Japan Sinks: 2020
by Lynzee Loveridge,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Japan Sinks: 2020 (ONA) ?
This week's episode starts picking the pace back up again as we find out more about the Shan City "community" and how it has managed to grasp the hearts of vulnerable people during a time of crisis. There's also sex, drugs, house music, and murder.
The Mutoh family is still getting accustomed to community. You can work if you want to by tending to the fields of marijuana or helping care for the ill in the infirmary. The food is plentiful and multicultural this time serving up dishes from Yugoslavia. There's a small school that Go and Ayumu start attending, although Go finds himself bored by how "Japanese" it is. He complains to the cook Saburo (while also acting uncharacteristically like a brat by continually belittling him for his size) who reminds him it's not good to judge people because of where they're from.
In a way, Go is Tails to Ayumu's Heads. He has no real interest in his Japanese heritage and disregards Japan as boring in favor of "exotic" locations that are better simply by being different than what he's used to experiencing. It's different, but legitimate form of snobbery or elitism founded in his own inexperience. Basically, it's easy to idealize other places as cooler, more sophisticated, or interesting when its only viewed through specific lens. Ask anyone who thinks Japan is just the summation of what they see in anime, for example.
Beyond the leisurely "do what you feel like" aspect of Shan City, the community does have rules, especially regarding their figurehead "Mother." Mother, previously seen at the end of the last episode cleansing herself and performing yoga, claims to be a medium that can speak through the dead while using a 10-year-old child as a conduit. The boy is referred to as Lord Daichi and appears to be mute or possibly heavily drugged. While holding his hand, Mother receives objects from the grieving memories of the community to connect with their loved ones and offer messages by channeling their spirits. The gimmick is enough to fool most folks and the Mutoh's begin an internal struggle to decide whether they want to speak to their father again.
Ayumu is wary because she's uncertain whether her father will blame her for his death. Go just wants to speak with his dad again. Mari, ever stoic, is at least pretending she's passed it all and not the least bit interested. This brings the mother and daughter into another argument where Ayumu, unable to see that her mom is holding it all together, accuses her of wanting to hook up with Daniel. Honestly, I have quite a bit of respect for Mari here because I totally would have lost my cool. She simply tells Ayumu to "grow up," leaving the teen to race off to the compound's weekend party. I still think Mari isn't doing anyone any favors by not acknowledging the emotional devastation of seeing your father blown up does to a kid but Ayumu's accusation was so juvenile, it pissed me off.
The weekend party introduces another side to Shan City and starts to peel back its spiritual, welcoming veneer. So, marijuana is obviously a central part of the cult's activities. It's grown, harvested, put in the food, and burned during ceremonies. The weekend party moves the atmosphere away from "hippie people get high" to "snorting coke off a table while my friend is passed out on the floor." No one seems to be bothered by this or acknowledges it. Go happily plays arcade machines, Ayumu dances, KITE gets high as a....kite and commandeers the DJ equipment to pull Haruo out of his shell. That whole scene was more weird than anything but I blame that on the anime's soundtrack which has consistently been too minimal or disconnected with what's on screen.
Mari finally gets her emotional payoff this episode when she has a heart-to-heart with professional clowner Daniel. I thought Daniel was just a harmless yet weird guy, but his purpose in the story became more apparent this episode. Daniel is an adult who has not relinquished his humor and joy just because he got older. He might be goofy but his shenanigans make Mari the stick-in-the-mud laugh. When they have their heart-to-heart, it makes sense that it's on a swing set. Until this moment, Mari thought that strength for herself and her children meant masking her feelings and vulnerability and urging Ayumu to "grow up" but instead Mari forgot how it feels to be kid. She realizes that Daniel (who is from Yugoslavia but I swear it said 'England' in the previous episode) has lost even more than she has but is able to be happy.
When Ayumu returns in the morning, they seem to have reached a better understanding. Ayumu ventured into the world of adults (and ended up fighting with a creep) and Mari reconnected with own emotions.
Oh right, I said there was a murder.
We knew that old fogey Hikita had a reason to come to Shan City beyond emptying out their morphine supply. It turns out that Lord Daichi is Hikita's grandson and he plans to make a getaway with him in his truck. Cut to Hikita scaling the giant owl-woman monument in his electric wheelchair and armed with his trusty bow and arrow. Gramps just starts firing arrows into peeps left and right. The only problem is escaping in the truck which is really hard to drive when you've deplenished all your morphine .
Japan Sinks, man, you never really know what it's going to pack into the weekly viewing lunchbox. Overall I do think this episode was weaker, thematically, then the previous one. Despite some emotional resolution to Mari and Ayumu, the stuff at the weekend party felt haphazard. It's hard to get a read on KITE and his relationships with the other members. Were he and Haruo chummy at all before? I'd also like them to phase out Go for some of the more nuanced characters. He's obnoxious in a way that's appropriate for his age but he's centered so often in the story that I'm getting sick of him.
A couple of asides that are more of clues for things to come:
• Ayumu took up working as a caregiver and one of her patients is a man that appears to paralyzed and unable to communicate verbally. Japan Sinks: 2020 has continually put an emphasis on Morse Code at various points and it seems like he's also attempting to communicate that way by batting his eyes and tapping a finger on the bed frame. The guy knows stuff, likely in relation to the ongoing disaster.
•KITE is deliberately not eating the food, instead having energy bars.
•Is the medium Hikita's daughter or did she kidnap Daichi--or is Hikita just nuts and this kid isn't related to him at all?
•One of the major tenants of the cult's beliefs is infusing old things with new life which ties into their fixation on communicating with the dead through a living person.
•KITE attempted to test Mother's powers by having her touch Haruo's glasses (which were given to him by Nanami who in turn stole them from the gas station rapist). I thought the statement she gave was pretty nondescript but Ayumu was convinced it was Nanami?
Japan Sinks: 2020 is currently streaming on Netflix.
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