The entire world is a graveyard!

Trawling around the Internet Movie Database a number of months ago, I found myself looking at the various filming locations of several obscure movies, with an emphasis on films that had been filmed in far-flung, exotic locations. One in particular that caught my eye was the 1980 Japanese-International flick Virus, known in Japan as Fukkatsu no hi (復活の日). It was filmed in several run-of-the-mill locales such as Washington DC, Tokyo, and West Germany, but also in Antarctica, specifically Palmer Station and McMurdo Station. Normally you don't see too many films taking place in Antarctica that were actually filmed there, so when Platinum Films released Virus on DVD in 2004, I picked up a copy and gave it a shot.

Virus was released in 1980, and it was directed by acclaimed Japanese director Fukasaku Kinji, who would go on to direct such classics as Battle Royale (Batoru rowaiaru) and The Geisha House (Omocha) later in his career before succumbing to prostate cancer in 2003. Working with a screenplay penned by Takada Kôji and a cadre of veteran actors including George Kennedy (Airport '79, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!), Chuck Connors (Geronimo, Soylent Green), Edward James Olmos ("Miami Vice," Blade Runner), Glenn Ford (Superman, Midway), Robert Vaughn (The Magnificent Seven, BASEketball) and Olivia Hussey (The Corsican Brothers, "Jesus of Nazareth"), Virus was a highly ambitious project, probably the most massive production undertaken by all involved.

Spoilers ahead!

The plot centers around an engineered virus dubbed MM-88, which the United States developed for use in biological warfare. After the final product is perfected in West Germany, it is stolen by East German bio-terrorists, after a shootout with some CIA agents in a tiny West German shack. The terrorists board a plane, bound for the United States, to unleash their illbegotten gains. However, en route, their plane crashes into a snowswept mountain in the Italian Alps, leaving no survivors. (This particular plot point is a plot hole; the virus is supposedly unable to survive in sub-zero temperatures, but here it infects the world after a crash on a snowy mountain peak.) From there, the virus, freed from its canister, begins to propagate. Soon it's everywhere, and within a matter of weeks has completely eradicated the entire population of the world with the sole exception being the inhabitants of the scientific research stations in Antarctica.

The lingering effects of the virus across the rest of the world aren't the only threats facing our intrepid scientists, however: before everyone dies, a high-ranking US general sneaks into a NORAD bunker somewhere in the continental United States and arms the country's missile defence system, which, as the plot would have us believe, is immune to total power grid failure indefinitely, and has nuclear missiles pointed at a great many cities all across the world, and even one pointed at Palmer Station (despite the fact that Palmer is a US installation). The Antarcticans know this because one of their number, Admiral Conway (George Kennedy), is also a high-ranking military officer, and his position affords him a radio transmission from the dying US president (Glenn Ford), who tells him of the world's decimation and of the possibility of impending nuclear doom. That sets the board and gets the pieces moving; heroic British submarine captain McLeod (Chuck Connors) and plucky Japanese scientist Yoshizumi (Kusakari Masao) set out from Palmer in McLeod's submarine, bound for Washington DC, where they hope to find the NORAD bunker and disable the missile defense system.

Meanwhile, at Palmer, Argentinian scientist Marit (Olivia Hussey) goes into labour, and gives birth to a baby boy. The joy of motherhood is to be short-lived, however, as Marit is one of only eight females in Antarctica, yet there are over two thousand men. The high-ranking brass of several nations decrees that, in order to repopulate the earth, the women will have to take turns having sex with a wide variety of men to speed up the process of conception, pregnancy, and birth. Therefore they lay aside the concept of monogamy, and begin their new lives as gifts for the multitude of the male population of Antarctica.

Eventually, after ten days at sea, McLeod and Yoshizumi arrive in Washington, and find the NORAD bunker. However, they are too late; the missiles have already been launched, though the one earmarked for Palmer Station is apparently not launched (this is never explained, however). McLeod dies in the process, leaving Yoshizumi without a ride back to Palmer. Thus, he sets out on an epic hike from Washington down to the Strait of Magellan at the bottom of South America. This walk takes him several years, and along the way we get to watch as he goes slowly mad, before finally reaching the Strait, where he's greeted by a ship sent from Palmer (how they knew to pick him up also goes unexplained). As the credits roll, we're meant to believe that life continues in this way.

