Cult Cinema: Virus [Day of Resurrection] (1980) - Reviewed

In recent years thanks to Anchor Bay and the good folks at Arrow Video, the works of the late master Japanese filmmaker Kinji Fukusaku have enjoyed renewed attention in the West.  While working briefly with Hollywood for the Pearl Harbor film Tora! Tora! Tora!, the director was mostly known for his gritty yakuza films made in the mid-70s with films like Battles Without Honor and Humanity, Cops vs. Thugs and Street Mobster.  Long before achieving international notoriety with his high school murder epic Battle Royale however, Mr. Fukusaku did at times dabble in the English language film with campy science-fiction efforts like The Green Slime and Message from Space.
Which brings us to his sprawling and gargantuan post-apocalyptic science-fiction/horror epic Virus or Day of Resurrection depending on the translation.  Made in 1980, the film is a bilingual English/Japanese star studded ensemble piece featuring a largely English speaking cast including Robert Vaughn, Chuck Connors, Olivia Hussey, Edward James Olmos, Glenn Ford and Henry Silva though Masao Kusakari and Fukusaku regular Sonny Chiba prominently feature among the cast.  Based on science-fiction novelist Sakyo Komatsu’s 1964 novel of the same name, the film was the most expensive Japanese film ever made at the time with heavy emphasis on appealing to international markets.
Set in 1982, a deadly virus accidentally created by an American geneticist known as MM88 which amplifies other viral strains it attaches itself to, is set loose after attempting to transport it to a virologist for study, creating a pandemic known as the “Italian Flu”.  Soon, the virus wipes out nearly all human and animal life on Earth with exception to 863 survivors now relocated to the Antarctic.  However, as work on a vaccine begins a new threat emerges when it is discovered an earthquake will trigger the United States ARS system and launch nuclear arsenal that will further eliminate any remaining survivors.  It’s up to dorky scientist Dr. Shûzô Yoshizumi (Masao Kusakari) and Major Carter (Bo Svenson) to try and disable the ARS system before it is too late.

An international production with a checkered past, Virus came from producer Haruki Kadokawa whose Kadokawa Production Company gained a foothold on international markets, often featuring English speaking actors in the films.  So profitable were the films of Kadokawa that the producer sunk 2 million yen into his next project Virus, making it the most expensive Japanese film production at the time.  While shot on location, this was a globally spanning film which also shot throughout Canada and garnered hefty support from the Chilean Navy who provided their own submarine SS-21 to shoot in.  At one point during filming a Swedish cruiser used to transport the crew was damaged and the crew had to be rescued by the Navy.

Visually this is a bit more handsomely shot by Japanese film director Daisaku Kimura than the usual shaky-cam Fukusaku fare.  Though Fukusaku still loves the handheld shot and deep zooms, Virus comparatively has a more stable camera and among Fukusaku’s films sports some of the most lavish location photography yet seen in his filmography.  Sonically speaking the somber orchestral score by Barefoot Gen composer Kentarō Haneda is overwhelming in the fear and despair being generated by the outbreak and the opening track You Are Love sung by Janis Ian will absolutely tug at your heart strings.

While viewing a pandemic film at the height of the all too real COVID-19 pandemic is among the last things anyone would want to do, seen as another chapter in Kinji Fukusaku’s illustrious filmography Virus or Day of Resurrection is second to Tora! Tora! Tora! as the best bilingual effort of the director’s career.  Though the film sadly was heavily cut for the US marketplace, running just over an hour and a half before promptly bombing at the box office, the full original Japanese cut of the film spanning two and a half hours did eventually become available in the United States for all to see.  Fukusaku fell hard with the film but got back on top two years later with the Best Picture winning Fall Guy.

Seen now the film at times tends to meander with some concepts about living in the ‘new normal’ landing with a thud.  Taken as a whole however, Fukusaku has fashioned a daunting science-fiction horror adventure epic of survival, fear and the will to go on even after all hope seems to be lost.  Coming at this as a longtime follower of the director’s work and as a survivor still living through this ongoing pandemic, Virus is an imperfect, sprawling but ultimately striking eye opener which is one of the all time great pandemic movies as well as one of Fukusaku’s finest hours.  Most of all it joins Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion and Roger Spottiswoode’s television film And the Band Played On for chronicling what it means to be on the frontlines fighting a pandemic and a testament to man’s will to go on living despite insurmountable hardship along the way.

--Andrew Kotwicki