Submersion of Japan (1973)
EARTHQUAKES SHATTERED THE NATION. CITIES BECOME RAGING FIRESTORMS. BUT THE WORST IS YET TO COME!
— American tagline
THE ULTIMATE DISASTER!
— American tagline
Submersion of Japan (日本沈没 is a Nippon Chinbotsu, lit. Japan Sinks)1973 disaster film produced by Toho. The film was released to Japanese theaters on December 29, 1973 and to American theaters in May of 1975.
Two hundred million years ago, the earth was a single continent. As the years progress, the single landmass splits off into smaller continents and islands. Thirty million years ago, the country of Japan was part of the continent of Asia, and has since split off into its own archipelago. Another landmass shift is about to occur.
It’s now modern day, and Japan’s population has grown to be quite large. Earth physicist Dr. Tadokoro, suspicious of recent seismic activities, enlists the help of Onodera Toshio and the Wadatsumi I submarine to investigate the ocean floor near the Ogasawara Islands. Following a brief demonstration, it’s decided that they will go to investigate a point intersecting the Ogasawara and Japan trench, where a violent undercurrent occurred a few days prior that sank a small island. The next day, Onodera and an adamant Tadokoro submerge to the depths of the Japan trench, where they make the startling discovery that the crust on which the Japanese islands are situated on is collapsing into it. Tadokoro begs for an extended period of investigation, but is told the submarine would be unusable for a period of time.
Onodera goes on vacation and, thanks to a contact at work, is introduced to Abe Reiko, and the two instantly fall in love. As the couple embrace on the beach, a violent eruption from Mt. Amagi interrupts their love-making and the two are forced the flee. Following the eruption, a meeting is held among Japanese officials, including Prime Minister Yamamoto, where the overwhelming damages of the disaster are discussed. Yamamoto later convenes with the Meteorological Agency, who give a thorough explanation of undersea trenches and how underground activity has affected the shape of continents, as well as how earthquakes triggered the recent volcanic eruption. During the same meeting, Dr. Tadokoro warns that a giant earthquake may occur and that the Japanese government should be prepared for it, but his claims are scoffed at behind his back. Later, Tadokoro meets up with Mr. Watari, a mysterious elder with a supply of funds, and shares his discomfort knowing that by the time his peers start to believe his theories about Japan’s demise it may be too late, so Watari agrees to help fund his new project. Meeting up with members of the Prime Minister’s staff, Tadokoro comes up with the outlines for his project, the D Plan, a course of actions in the case of a nation-wide earthquake catastrophe, and the staff agree to secure him a submarine from France that will allow him to study the Japan Trench. The meeting is ironically interrupted by yet another eruption, this time at the Kirishima volcano.
Onodera quits from his submarine company in favor of helping Dr. Tadokoro with his study of the Japan Trench. Those working on the project question the origins of Watari and his source of income that helps fund the study, and Tadokoro is becoming more and more disturbed by the results of the study. Exhausted and angry, he determines from his findings that most of the Japanese archipelago will sink into the ocean and his fears are immediately justified when a gigantic earthquake occurs. The earthquake hits most of Tokyo, triggering an oil refinery to go up in flames and countless deaths from the falling debris and ensuing tsunami. Helicopters and fire fighters are dispatched to help put out the estimated 6000 fires currently overrunning the wards, but the situation only gets worse. Crowds clash with mobile troops outside the Imperial Palace, seeking refuge from the firestorm, and the Prime Minister eventually caves in and allows them inside. By the end of the disaster, 3,600,000 people are confirmed dead or missing.
Three months pass. The public has calmed down and order is slowly returning. Shaken by his wife’s passing in the tragedy, Yamamoto works more closely with the disaster response teams and starts speaking with Mr. Watari more often. The Meteorological Agency hypothesizes another earthquake, this time one-thousand times more powerful than the one that hit Tokyo, but quickly rules against confirming it until they have more evidence. Onodera is attacked by one of his former colleagues, who was worried about his whereabouts prior to the Tokyo earthquake, and the two reconcile after he tells Onodera that Reiko, who he hasn’t seen in months, visited their office before the disaster.
Dr. Tadokoro and his team meet with Watari at his private mountainside home, where the doctor reveals that in addition to D1 Plan, which consists of investigating the state of the Japan Trench, there’s a D2 Plan, which entails the evacuation of the country. D2 Plan was already discussed with Yamamoto, who has begun negotiating plans with other countries to immigrate Japanese citizens. Concurrently, Tadokoro has been revealing too much upsetting information to the public, and makes an appearance on live television that ends with him attacking his interviewer out of rage for not taking him seriously. Yamamoto has a private meeting with Watari, who provides him with three options for the D2 Plan. The first is the formation of a new country, the second is full immigration into other countries' societies, and the third being to not do anything for now, which seemed to be the most agreed-upon option behind closed doors, a revelation that upsets Yamamoto. A drunk Onodera wanders the streets, knowing that Japan and its culture will disappear if people continue to be unaware of the current crisis, and he miraculously stumbles into Abe Reiko again for the first time in months.
A meeting with the Meteorological Agency yields disturbing results, that Japan won’t sink in the two years that was originally projected, but rather a mere ten months. Plans to emigrate Japan and its 110 million people are accelerated and countries like Korea, Taiwan and China are already refusing propositions. Production of more airports, larger ports, and other evacuation procedures are put into effect. Countries all around the world begin to leak information, and the announcement that Japan will sink into the ocean is officially made public. Meanwhile, Onodera reveals his plans to get married to Reiko, the two already discussing their plan to rendezvous in Geneva, Switzerland, but the two tragically get separated when another earthquake occurs, causing Mt. Fuji to erupt and starting a landslide that floods the valley. He desperately searches for Reiko, but to no avail.
