top of page

Japan Sinks: 2020 & Earthquakes

Created as a warning of the imminent disasters that await Japan which Kat explains in her section,Japan Sinks: 2020 also addresses the problems of nationalism and how to preserve your culture through social media.

Sources in episode:

How you can help make a difference: 


Media from this week's episode:

Japan Sinks: 2020 (2020 Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Summary by IMDB: Japan Sinks 2020: An ordinary family is put to the test as a series of massive earthquakes throw Japan into total mayhem. From director Masaaki Yuasa (Devilman Crybaby), the first anime adaptation of the bestselling science fiction novel by Sakyo Komatsu.


Japan Sinks 2020: Educational Tool and Study of Toxic Nationalism

Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

Japan Sinks: 2020 is a heartbreaking anime that cuts to the heart of the effect of natural disasters on people. Adapted from the novel Japan Sinks written by Sakyo Komatsu, the show takes a different approach in covering the natural disaster. Created as a warning of the imminent disasters that await Japan, Kat will explain more in her section, the novel followed scientists and politicians as they grappled with the reality of the impending earthquakes. Similar to Bong Joon-Ho’s The Host, the TV show Chernobyl, or even Godzilla (which counts as an earthquake film), it sought to explore the ways in which a government handles natural disasters. We’ll see in next week’s episode too, that oftentimes people want to delay any hasty reactions to avoid panic from the people and so those sounding the alarm are often gaslit or dismissed.

Does it accurately represent the horrors of a natural disaster?

In an article on NYU Gallatin, writer Naho Sakemi explains the novel’s influence and the differences between the novel and show. Titled, Japan Sinks? – Confluence Komatsu’s novel was a timely piece that was intended to inform the public of the very real threat of an impending earthquake. He (Komatsu) began writing his story in 1964, which collides with the first science journal publication on sea floor spreading and continental drift, and 1969 was the first article published on plate tectonics. It was only in the middle of the 1970s that the Japanese geological community gradually began to accept plate tectonic theory, and it took another decade for it to become widely accepted. Komatsu’s decision to follow a scientist who is struggling to get government officials to listen and seriously consider the impending disaster is strategic. At the time of publication, it was very likely that many would dismiss or misunderstand the gravity of the situation. Sakemi goes on to explain in the article that, This explains why Komatsu presented Tadokoro as a geophysicist that studied abroad instead of a geologist. In Japan Sinks, Tadokoro was laughed at by the cabinet members and other Japanese scholars, and the only reason they do not entirely dismiss his idea is because he must be “smart” since he is recognized by the U.S. science community. Japan Sinks presents real-life conflicts and differences in scientific understanding. In terms of the general public’s understanding, Japan Sinks must have played a huge role in spreading the knowledge of plate tectonics through millions of copies sold and viewed in theaters. All of this it to say that it does accurately represent the horrors and was even intended as a tool for informing the public about the natural disaster. Unlike most natural disaster media, where the science and the actual event take a backseat to the people-focused plots - the book and the many adaptations that followed intended to do both. Show us the truth of what lurks beneath our feet and explore the effects on humanity.

What is this film trying to teach us about humanity?

Japan Sinks: 2020 decides to ignore the higher-ups completely and instead focuses on a specific family fighting to survive. In an article on the Asahi Shimbun titled, In 2020 reboot of 'Japan Sinks' the disaster is no longer the star by Atsushi Ohara, the director Masaaki Yuasa said this about the decision to change the story’s protagonists. "The original novel confronted Japan with fear at a time when the country was living it up. But now, after we experienced the 2011 earthquake, the fear is real," Yuasa said. "So I thought I should portray how people think and live in a world where Japan has sunk, instead of taking an omniscient point of view."

"I thought it would be realistic when people have no time to accept the deaths of their loved ones and have no choice but to flee from the spot, feeling the sorrow and fear that comes afterward," the director said.

