Japan Sinks: 2020
by Lynzee Loveridge,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Japan Sinks: 2020 (ONA) ?
This week Japan Sinks finally takes its break-neck speed down a few notches to start making its subtextual themes textual courtesy of one xenophobic old coot with a morphine addiction and a multicultural utopian cult.
We last left the Mutoh family inside a grocery store while under attack by a man with a bow and arrow. He's just pegged Go through the chest, leaving the tyke's life in the balance. Wait, just kidding, he's fine but his PSP is worse for the wear. Instead of immediately descending on their attacker, who turns out to be an chain-smoking old man with a penchant for Jack Daniels, everyone decides they let the circumstances get to their heads. Old guy promises to fix Go's PSP and let them all stay over night and he probably won't shoot any of them (so long as they only speak in Japanese).
You can look at the first half of this episode as a thematic contrast to the second half. Effort is put in to flesh out the elderly Kunio Hikita and it's strikingly effective, not because I'm personally sympathetic towards him but because I'm sure I know him, personally. There are elements of his personality that are reflective of my own father; a man who worked over 20 years in a grocery store to establish a life for his family. A handyman that could probably fix or build anything practical (the resemblance stops at soldering electronics). And in the event that he outlives my mother, I'm sure he'd absolutely fall apart on his own. But the ugly parts, too, are what makes this characterization real in the messy sense: an unabashed pride in assimilation over diversification that everyone just hand waves because "it's a different generation."
In that sense, I know Kunio Hikita only he wears red, white, and blue. He grills hamburgers and is equally comfortable in what he knows to be the right way to do things. He demands respect because there's a firm mental thread that ties success with right-ness and as a successful person, his choices must have been the best ones. Even if it leads like-minded individuals like Kunio Hikita to shoot unarmed kids for stealing his stuff and espousing rhetoric like "I hate foreigners who know nothing about Japan." Kunio Hikita's world is very small and comfortable and he'd like it to stay that way. But his world is sinking.
After KITE discovers that the shop's location is tilting into the sea, the crew loads up in Hikita's truck to head towards "Shan City," a place Hikita's heard is wonderful. They pick up a hitchhiker along the way despite Hikita's protests, bringing the traveling 'caravan' to seven people, only two of which are "fully" Japanese. Mari reveals she's Filipino which finally adds context to disagreements she's had with Ayumu until this point, KITE is European (possibly Estonian), and the hitchhiker Daniel is British. Notably, none of the voice actors voicing these characters use the overwrought "foreigner" affect and this is intentional. Daniel, who has lived in Hokkaido for a considerable portion of his life, is shown being well-versed in Japanese cultural terms like kintsugi. Point being that Japan Sinks: 2020 takes purposeful efforts not to "other" the non-native characters as we'd typically see in anime.
But the show doesn't have its sights set on a clear message quite yet. The introduction of Shan City provides another wrinkle. The family arrives in the middle of the night and are welcomed into the Shan City community with open arms. The Mutohs are given warm food, clean water, a place to wash themselves, new Shan City clothing, and a cozy roof over their heads. The community is self-sufficient; it has solar power, a water refining facility, an online store for income, and housed resources to provide everything its community needs. The cafeteria serves non-Western curry infused with marijuana and a "mystery" flower. People sleep in Mongolian-style yurts and its leader, a woman who can speak with the dead, starts each morning performing authentic yoga nude.
If this sounds way, way outside of Hikita's comfort zone, you'd be right. The old fart sleeps in his foreign-model truck in the parking lot instead while trying to drink himself through his morphine withdrawal.
Okay, so maybe Shan City is also the cult of some kind of owl god, but we're not going to find out anymore about that until later episodes. For now, Shan City isn't sinking but it's all a little too perfect and kensuke ushio's music box score gives me an underlying feeling of dread. That said, this episode feels like a vast improvement over the last two with a surprising level of nuance as Japan Sinks: 2020 continues to hone in on its themes of destructive nationalism. The only thing I'd ask for his more emotional authenticity from the main cast themselves. Other than a singular breakdown by Hikita earlier on and genuine display by Haruo, everyone is still so vibrantly optimistic. Haruo is eating curry through snot while processing the death of his mother and everyone else at the table is just "Dad sure made good curry sometimes!" It's surprisingly flat.
• I don't know where to put this, but I want to make a small note that a religious theme may be coming in to play as well. I was surprised to see that Hikita had a cross hanging from his rearview mirror in his truck. This is hardly uncommon in the States, but would be pretty unusual in Japan.
Japan Sinks: 2020 is currently streaming on Netflix.
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