A British submarine sails into Tokyo Bay, and the crew allow the only Japanese man on board, Yoshizumi (Masao Kusakari), a last look at the city through the periscope. The captain, McCloud (Chuck Connors) sends up a probe to take video of the area, but all that is to be seen are empty streets and buildings littered with skeletal corpses. What has happened to create this calamity? Go back in time to 1981 and the beginning of the whole sorry business where, in East Germany, a scientist hands over an illegal virus that has been manufactured with germ warfare in mind to a group of shady criminals posing as the front for a Swiss scientist. However, the virus, named MM88, is released when the plane they are travelling in crashes into the Alps - it is dormant in below freezing temperatures, but this is winter time and summer is a few short months away...
Virus, or Fukkatsu No Hi as it was known in Japan, was Japanese publishing businessman Haruki Kadokawa's idea for a world-conquering science fiction epic, complete with an international cast to appeal to the broadest number of people. Alas, his plans did not work out and the film was a disaster movie in more ways than one, with the American version cut down to two thirds of the length of the two and a half hour long original - with all the Japanese bits hitting the floor - and eventually released to cable TV. It seems he had overestimated audiences' patience for watching the end of the world at extensive duration, even though the film closely resembled the Hollywood adaptation of On the Beach which had been a hit a couple of decades before, complete with submarine searching the seas and an outpost of survivors nervously awaiting their impending doom.
Maybe what they needed was Gregory Peck, but what they got was a collection of not exactly big names for 1980, with, for example, Glenn Ford as the American President, Robert Vaughn as a rival politician and a laughing Henry Silva as a General who is just itching to set off some nuclear weapons for reasons best known to himself. The killer bug, referred to as "Italian Flu" because that's where the first cases were recorded, obviously has echoes of Spanish Flu and also Stephen King's novel The Stand, but this was based on a Japanese novel by Sakyo Komatsu and adapted by Kôji Takada, Gregory Knapp and director Kinji Fukasaku. In its favour, the international flavour is well handled, with shots of and scenes in many places around the world, not just the U.S.A. and Japan, filling out the sense of a truly global catastrophe; but it's mostly the U.S.A. and Japan that we see before Antarctica becomes the main location, it must be said.
The researchers left on that continent end up as the last surviving human beings, along with the submarine crew who escaped the carnage. The virus cannot thrive there in the cold and now the eight and a half hundred men and, erm, eight women must see about continuing the human race. The writers have obviously considered the ramifications of the disaster, as along with developments like that we're told they only have enough food for two years, and the scientists carry on their search for an antidote so they can return to warmer climes. However, they apparently thought that wasn't quite exciting enough as Yoshizumi works out that an earthquake is about to hit Washington D.C. which will set off the nuclear arsenal of the U.S.A. and then all the other atomic bombs around the world as well. So the race is on to reach Washington and disable the potential chain reaction, but I'll say this for this determinedly miserable film, it doesn't do anything by halves, making the last line after all that death and devastation unintentionally funny. Music by Kentaro Haneda and Teo Macero, with a theme song by Janis Ian.