Friday, April 9, 2010

Submersion of Japan (1973)

I think the main reason why I'm so much in love with disaster movies is the miniatures. No, don't misunderstand me. I enjoy modern disaster movies too (even 2012), though they have very little of miniatures to show us. But if we go back to the glory that was the seventies, the movie producers just had to recreate the worst disaster people could imagine. Honest, Mark Robson's Earthquake is one of my favorite movies EVER - and it's still just built of silly clichés and cool miniatures. But Submersion of Japan is in a league of it's own.

Dr. Tadokoro (Keiju Kobayashi) discovers that Japan will sink. The tectonic plates is slowly moving, and Japan is right on top of the biggest one! At first he's met with scepticism, as usual, but when there's proof of a giant rift underneath the Japanese sea, everyone understand that something has to be done. The prime minister Yamamoto (played by beyond awesome actor Tetsurô Tanba) starts a huge operation to first see if there's something to do, and then how they're gonna save the 110 million Japanese citizens from a certain death! But the political consultant and wise man Watari (Shogo Shimada) has a more controversial idea: don't save anyone. Because with out a country there's no Japan and the Japanese people need a home...

When the first big earthquake hits Tokyo and levels it to the ground, the panic spreads and now Japan needs the help of the whole world, from old arch enemies China, to the US and Europe. But will they help? Japan hasn't been so helpful themselves over the years...

Submersion of Japan is very far from the typical disaster movie. It's focused on the politics and the drama around those characters. There's very few persons we follow, mostly the Prime Minister and his staff - they only exception is the ultra cool Onodera Toshio (Hiroshi Fujioka), the brave submarine-pilot that just want to save his girlfriend. A lot of the time is spent on politics and philosophical discussions and there's no Charlton Heston hamming it up to the background of a crumbling LA.

This is a Toho-production from a time when Jun Fukuda raped the Godzilla-franchise (I know, it was probably not his fault, but it still hurts) and the movies got sillier and sillier. So that's why this movie is such a surprise. It's dark and very serious, no humor and very merciless scenes of people getting crushed by houses, burned to ashes or watching their families die horrible deaths. Most of the disasters are spent from a distance, but sometimes we're suddenly back on the streets seeing how fucking terrible the situation are. The disaster scenes is not even the main thing with the movie, but are very impressive when they come. 

The highlight is probably when Tokyo is destroyed in darkness and fire, with collapsing skyscrapers and burning people. Very impressive miniature work and very different from the monster movies of that time. A lot of energy has been put on creating realistic landscapes and houses, and it all falls apart like the heydays of Toho. Excellent stuff. This movie was also bought by Roger Corman and reedited to Tidal Wave with inserts of, among others, Lorne Greene. And here's my question, Tidal Wave? The tidal waves in this movie is very few, and far from the most impressive special effects work. I wonder why Corman choose that disaster? It would have been easier just to focus more on the earthquakes and volcanos! Anyone seen the Corman-version by the way? Would love to get my hands on a copy of that!

I still think Submersion of Japan is a disaster-masterpiece, and probably my second favorite in this genre ever. The remake from 2006 is not bad by the way, but is more of a tear-jerker. It has cool disaster scenes though, and is well worth watching.


CiNEZiLLA said...

I totally agree with you on the miniatures. There's something completely mindblowing about the incredible attention to detail and then some sod just trashes it all!


i've been curious about this flick for ages, and I think you've finally sold me onto it.

Cheers, and keep up the great work!


dfordoom said...

I adore Earthquake as well! For me a disaster movie has to be done with miniatures - CGI just doesn't count. It just isn't fun.

Crippa said...

Good review! Saw this myself not too long ago, and I agree: it really is different from most disaster movies thanks to it's serious take on the catastrophe and subdued atmosphere. And Tetsuro Tanba is great!

Made in DNA said...

What's the name of the 70s disaster flick wherein a large tidal wave is predicted (by Mayan calendar) to hit West Coast, but no one will believe it, except one reporter(?) and his colleague who ethnically Mayan(?)? At least, that is what I remember of the plot from when I was seven. This was a particularly creepy film that stuck with me through life as the wave hits only at the very end and the Mayan character gives himself willing to it at the end, but we never really see what happens. I just remember a big, blue wall.

Ninja Dixon said...

Brent Millis: I have no idea, I never heard of it! But it seems very interesting!