Bombs away!

The film suffers from several problems. The most noticeable, it seems, would be how extremely dated the whole thing looks and sounds. The DVD seems to have been sourced from a video tape recorded off cable sometime in the middle 1980s, and as such, it has a great deal of video artifacts, sudden jumps and cuts, and quite a bit of sound washing out or disappearing altogether before suddenly piping back in. There are a lot of niggling little plot points that go unexplained, as mentioned above, which does not add much to the realism of the film, and in fact greatly detracts from it. The acting is astoundingly wooden, by all the actors, even those that had previously had or went on to attain reputations for decent acting. The performance is more than a little undermined by the fact that the cast is made up entirely of character actors (with the possible exception of Robert Vaughn, whose role in Virus as a liberal congressman is minor to say the least) with no actual leading woman or man in any role.

The Antarctican scenery is beautiful, but they don't spend enough time out in it; most of the scenes are shot either inside Palmer Station or inside a submarine, with a few random scenes set inside Argentina's Base Esperanza and Japan's Showa Station. We get to see some of the USA's McMurdo Station from the outside as well, and a few shots of the Southern Ocean. The rest of the scenery includes random towns in South America that Yoshizumi encounters, and Washington DC both during the crisis, where we get to watch President Glenn Ford, his advisors, and the hot-headed general bent on armageddon argue incessantly about who was to blame, and post-armageddon when McLeod and Yoshizumi visit it. There are some montage shots of various other places, notably Tokyo, Rome, Los Angeles, London, and Paris, all of them either in the death throes or as scenes of post-armageddon wreckage.

The scenery notwithstanding, Virus was, for me at least, extremely boring. So much so that I found myself wishing that the one errant missle that was supposed to hit Palmer Station would've launched successfully, just so I wouldn't have to sit through anymore inane dialogue, the petty squabbling and grab-assing that the fight/argument scenes entailed, or the nervous, disdainful looks on the faces of the Antarctican comfort women. It would've been a much easier film to watch without having to see Yoshizumi hold a lengthy, one-sided conversation with a corpse in a dilapidated Brazilian church during his sojourn south from Washington.

There are two versions of Virus in circulation; one is 108 minutes long, and cuts out quite a lot of the story. This version was shown on cable TV. The other version, which is the one I viewed, is 155 minutes long and has nothing cut out. According to reviews posted at the IMDB, the latter version is the only one worth watching, but given all its faults, I tend to disagree with that assessment. I could only recommend this film if the dated, washed-out look and the myriad technical faults won't bother you. For what it is, I guess it makes a decent Cold War-era disaster film, where one of the main horrors presented is the notion that in a brave new world such as the film wants us to see, Americans are forced to get along with their Soviet counterparts.

Watch out for Edward James Olmos, here playing Captain Lopez of Argentina, who provides what little comic relief this film has to offer. I don't think his inherent chuckle-worthiness was intentional, though, but his hiked-up white bellbottom pants (ah, the late 70s), his penchant for fistfights without provocation, and his talent for playing sleepy lounge tunes on the piano is not to be missed if you really want to sit through this travesty. Look for a minor role by Japanese martial artist/actor Sonny Chiba, too, as one of the Japanese scientists.

Despite a $16M budget ($45M in 2005 dollars), Virus was a major failure in Japan and abroad. It was never even shown in theatres in the United States; it was instead cut (to the 108 minute version) and sold directly to various cable TV stations.

Japanese title: Fukkatsu no hi
International titles: Virus / Day of Resurrection / The End (video title)
Director: Fukasaku Kinji
Screenwriters: Komatsu Sakyo (novel), Takada Kôji (screenplay)
Certifications: Australia: PG / Norway: 15 / United Kingdom: PG / USA: PG / Argentina: Atp / West Germany:12 / United Kingdom: 12 (2004 DVD rating)
Languages: English / French / German / Japanese