They don’t carry around that California fear of “The Big One” in Japan. Earthquakes have always been a fact of life, and what we see on the news and from experts there shows a resolve, an ability to live with the danger via social unity and preparedness.
“Japan Sinks: 2020” pokes holes in that image. Based on an acclaimed sci-fi novel by Sakyo Komatsu, it takes its handful of Tokyo survivors through the trauma of Japan’s “big one,” which sinks Okinawa in a flash and causes land masses to collapse along the eastern coast of the islands.
Within hours after the quake and tsunami, Japanese people recognize their plight from the silence. “I don’t hear sirens from ambulances or fire trucks.” Cell service may be back, Big Media isn’t. The power goes out.
Anarchy sets it, an every woman and man for himself — bickering over food and water, what course to take to safety — mistrust followed by social Darwinism of the ugliest kind.
“Trivial laws don’t matter any more,” laughs a tipsy truck driver as he tosses his latest bottle out the window.
The situations in this anime series are conventions of the genre — four members of the Mutoh family face “The Beginning of the End” separately, with their first frantic thoughts being to reunite to face this apocalypse together.
Mother Muri (Grace Lynn Kun) is on a flight, returning from the States. It ditches in Tokyo Bay, buffeted by the shock wave of the magnitude seven quake.
Her husband is a lighting contractor, temporarily dangling from his harness at a stadium work site. Little boy Go is finally distracted from his video game — having taken shelter under a table because he knows the drill — when the walls crash around him.
And track star Ayumu (voiced by Faye Mata), our narrator? She’s trapped with her team on a subway platform. When she leaves them there, bleeding, trapped and dying, in panic, we know we’re in for a grim ride.
The story jumps along in a not-quite-nonsensical travelogue. Dad (Billy Kametz) pushes them to go to higher ground, to the west, through emptied towns and up mountainsides where springs provide fresh water.
But don’t get too attached to any character. And don’t expect the teen narrator to be rational, altruistic or cope with survivor’s guilt with grace and dignity.
Death, when it comes, is sudden and often grisly. Some people behave with honor and compassion, most do not.
The plot, conventional as it is, may bring us to “Japan Sinks” and keep us watching, all the way through its ten episode story. The animation, however, is nothing to write home about.
It’s flat, faces and characters and locales with little definition or depth. The color palette is washed out and the action TV “on the cheap” jerky, far more pronounced than you see in high quality, more elaborately animated anime.
This is more a series, like most anime made for TV, that you listen to rather than watch closely. It has the look of a hastily-drawn comic book hastily flash-animated for TV.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, blood, attempted rape, profanity
Cast: Faye Mata, Grace Lynn Kung, Ryan Bartley, Aleks Le, Billy Kamatz
Credits: directed by Masaaki Yuasa and Pyeon Gang-ho, animated by by Science Saru, based on the novel by Sakyo Komatsu. A Netflix release.
Running time: 10 episodes @ 25 minutes each