This budget black comedy is an adaptation of a short story (winner of the 1974 Nebula Short Story Award), which was written as a parody of the book ‘Japan Sinks’ (winner of the 1974 Nebula Feature Award), which was made into a 1973 film starring Hiroshi Fujioka, and remade in 2006, but since both films were being made in 2006, Hiroshi Fujioka acted in ‘The World Sinks Except Japan’. But despite that labyrinth of connections (and an anime, and a drama series), ‘The World Sinks Except Japan’ is just as good as a standalone silly satire.
So, instead of tectonic plates shifting and submerging Japan, the rest of the world is sunk– save for a few mountains in Nepal and elsewhere– and the world’s presidents, movie stars, and a few lucky refugees flee to Japan. But without economies, their money and status are worthless and these lucky few refugees must take jobs as flirty maids, walk around wearing sandwich boards, or grill up the Koi swimming around at the local shrine. Slightly better off are the landless presidents, who sit around in a bar complaining, or kissing up to the Japanese president. And now that isolationist Japan is the melting pot of the world, three Japanese journalists see their lives change in odd and unexpected ways.
Despite being labelled a black comedy, most of the jokes are silly and cute–People are always eating a treat called “Yummy Snack”, and Americans are doing Arnie impressions for pocket change. The problem is, that these jokes are at odds with the serious political and sociological impacts that the film explores. This mix of serious and silly is the MO of the short story’s writer, Yasutaka Tsutsui (‘Paprika’, ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’), who loves to fire off a couple of strange and stupid happenings then move on to bigger fish. But this film’s director, Minoru Kawasaki, prefers to keep it silly– he recently made a film called ‘Monster Seafood Wars’– and would probably prefer only the strange and stupid happenings to the serious satire. The result is tonally mixed, but strangely engaging. One second a man’s wife is deported to a savage mountain top, and the next his buddy is bragging about spending quality time with an oscar-winner, then the North Koreans capture the bar.
The acting is similarly off-balance, and for many roles they’ve cast whichever foreigners they had handy; Another charming choice for the silly scenes, but an odd one when it turns serious. So, the tone seesaws back and forth, but since it’s all low-budget, the silliness wins out. They rip off ‘Titanic’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ for a good joke; famed actor, Jerry Cruising, cuddles his obviously-plastic Oscar statue each night; and the world’s greatest professor rides around on a tiny tricycle.
Sometimes a dumb film manages to be a little more than just cheesy humour and overacting, like here with ‘The World Sinks Except Japan’, but even when it does cleverly satirise Japan’s treatment of foreigners, of women, and of international affairs, it’s usually just a wink at the camera before the big punchline.