughter Ayumu, and younger son Go) struggle to stay together after a series of cataclysmic geological events. With the eventual realization that the entire country of Japan is sinking below the waves, they embark on an odyssey to somehow find a way to literally stay afloat.


My own understanding about this show's premise matches that of a character's comments early on- Japan can't really sink. Japan lies at a subduction zone- where one plate of the Earth's crust is diving beneath another- and in fact was shoved up in reaction to that. It seemed to me that the show's premise might be inconsistent with isostasy (the laws of crustal buoyancy), but honestly my knowledge of geophysics doesn't extend very deep (probably stops well short of the Moho), and the show does try to make this all SOUND plausible (as a Sci-Fi novel basically has to.) U.S. disaster films often don't seem to feel the need to even make their scenarios sound believable, so this one's got that in its favor.

The show also keeps focused on its characters, and on human behavior, in these extreme circumstances, AGAIN in contrast to U.S. disaster films, where the spectacle of the disaster takes center stage. (In fact, we never even SEE one of the most spectacular occurrences here- it's kind of a fait accompli when we finally realize exactly what happened.) The show raises a number of realistic sociopolitical issues. One is choosing the order the population gets evacuated in. The problem of mass evacuation here is somewhat simplified by the cataclysm itself, which is said to have killed 100 million people; since Japan's population is only 125 million, 80% of the evacuation problem has been solved by Nature itself. But evacuating the remaining population raises interesting issues: we see the government trying to make it "fair" by a kind of lottery system, but a little eugenics still creeps in- young people with certain talents and abilities are allowed to jump the line. There are also some private groups that solicit evacuees, but some only want a certain kind- we meet some Japanese Nationalists who only want racially "pure" Japanese on their boat, and refuse the Mutoh clan because they're ethnically mixed; Mom Mari is from the Philippines, and she and Go have obviously darker complexions. Mari, by the way, is totally devoted to her kids; is utterly pragmatic in the face of devastating loss (because getting her kids through all this REQUIRES it); and is tough as nails- to her body's limits, anyway.

Of course, there's also the issue of who will take 25 million refugees - when as we know in our real world, even much smaller numbers of displaced people have trouble finding a place of acceptance. (Between that and the nationalism/racism our heroes encounter, this show is sometimes depressingly realistic.)

The Mutohs pick up a number of stragglers in their travels, though only a few stay for long. One who does is an Estonian YouTube personality called KITE (NO relation to THAT show), who can literally do EVERYTHING. He either finds, or seemingly already OWNS, an astounding array of equipment and conveyances, all of which he's adept at operating. At one point he's even piloting an amphibious tank very similar to the one in Giant Gorg. (Maybe it's the same one, washed over during the cataclysm from Gorg's New Austral Island?). His skills run the gamut from rapping all the way to reading radiation meters. I found this guy's extreme range of talents ridiculously implausible, and felt the need to dock the show a bit for lack of believability here.

I had a few other issues as well. A journey to a kind of hippie commune- run by a woman everyone calls Mother, who may be a genuine psychic- provides a respite for our cast, but seemed to me to not really advance the general story that much; it's mainly just a diversion. I also noticed a cliché- whenever anyone brags about their physical prowess, they might as well put on a red shirt.

The character art didn't always impress me either. The facial depictions seem to break down when a character's expressions get too complex or change too rapidly. In one case in particular- a rider on a balloon- the art literally seemed to lose track of the character's facial features.

On the OTHER hand- and there is plenty of "other hand" here:

-There's one death scene that's disturbingly effective, because it happens SO abruptly, and SO quietly, with absolutely NO foreshadowing.

-There's a scene where two of our cast are adrift in a life raft, and, in a steal from the movie The Life of Pi, we're reminded that even in the midst of horror and cataclysm there's a magical quality to the sea. (The whole life raft segment, where the two characters spend time reminiscing, has a kind of Huck Finn appeal to it.)

-The show does contain some plausible details. At one point we're given a radiation reading which, translated from Sieverts to Rad/Rem (Sievert is the international unit of radiation exposure, but here in the U.S. we still like rad/rem) comes out to about half a millirem per hour (if I did the calculation correctly); or, in other words, about 100X the natural background of, say, Florida. NOT a healthy amount of radiation to be exposed to long term, but not enough to bring on acute radiation sickness, and in fact the characters do spend some time at this spot without noticeable ill effects, consistent with the figure. (More evidence that the author has done his homework.)

One of the most interesting disaster shows I've ever seen, because it always cares about its human players- even though it has a habit of wiping them out. Some interesting surprises in there too.Allen Moody

Recommended Audience: Violent death (and some general human-on-human violence) throughout. Netflix rates TV-MA.

Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Netflix
Review Status: Full (10/10)
Japan Sinks 2020 © 2020 Science Saru
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