EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally on the site on April 20, 2022.
The highest grossing film in Japan in 1973 and 1974, Submersion of Japan or Japan Sinks! was also a big deal in the U.S. Roger Corman bought the rights as part of New World Pictures and made a remix where he cut out lots of footage, added new sequences directed by Andrew Meyer (Night of the Cobra Woman) and added Lorne Greene as an ambassador at the United Nations as well as appearances by Rhonda Leigh Hopkins (Summer School Teachers), John Fujioka (Shinyuki from American Ninja), Marvin Miller (who was a narrator in several movies), Susan Sennett (Candy from The Candy Snatchers), Ralph James (Sixpack Annie), Phil Roth, Cliff Pellow and Joe Dante.
Now called Tidal Wave, it came out in May of 1975, while New World also released an uncut subtitled version called Submersion of Japan in America.
If you remember when we discussed Nosutoradamusu no daiyogen, Japan was in disaster mania, predicting the end of the world at every turn. This movie was inspired by Nippon chinbotsu by Sakyô Komatsu, the same author of Virus: The End, Bye Bye Jupiter, Disappearance of the Capital and Time of the Apes. Of all his work, Komatsu’s sinking story was so popular that it became a TV series in 1974 and was remade in 2006 as Doomsday: The Sinking of Japan, then remade again as the 2020 TV mini-series Japan Sinks 2020, which was so big that it played theaters and spun off another series, Japan Sinks: People of Hope.
There was even a 2006 parody, Nihon igai zenbu chinbotsu, which means The World Sinks Except Japan.
This was no cheap picture. Director Shirô Moritani has been second unit on Yojimbo while writer Shinobu Hashimoto was behind Rashomon, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress and Throne of Blood amongst many other movies, as well as the director of Lake of Illusions, Minami no kaze to nami and I Want to Be a Shellfish.
Two hundred million years ago, what we know as the Earth was a single continent that split up over the years. At one point, Japan was part of the continent of Asia. But now? If you read the title, spoiler, Japan is going to sink. The first people to find out are geophysicist Dr. Tadokoro (Keiju Kobayashi, whose roles in comedies defined what post-war Japan saw as the ideal salaryman) and Onodera Toshio (Hiroshi Fujioka, the original Kamen Rider) take their submarine Wadatsumi-1 to the Ogasawara Islands. How bad is it? Well, the land mass that makes up the islands of Japan itself are about to collapse into a trench.
While Onodera is falling for Abe Reiko (Ayumi Ishida), volcanos start to erupt and earthquakes break out with more frequency. A rich businessman named Mr. Watari (Shōgo Shimada) pays for a series of expeditions to discover if Japan can be saved. But just like our climate, it’s already too late. Unlike our crisis, Japan has three choices: form a new country, seek a home in other countries or accept the end of the country and die.
They only have ten months to decide and as many countries offer to help, I’m reminded that as much as I love Japan, it’s an incredibly racist country. Even in a fictional story, South Korea, China and Taiwan refuse to help them. By the end, as the country sinks into the sea, more than half the population remains to go down with the ship. And our hero and heroine? They’re separated a world away from one another.
You know who is in this? Turkish born actor Andrew Hughes, a businessman based in Tokyo as an import-export businessman who shows up in so many Japanese films from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, usually in minor roles but even playing Hitler in The Crazy Adventure. The Japanese prime minister is played by Nobuo Nakamura, who was in Kurosawa’s films, but the really interesting actor is the man playing the driver of the Japanese leader. He’s played by Haruo Nakajima, who played Godzilla from 1954’s original film to 1972’s Godzilla vs. Gigan. After this role, he went to work in Toho’s bowling alley. I wish I was making that up.
This movie has some amazing alternate titles, such as Panic Over Tokyo (West Germany and I’m shocked that Frankenstein was not involved, as his name was on every Toho Godzilla movie released there), The Fall of Japan (Belgium), Death in the Rising Sun (Portugal knows how to name a movie), The Sun Does Not Rise Over the Island (Czechoslovakia), Planet Earth Year Zero (Italy), S.O.S. The Earth Is Sinking (Sweden) and The End of the World (Turkey).
Roger Ebert nominated this movie for The 50 Worst Films of All Time–and How They Got That Way by Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfuss. He said, “The movie never ends, but if you wait long enough it gets to a point where it’s over.”
As for the Japanese version of the film — which lends its special effects to the aforementioned Toho Nostradamus movie — I really liked that unlike so many disaster films, the actual socioeconomic problems that the world would face get explained and shown. There’s no shortage of waves crushing everything in their way, but at least we learn something.
You can watch the original Japanese version of this movie at the Internet Archive.