After months of foreshadowing, a U.N. summit is held to determine where Japan and its population will go. Concerns are raised about the refugee status in countries like Jordan, and how Japan’s immigration would dramatically worsen that situation. Despite this, immigration proceeds as planned, with millions already taking to the air and sea, but still only 2.8 million people have successfully evacuated in the two months the United Nations has spent deliberating over it, a fact that upsets Prime Minister Yamamoto. More upsettingly, the submergence of Japan is happening much quicker than expected, the Kii Peninsula and the southeast portion of Shikoku disappearing beneath the waves. The President of the United States agrees to accept millions of Japanese refugees, and China as well as the USSR follow suit with its own rescue and immigration plans. Osaka has almost completely submerged, the famous pagoda being the only building sticking up through the water, but current projections of people escaping the country per month are at least eight million. The Sanriku coast is the next island to sink, followed by the Tohoku district, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Okinawa. There are still 63 million people in Japan, and 13 million are presumed dead or missing. It’s theorized that any islands remaining after the diastrophism may be destroyed as well. Eleven days before total submersion remain.
Meanwhile, Toshio Onodera has gained a reputation for his efforts in helping the remaining population escape, all in the hopes of seeing Reiko again, earning him the title of “Kamikaze.” The D1 team is finally let free of their duties as Yamamoto informs them all JSDF rescue operations have ceased, and the remaining members wonder where Dr. Tadakoro and Onodera are.
Mr. Watari lies sick in bed with Hanae and Prime Minister Yamamoto sitting beside him, the whole house occasionally shaking as the final hours of the Japanese archipelago are finally at hand. Watari tells Hanae to find a Japanese man and get married, and then quietly passes away. As the Prime Minister and Hanae leave his room, a dirtied Dr. Tadakoro approaches them, saying he will stay in Japan as it crumbles into the ocean. He says he believes in Yamamoto’s ability to lead the people, and he stays as the final helicopter arrives and escorts the Prime Minister to safety. An aerial shot reveals that most if not all of Japan has submerged. Somewhere on earth in a snowy environment, Abe Reiko stares out the window of a train longingly. Meanwhile, on another train in a desert environment, Toshio Onodera, wrapped in bandages and covered in dirt, stares intensely out the door of a boxcar train. The film ends with a shot of the train disappearing into the distance.
Staff role on the left, staff member's name on the right.
- Directed by Shiro Moritani
- Written by Shinobu Hashimoto, Sakyo Komatsu
- Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka, Osamu Tanaka
- Music by Masaru Sato
- Cinematography by Daisaku Kimura, Hiroshi Murai
- Edited by Michiko Ikeda
- Production design by Yoshiro Muraki
- Assistant directing by Koji Hashimoto
- Special effects by Teruyoshi Nakano
Actor's name on the left, character played on the right.
- Keiju Kobayashi as Dr. Tadokoro
- Hiroshi Fujioka as Onodera Toshio
- Ayumi Ishida as Abe Reiko
- Rhonda Leigh Hopkins as Fran
- Lorne Greene as Ambassador Warren Richards
- Tetsuro Tamba as Prime Minister Yamamoto
- Shogo Shimada as Watari
- John Fujioka as Narita
- Andrew Hughes as Australian Prime Minister
- Nobuo Nakamura as Japanese Ambassador
- Haruo Nakajima as Prime Minister's Chauffeur
- Hideaki Nitani as Dr. Nakata
- Isao Natsuyagi as Yuki
- Yusuke Takita as Assistant Professor Yukinaga
Following an unsuccessful deal with Daiei, the film rights for Sakyo Komatsu’s novel Japan Sinks were sold to Toho, and those rights extended to the production of a television series, which would be filmed alongside the movie and shared some of the same cast as a result. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had been planning to turn the book into a film before its publication . Shiro Moritani was chosen to direct and the production lasted a total of four months .
Alcohol was mixed with the water in the effects sequences to make the tsunami waves appear more believable, and special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano humorously recalled how the effects team became intoxicated as a result.
Weapons, vehicles, and races
- Japan Sinks (Literal Japanese title)
- Tidal Wave (United States)
- Panic over Tokyo (Panik über Tokio; West Germany)
- The Submersion of Japan (A Submersão do Japão; Brazil)
- Death in the Rising Sun (Morte no Sol Nascente; Portugal)
- The Sinking of Japan (Scufundarea Japoniei; Romania)
With an incredible box office total of ¥5,340,000,000, Submersion of Japan was the highest-grossing Japanese film of both 1973 and 1974.
- Based on Sakyo Komatsu's 1973 novel Japan Sinks, this was not the first attempt at a film adaptation of the source material. In 1972, Daiei president Masakazu Nagata announced a film adaptation of Komatsu's then-upcoming novel, at the time a raw manuscript, and titled it Submersion of the Japanese Archipelago. However, not only was there no prior notification to the staff at Daiei before the announcement, but the film rights had not been procured from Komatsu yet. The film never got past planning stages, and the film rights were eventually sold to Toho.
- On September 30th, 1998, Shochiku announced their own film adaptation of Japan Sinks, slated for a 1999 release and Kazuki Omori attached to direct. However, Shochiku was experiencing budgeting issues at the time, and by March 5th it was announced that all staff members involved with the project had be transferred and that production had been cancelled.
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