Scientists investigate when a small island sinks in Japanese waters, using a hi-tech submersible which can reach depths previously uncharted. When the crew survey the bottom of the Japan Trench, they discover that the Earth is fracturing and realise that the islands of Japan are in grave danger…
Serious, straight-faced drama that gives us a nation in crisis, as a series of environmental disasters strike Japan, culminating in the destruction of its major islands. It all begins beneath the waves with worried scientist Keiju Kobayashi keen to check out what is happening on the ocean floor, and finding mysterious currents and land movements. Before long, wildfires and earthquakes are forcing the Prime Minister to call a national state of emergency, but Kobayashi is convinced that his findings mean that far worse is yet to come.
The Japanese got there first with this apocalyptic epic ‘disaster movie’ pre-dating the U.S. cycle of blockbusters, which began in earnest a year later with films like ‘Earthquake’ (1974) and ‘The Towering lnferno’ (1974). Yet, although this project could be broadly said to fit into that category, there are some fundamental differences in approach. Here, there is far more emphasis on the authorities trying to deal with these huge events, rather than its impact on individual characters (inevitably played by famous ‘guest stars’ in the American films). True, there is an effort to interest us in the love life of submarine captain Hiroshi Fujioka and his romance with rich girl Ayumi lshida (who’s under pressure to get married now she’s reached the advanced age of 27) but it feels perfunctory at best.
Instead, the ﬁlm initially gives us Japan’s political leaders getting together around the big table to sort it all out, before the crisis brings in the United Nations and various international aid agencies. Luckily, top scientists are in attendance to explain everything to the politicos, via the medium of lectures, covering earthquakes, the formation of mountains, and the movement of currents within the Earth’s mantle. Sometimes these are accompanied by lengthy slide shows, which is obviously all very informative. Now, all this does serve to increase the credibility of the story’s main premise, but it does not make for the world’s most exciting viewing experience. Indeed, after the problem has been identified in the fairly engaging first half hour beneath the sea, the story seems to offer little but an endless series of meetings between faceless suits, broken up occasionally by the odd bout of variable SFX.
This was obviously a serious project, with every effort made at authenticity and it’s probably an accurate representation of what may happen if such events come to pass. Sadly, director Shiro Moratani chose to deliver a final cut of 2 hours and 23 minutes and, with the best will in the world, it’s the cinematic equivalent of watching paint dry. Yes, some of the action scenes are good, but they are brief and, without any emotional focus, they have little impact on the viewer.
Legendary cash-conscious producer Roger Corman bought the ﬁlm for U.S. distribution, promptly cut most of the non-SFX footage, and inserted new scenes with Lorne Greene as Ambassador Warren Richards, providing much the same ‘on screen narrator’ function that Raymond Burr fulfilled in the American release of ‘Godzilla, King of the Monsters’ (1954) almost 20 years earlier. The producer’s new version ran only 82 minutes and was released as ‘Tidal Wave’. Now, much as would usually deplore such cultural vandalism, I can’t help but speculate that sitting through the Corman version might be considerably less painful that enduring the original!
A ﬁlm of worthy intent, but tremendously, ass-achingly dull.