Through their experiences, we get to see the heart of the issues that arise from natural disasters but also truly understand the fear and anxiety that comes with fighting to survive in moments like this. As viewers, we are forced to experience the events alongside the Mutos and live in similar constant anxiety, never knowing who will survive or if the decisions our protagonists make are the right ones. There are some truly harrowing events that take place in this show that rocked me. I was capital S T R E S S E D, stressed the entire time. Yuasa does an incredible job of moving us forward through the action and showing the vulnerability of people fighting to survive. We see people die in brutal, quick and shocking ways but like the characters, we have to keep moving forward. We watch as the characters struggle with survivor’s guilt and with their own inability to mourn, the need for pushing forward overtaking the moment’s they could have to grieve. Last month, we talked about the beauty of anime in its ability to give us emotional and realistic villains and though the bigger “villain” here would of course be the earthquake, the show actually reveals the real villains to be our fellow humans, adapting and reacting to trauma.

I think what hit me the most when watching this show, was not the natural disaster or even the deaths which were quite impactful. Instead, I found myself caught up in the idea of the Japanese identity. There’s a strong critique against nationalism, and if you are familiar with our show you know we agree that nationalism can be toxic and harmful - we’re all one people. There are many instances where we get to see the harmful ideologies at play, including a ship that will only allow full-blooded Japanese people onto it - excluding our protagonist family which are mixed.

In the same article on The Asahi Shimbun, Ohara goes on to say, The series, which introduces the character of Ayumu's mother as an energetic, optimistic woman from the Philippines, also doesn't flinch from the dark side of Japanese society, with scenes depicting discrimination against non-Japanese characters and Japanese trying to exclude them.

But we are also given a critique on the loss of Japanese culture and pride, with Go, one of our main characters and the youngest boy of the Muto family, is a mixed boy who has an appreciation for western culture and is often complaining about Japanese-culture things throughout. He has interactions throughout the show to show him the beauty of his country of origin. Even in the end, when we see an attempt to rebuild - there is intentionality upon preserving the beauty and history of Japanese Culture which would be lost with the island. I think of the tactic of burning libraries during wartime, how cruel to not only lose your loved ones but also your country’s entire history. Japan Sinks: 2020 aims to find a perfect balance between the toxicity of nationalism which has only praise (without criticism) and discrimination of the other and the need for an appreciation and understanding of one’s culture.

Another big departure from the novel, due to the time in which it takes place - the novel and other adaptations taking place in the 1970s and this show taking place in 2020, is the use of social media and technology as a means of connecting people. We have a character who quickly becomes a favorite who is simply a Youtuber. I found Kite to be a great character and he was truly a surprise. We often associate youtubers with culturally insensitive brats who exploit other countries for clout. Think Logan Paul in Aokigahara forest where he taped someone’s dead body. Disgusting. But Kaito seems to have an intense appreciation for Japan and at times knows more than Go. He is intelligent and charming, which was a nice breath of fresh air from what I was dreading. Technology though plays an important part in keeping people informed and connected. Videos and photos are used to preserve Japanese culture and history but also the memories of those lost during the crisis. Twitter and other social media is also used throughout to communicate updates and information for the characters to strategize and make decisions towards survival.

In an article on Thrillist titled, 'Japan Sinks 2020' Review: An Emotional Departure for Masaaki Yuasa, Kambole Campbell explains, By the end, the show's critique of Japanese nationalism as the real doom of Japan is crystal clear -- the archaic desire for isolationism and purity not only meaning death in the short term, but in the long term too. The series posits that without connection there is no memory, and without memory, death is truly the end. A lot of that memory is enabled through digital technology, which here mostly exists as a way of personal connection, remembrance, photos and videos becoming loaded with meaning and history. Especially in a time where a lot of people are barely holding together through the usage of such digital communication, Japan Sinks truly hits home.

Though taking place 50 years after the original media, the horrors of an earthquake destroying Japan, threatening to erase its history and culture and the impact it has one human lives hasn’t changed much at all. This is still very much a threat. The powers-that-be are still more likely to dismiss or delay information to avoid panic. This media is still being used as a tool for education only this time not only on the scientific and political horrors, but also the personal ones. I think what we can learn from the anime - that the novel and other adaptations missed - is that humanity can prevail. That there is hope and we can support one another.


Real Horrors of Earthquakes and How to Survive

Kat Kushin

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

What is an earthquake?

We thank Michigan Tech for their helpful information on earthquakes that we’ll be using in this episode. As described on their website “Earthquakes are usually caused when rock underground suddenly breaks along a fault. This sudden release of energy causes the seismic waves that make the ground shake. When two blocks of rock or two plates are rubbing against each other, they stick a little. They don't just slide smoothly; the rocks catch on each other. The rocks are still pushing against each other, but not moving. After a while, the rocks break because of all the pressure that's built up. When the rocks break, the earthquake occurs. During the earthquake and afterward, the plates or blocks of rock start moving, and they continue to move until they get stuck again. The spot underground where the rock breaks is called the focus of the earthquake. The place right above the focus (on top of the ground) is called the epicenter of the earthquake.

