It may only have made it to DVD in the West to cash in on 2012, but the 2006 version of Sinking of Japan turns out not to be the cheesefest the title and DVD cover promise but a not at all bad attempt at a thinking person's disaster movie - this is more Deep Impact than Armageddon. It doesn't always succeed, but it makes a serious attempt. Of course, the Japanese film industry have been destroying their major cities for decades, and even adapted the novel in 1973 with an Americanised version with added Lorne Greene making its way into US theatres as Tidal Wave.
Certainly the pretitle sequence of an air-sea rescue man coming to the rescue of a woman and child during a volcanic eruption holds the promise of plenty of dumb heroics, but it's merely a prelude to the film's central premise: that due to subduction of tectonic plates Japan will sink into the sea, and much faster than the government has planned for. Rather than going for a Roland Emmerich-style orgy of destruction, the film instead focuses more on the spiritual as well as practical questions that arise. Beyond issues of calculating the number of dead and trying to negotiate the relocation of the entire population on a reluctant world while the Yen falls and the worldwide emigrant influx in the wake of the country's staggered evacuation causes racial tensions, the film gives increasing weight to the idea of dying with (rather than for) your country - after all, what kind of life is left if your whole life and identity is tied up in a place? Within a generation will there even be any real Japanese left if there is no Japan? The result is some genuine emotional weight despite an ill-advised romantic ballad montage (not the film's sole silly moment: a scene where an irate scientist literally pushes ministers around the cabinet room is amusingly over the top). Ultimately it once again comes down to one man to save the day, with the ever-popular kaiju movie irony of a nuclear explosion being the only hope to save Japan from destruction, though it does seem more than a minor contrivance that with the fate of an entire nation at stake they only have one submarine and one igniter that can do the job.
Still, elsewhere it avoids most of the genre clichés. The effects are generally impressive but for the most part used to show the national picture rather than to put the main characters into harm's way and watch them frantically try to get out alive, and it takes the time to think through the emotional consequences of its situation. It's not perfect by any means, but it's a lot better than expected.
No extras, but a decent subtitled 2.35:1 widescreen transfer.