Masaaki Yuasa’s Devilman Crybaby was a big hit. His second Netflix Original, Japan Sinks—his retelling of Sakyo Komatsu’s 1973 novel—did not live up to expectations as a lot of fans found it too sad. And it really is. The body count rises with each episode and it seems hopeless to even try to escape the inevitable fate of sinking along with the entire country.
It centers around 14-year old track star Ayumu Mutoh and her family: her gaming addict 10-year old brother named Go, former professional swimmer mom, Mari, and finally, her dad Koichiro, the cheerful handyman. They take along Haruo (a former track star turned shut-in), Kunio (an old grocery store owner and grampa), Daniel (an English hitchhiker), and Estonian vlogger Kaito as the nation sinks into devastation. Japan Sinks might seem like disaster porn to an ordinary viewer, but for fans like myself who binged-watched every episode, there were heartwarming lessons I learned along the way to the void.
Here are 5 reasons why this show gave me hope. From this point on, this article will be full of spoilers—you’ve been warned!
Blink and you’ll miss it. Every once in a while, there are lighthearted mundane moments between massive earthquakes. Beyond the dismembered bodies, broken limbs, and burning buildings, you have to look out for those moments, because they’re breathtaking. One such moment is found in the first episode when the family reunites on top of the hilltop shrine because of the spectacular lights that Koichiro put up.
His work as a handyman, well, came in handy because he’s known for his excessive use of lights and his family recognized his work even as they’re dealing with the aftershocks in different parts of town. In the same episode, Mari’s plane crash-landed into the water and she was able to save a little girl from drawing, thanks to her swimming skills. Gamer Go even survived due to his fast gaming reflexes and community who warned him where he should head next to avoid disaster. Haruo’s sprinting skills saved everyone’s lives by retrieving a valuable drive from the ocean. Our talents, skills, and passion matter.
In episode 2, Ayumu refuses to eat the bear meat her father cooked for the family since she is a picky eater. Coincidentally, Koichiro found a yam garden in a nearby private property they trespassed, so we’re treated to a flashback of him cooking yams lovingly for her. He proceeds to dig some up just so she can eat. Unfortunately, they didn’t see the DANGER sign in time and Koichiro gets blown up by a landmine, scattering his body parts all over. His wedding ring (along with his whole hand) landed just in front of his wife. What a cruel way to end the episode. Some people I know stopped watching right after this episode as it seems like it was made for shock value.
But I saw the beauty in it—a father who does everything he can for his family to have food on the table. His last moment on Earth was true to his skilled and dependable character, and it left me in tears, ready to take dinner time with my parents more seriously instead of finding it a nuisance.
Above, we mentioned that they take along foreigners (despite Kunio’s hatred for foreigners) Daniel and Kite, from Yugoslavia and Estonia, respectively. Mari herself is Filipino. Over time, they grow to trust each other. Mari opens up about her husband’s death to Daniel, and Kite slowly helps Ayumu become less uptight about trusting only locals and having borders.
Haruo, the shut-in, initially refused to reply to anyone, but finally confessed he saw his mom get crushed to death by the earthquake. Strangers become friends and friends become family who save each other’s lives within a short span of time in this 10-episode show.
In the opening credits, we see a mixed Japanese family getting ready for the day. We see gentle little gestures like a mother tying her daughter’s hair, a man holding his wife, and a little boy playing on his phone. There’s something poetic about extraordinary things happening to ordinary people. In this show, no one is exempt from the disaster. Half Japanese or not. At one point in the show, the Mutoh family tries to board a barge to escape, only to be stopped because only “pure Japanese” can enter the boat.
In a comical rap battle that seems out of place (but a scene reminiscent of Samurai Champloo), the group expresses their opinions about Japan and its people, along with their nationalist (or anti-nationalist) sentiments. It’s interesting to see how these sentiments play out even in disaster, where some locals help who they deem worthy. I saw it as a critique of our humanity and how we should strive to help people who are different from ourselves. I found that rap battle and recurring themes about nationalist, even scenes where Go spoke in mixed English and Japanese, were thought-provoking.
When all of Japan sunk and the group was taken to a Russian hospital, Ayumu learns that her infected leg would have to be amputated—shocking news for a young runner who’s been vying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Oh, and all of Japan has sunk. But the story doesn’t stop there. Ayumu and Goh were able to retrieve her parents’ pictures from the cloud and write about their experiences in a book. Six years later, Ayumu is representing Japan at the Paralympics while Goh is an esports athlete playing internationally.
Japan was beginning to resurface and Japan’s public memories were preserved by KITE and Onodera. It was an uplifting ending; it showed me death was not the end, and things will be okay again. Weirdly fitting this 2020, right? By the end of this 10-episode disaster piece, I felt considerably more optimistic than when I started. I can’t speak for everyone who has watched and given up on it. But in this endless cycle of hopeless todays, brighter tomorrows await. There’s hope to be found if you squint hard enough and power through 10 episodes or heartbreaking scenes, I guess.
I’ve started a gratitude journal because of this show. It doesn’t really romanticize death for me – Japan does suffer frequently from major earthquakes and I’m seeing a local’s artful perspective on the topic. Rather, Japan Sinks helped me see how people realistically cope with emergencies, and how I should be grateful for boring days in the safety of my house (during this lockdown). It’s not really an anime I’d recommend to just anyone. It’s definitely interesting for those who are more interested in Japanese commentary and storytelling.
What are your thoughts on this polarizing show? Stay tuned for more reviews on anime and culture.
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