Director Masaaki Yuasa is well known for his offbeat and heavily character-driven anime such as Tatami Galaxy, Ping Pong the Animation, and Devilman Crybaby. His most recent work, Japan Sinks 2020, is a bold reimagining of a classic 1973 novel about a series of earthquakes that causes the entirety of Japan to sink into the ocean. Yuasa’s version follows a biracial family as they try to escape the country, meeting strange new companions along the way and working together to keep each other alive. It’s gained notoriety online for its heavy themes of nationalism, so let’s take a closer look to see what exactly it’s trying to say about the land of the rising sun.
I’ll Proudly Carry Japan’s Flag
The most important thing that this show wants you to know is that Japan is freaking awesome. Ayumu’s track coach says at the very beginning of the first episode that the team should keep in mind this phrase: “In four years, I’ll proudly carry Japan’s flag.” The 2020 Tokyo Olympics were originally supposed to be a larger part of the plot, but since the coronavirus delayed the event in real life, most of these references were cut. Still, this line drives home the idea that Japan stands out on the world stage and won’t be ignored.
Another scene shows the characters freestyle rapping (Devilman Crybaby style) about what the country means to them, even as they sit among the ruins of their former nation. The foreigner character Kite expresses how amazing and unique it is, while the native characters begrudgingly acknowledge that their home has a special place in their hearts. This anime does show ugly parts of Japan like racist groups who deny the biracial characters entry onto their boat, but overall, it concentrates on celebrating the good rather than highlighting the bad.
Independence Day, But in Japan
Another director who uses this upbeat style with apocalypse stories is Roland Emmerich. Despite being German, he’s famous for his Hollywood disaster movies (such as The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day, and 2012) that show how the American spirit brings people of all creeds together in the face of adversity. Japan Sinks 2020 follows this formula by diversifying its cast—the Mutou family are Japanese-Filipino, Go’s internet friend and Kite are Estonian, Daniel is Yugoslavian—and it also shows that the Shan City cult uses recipes and structures from all over the world.
However, everyone is able to work together and understand one another when the fate of Japan is at stake. Even characters who are initially villains turn out to be benevolent people who’ve been backed into a corner because of the disaster. Realistically, more of them should’ve been resistant to helping others (just look at the pandemic right now), but there’s still something to be said for this squeaky clean approach with its uncomplicated morals.
So, in the end, does Japan Sinks 2020’s nationalism boil down to a relentlessly positive outlook, or is it dangerous whitewashing of a complex, real-world culture? It’s ultimately up to the viewer to decide, but we think that even though this anime is pretty blatant with its flag-waving, at least its heart is in the right place.
But what did you think of Japan Sinks 2020? Do you think it’s nationalist propaganda? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!