Earthquake-like seismic waves can also be caused by explosions underground. These explosions may be set off to break rock while making tunnels for roads, railroads, subways, or mines. These explosions, however, don't cause very strong seismic waves. You may not even feel them. Sometimes seismic waves occur when the roof or walls of a mine collapse. These can sometimes be felt by people near the mine. The largest underground explosions, from tests of nuclear warheads (bombs), can create seismic waves very much like large earthquakes. This fact has been exploited as a means to enforce the global nuclear test ban, because no nuclear warhead can be detonated on earth without producing such seismic waves.”

What to do if an earthquake happens?

According to the CDC’s Stay Safe During an Earthquake section of their website, there are three necessary steps to take in the instance of an earthquake. The website states in most situations, individuals can protect themselves immediately if they follow the: “Drop. Cover. Hold On.” method.

While the earthquake is happening they suggest you:

  • DROP down onto your hands and knees before the earthquake knocks you down. This position protects you from falling but allows you to still move if necessary.

  • COVER your head and neck (and your entire body if possible) underneath a sturdy table or desk. If there is no shelter nearby, get down near an interior wall or next to low-lying furniture that won’t fall on you, and cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.

  • HOLD ON to your shelter (or to your head and neck) until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around.

They also have a fun list of specific scenarios outlining what you should do depending on whether you’re inside, outside, in a tall building, in a car, etc. They also list suggestions of ways to prepare for an earthquake, and how to respond following one, so check that out if interested.

Why does Japan make a lot of earthquake and natural disaster films?

To put it simply, it’s because Japan experiences a lot of these natural disasters. As an area situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a string of volcanoes and the site of lots of seismic activity that surround the edges of the Pacific Ocean, it’s to be expected that living in such an area would influence the media being created. According to National Geographic, “roughly 90% of all earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire, and the ring is dotted with 75% of all active volcanoes on Earth.” Being situated in this ring makes adapting to these kinds of natural disasters, a part of everyday life necessary for survival. In an article titled Tokyo will probably face a massive earthquake in the next 30 years. The only thing they can do is prepare written by Jake Sturmer and Yumi Asada, they go through some of the many earthquakes Japan has experienced and their risk of a massive earthquake in the next 30 years. The article goes on to highlight the Tokyo-Yakohama area, an area the Swiss Re insurance company says is “by far (Japan’s) most earthquake-threatened” area, with potentially more than 30 million people affected. With this looming risk, the government has modeled potential impact of various earthquake scenarios, mostly with the understanding that thousands of people will die, and even more without preparation. A factor to consider is the chain of events that can take place following an earthquake, such as aftershocks, and tsunamis, events that can trigger even more casualties and damage.

I’ll be honest when we were researching for these episodes, my first thought was “WHY ON EARTH WOULD ANYONE LIVE SOMEWHERE UNDER CONSTANT THREAT OF WEATHER BASED MURDER”. When I was a child I used to have weather preparedness drills, and actively feared for my life every time it rained. I am known to joke about not wanting to live in California for this reason, despite being born there. However, Hayao Miyazaki provides a really interesting perspective on the naturalness of these events, and does a fantastic job of showcasing this viewpoint in the media he creates. In an article titled Japan's fantasy films act as a buffer against the reality of the natural world, written by Thomas Sontinel, the author quotes Hayao Miyazaki, who says "There are many typhoons and earthquakes in Japan," he said. "There is no point in portraying these natural disasters as evil events. They are one of the givens in the world in which we live. I am always moved when I visit Venice to see that in this city which is sinking into the sea, people carry on living regardless. It is one of the givens of their life. In the same way people in Japan have a different perception of natural disasters." Now, this did not make me any less afraid of weather based death, but did enlighten me to why people live in these areas despite the risk. It also shifted my perspective in appreciating the resiliency of humanity in overcoming these events, and adapting their lives around them. Instead of trying to bend the earth to their whims, they respect the majestic terror that is our planet.


bottom of page