I recently finished watching ‘The World Sinks Except Japan’ (nihon igai zenbu chinbotsu), a movie based on a book with the same title, parodising another book which was also recently made into a film, ‘The Sinking of Japan’ (nihon chinbotsu). This is a terrible film, yet it has some satire (probably a hold-over from the source novel). I really can’t recommend anyone else to watch it…
What is it about? The world’s landmasses sink due to hokey geophyics, leaving a stream of foreigners making their way to the only surviving country: Japan. The refugees put increased pressure on Japan, which is already short on supplies because of its need for imported resources. It is a comedy, although not a very successful one. The only place it succeeds is in its social commentary, namely the experience of foreigners.
The worst thing for me is the acting which plays up to the unsophisticated humour. If anything, foreign actors in a Japanese film are rarely very good, and this film does not buck the trend. Many of the foreign characters are all supposed to be American, but to any English speaker it is obvious that most come from East Europe, as well as other European countries. On the other hand, I’ve never heard such bad Japanese accents coming from foreigners. It’s truly cringe-inducing!
At first glance, the film seems to be nationalistic in tone. I cannot imagine many Chinese or Koreans watching the way their leaders are portrayed without them believing this to be some form of Japanese propaganda. A viewer might even see xenophobia and racism in this film. If any of you do watch it and feel that way, I can only ask you to reconsider. I saw it put best on a review at IMDB.com: there are some people who thought Team America was a right-wing, conservative film. In both cases, one must understand that they are in fact parodies of those very perspectives.
In the film, the arrival of the foreigners is greeted with some excitement, particularly because the first to arrive are those with the cash and power to get there: world leaders and movie stars. They attempt to continue their lives but their money is worthless and they can barely speak their host nation’s language (one part of the film is the announcement that the eikawas are closing to be replaced by a Japanese language school franchise founded by Dave Spector). They end up on the streets, working bottom-rung jobs (prostitution, human billboard) and stealing whatever food they can (because Japan’s lack of resources has sent the price rocketing). They will do anything for an umai-bo. The foreigners descend into crime and homelessness, and the Japanese people are increasingly xenophobic. The solution put forward by the government (headed by a character called Yasuizumi…) is the Gaijin Attack Team (GAT). They round up foreigners and deport those who have failed to assimilate (where to is another question).
The whole premise exaggerates the xenophobia of some portions of Japanese society by placing them in an extraordinary situation. It plays up to the fears of immigration and becoming a foreigner in one’s own country. Perhaps my favourite scene, and only a moment of it, is when one of the main characters (a journalist) wakes up on a train to find himself surrounded by foreigners. Amongst the sea of gaijin’s faces, he spots another Japanese man and they both smile, albeit sheepishly. Anyone who has spent time in Japan will recognise this… some of us indulge in it, others rebuke it. It even has a name: ‘the Gaijin Dilemma’ (I believe this first came from Azrael at GaijinSmash). It’s all about comfort in the unfamiliar, and I love that the film had this small moment.
The film isn’t afraid to play up Japanese insecurities about foreigners, and its a self-deprecation that is entirely welcome. However, at the end of the day, the film struggles to get past its basic humour and poor editing to truly deliver the commentary that lurks beneath. Had it have done so, it might have been worth watching.