44 – Virus

Virus was the biggest budget for any Japanese film at the time of its release in 1980, it was made with joint funding from Canada, and was an attempt to get Japanese cinema out to the global market. It is directed by Kinji Fukasaku , who would go on to make the classic Battle Royale, (couldn’t mention Japanese cinema without getting a Beat Takeshi reference in, for my mate Archie) The cast includes, hollywood stars such as George Kennedy, Glenn Ford, Robert Vaughn, and Asian cinema star Sonny Chiba.

If you do get around to watching this film please get past the first few scenes, the introductory scenes are full of badly disguised exposition, using unknown actors, giving the wrong impression of the film that is about to unfold. Only when the virus begins to kill large numbers of people around the world, does the story take off. There are many of the apocalyptic motifs we have come to recognise in this movie the scene involving the politicians sitting in the Oval office in the white house watching news coverage of the horrifying scenes of riots breaking out around the world is a partcularly good example.

As recognisable actors appear, they are lumbered with embarrassing dialogue and melodramatic conflicts. Unlike more recent apocalypse stories which ground the story among the public, this is very Japanese in structure – where huge disasters are only dealt with by the authorities. Politicians, military, scientists receive the latest news and use cold, hard logic.

Some of the Japanese scenes are the most involving – where a hospital is overrun with people needing treatment, and the police have to burn piles of bodies in the streets, unable to cope with the mounting death toll. But these scenes are just illustrations, aside from the main drive of the story in the Oval Office.

The early exposition in the film tell us that the virus is dormant in sub-zero temperatures, this means that the scientists in Antarctica from all nations of the world are the last remaining human beings. The new World Council includes a young Edward James Olmos.The coldness of the Japanese script is highlighted when a case of rape is coldly discussed in a meeting. The ratio of 855 men to 8 women is simply unfortunate. The women will have to have babies with new multiple partners. Japanese methodology applied to the apocalypse. Many different countries are represented reasonably well, but casting the Canadian Chuck Connors as a British submarine captain is bizarre. The actor normally plays cowboys and makes no attempt to change his accent.

The overall story is realistic, doomladen and slowly paced. The vision of a world decimated by a biological warfare accident, with this being a non-hollywood offering there is a further climatic plot twist to haunt the viewer even further

I would only recommend this film to the Apocalyptic aficionados, and if you can stomach 80’s power ballads, this is a very slow-paced film , with some quite ropey dialogue, however it is interesting in the history of apocalyptic cinema, so is included for that reason,, enjoy the trailer, and love that power ballad!

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