5 things to know about disaster drama Japan Sinks: People Of Hope

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Shun Oguri as Keishi Amami in Japan Sinks: People Of Hope. (Photo: Netflix)
Shun Oguri as Keishi Amami in Japan Sinks: People Of Hope. (Photo: Netflix)

Based on the 1973 award-winning novel Japan Sinks by Sakyo Komatsu, Japan Sinks: People Of Hope is set in 2023 in Tokyo. It ponders the catastrophic possibility of Honshu, Japan’s main island, being swallowed by the unforgiving sea due to tectonic plate subduction.

Here are five things to know about this latest thrilling J-drama, whose first episode has just dropped on Netflix.

1. It is the first of three dramas released in the collaboration between TBS and Netflix.

Japan Sinks: People Of Hope is actually part of a collaboration between Japanese TV station TBS and Netflix. After episodes air on Japanese TV channels on Sunday nights, they will be made available for global streaming on Netflix on Mondays 12am (JST). This is a rare move from Japan, as they usually limit such on-demand services to the Japan region, or delay international releases.

To top it off, two other dramas will follow in its footsteps: The Future Diary, based on a manga, will be released this December, and rom-com Let’s Get Divorced will drop in 2023.

2. It has a star-studded cast.

Japan Sinks stars Shun Oguri as Keishi Amami, who works at the Ministry of the Environment, and Kenichi Matsuyama as Koichi Tokiwa, who works at the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry.

Kenichi Matsuyama, from the behind-the-scenes of Japan Sinks: People Of Hope. (Photo: Instagram/nckibou_tbs)
Kenichi Matsuyama, from the behind-the-scenes of Japan Sinks: People Of Hope. (Photo: Instagram/nckibou_tbs)

Shun Oguri is best known for portraying Rui Hanazawa in the 2005 Boys Over Flowers drama series, and more recently as Gintoki Sakata in the live-action film series Gintama. Kenichi Matsuyama is best known as L in the 2006 Death Note film series.

That is not all, though. Joining them as part of the cast are veteran actors Jun Kunimura, who starred in Attack On Titan and Shin Godzilla; Toru Nakamura, who has acted with Takuya Kimura in the BG Personal Bodyguard sequel; and Teruyuki Kagawa. Although it is unlikely for Kagawa to top his performance as Akira Ohwada in the acclaimed drama Naoki Hanzawa, his portrayal of the eccentric Professor Tadokoro in Japan Sinks is still rather eye-catching.

Teruyuki Kagawa as Professor Tadokoro in Japan Sinks: People Of Hope. (Photo: Instagram/nckibou_tbs)
Teruyuki Kagawa as Professor Tadokoro in Japan Sinks: People Of Hope. (Photo: Instagram/nckibou_tbs)

Professor Tadokoro is also the one who warns about the sinking of Japan. His words and actions are pivotal in the changes in Amami, who originally thinks of the professor as a fraud. The teamwork between Kagawa and Oguri will be something to look forward to in the subsequent episodes as their characters poke at the evidence of a slow slip on the subduction zone and the possibility of Japan sinking.

3. The theme song is Last Scene by Masaki Suda.

As if the star-studded cast is not enough, Japan Sinks: People Of Hope goes further to have popular actor-singer Masaki Suda sing the theme song Last Scene. This is also the first time Suda has sung the theme song for a TBS drama.

Suda, who has worked with Oguri in shows like Rich Man, Poor Woman and Gintama, commented, “I’ve been under the care of Shun Oguri since I was a teenager. I’m really happy to participate in the theme song of his drama.”

4. The original novel has been adapted multiple times.

Having received the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, the 1973 disaster novel Japan Sinks has been adapted into films, dramas and anime. The first adaptation was a 1973 film directed by Shiro Moritani, followed by a 1974 television drama by TBS and Toho. More recently, the novel was remade into a 2006 film by Shinji Higuchi, and an original Netflix anime in 2020. Japan Sinks: People Of Hope is the latest drama adaptation of the groundbreaking novel.

Apparently, the multiple adaptation is not without reason as it has an interesting concept about subsidence. The idea becomes even more plausible as it is set in Japan, which is situated in the Ring of Fire — a destructive plate boundary where three subduction zones are involved. Real towns like Ishinomaki have even subsided due to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, making Japan Sinks: People Of Hope an exaggerated version of a true story.

5. It raises the alarm about climate change and its impending effects.

Instead of starting off the drama immediately with a dystopian setting and seeing how the characters survive the disaster, Japan Sinks: People Of Hope first sets the serious tone and mood about climate change — an important environmental concern nowadays. This is typical of Japanese dramas, which tend to explore societal issues.

Just like the evolving mindset of Amami, it takes the audience on a journey from a skeptical view of the possibility of the subsidence to the shocking realisation that it may all be too late. The drama serves as a great reflection on our current world: are we missing the cues from Mother Earth, or are we choosing to turn a blind eye to them? My hopes are high for how the story will develop.

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