Pandemic (Cert 15)

1 Disc (Distributor: MVM Entertainment) Running time: 138 minutes approx.

In a Tokyo hospital, a young man diagnosed with a simple cold by ER doctor Tsuyoshi Matsuoka (Satoshi Tsumabuki) dies after suffering severe convulsions and coughing up blood. When similar cases begin to appear at the hospital it becomes apparent something far more dangerous is infecting the people of Tokyo.

Initial suspicions point to Bird Flu, following on from a recent outbreak in the Philippines, leading to the appointment of World Health Organisation (WHO) doctor Eiko Kobayashi (Rei Dan), who lead the team that quashed the disease in the Philippines. As the virus spreads across Japan and panic sets in, tests shows that this is not Bird Flu but something far deadlier with the potential to wipe out the entire population of Japan – of which they have no knowledge of its origins or how to treat it.

With the various infections and epidemics doing the rounds over the past decade – SARS, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, Bieber Fever – it was inevitable that the movie industry would catch up with scare mongering dramatisations sooner or later and here is Japan’s contribution – although the timing of this UK release is somewhat unfortunate in light of the recent disaster out there.

The original Japanese title Kansen Retto translates literally to “Infected Islands” which, while less eye catching and dramatic as Pandemic, becomes obvious as the film progresses. The opening recalls a Bird Flu epidemic in the Philippines with handy visual demonstrations of how easy it is to pass on a virus as adroit showers of CGI germs scatter across the screen via a hearty cough or sneeze from infected Philippine boatmen transport their livestock to destination unknown.

As we learn later that destination was Japan and once the virus spreads, local farmer Shosuke Kamimura (Ken Mitsuishi) and his daughter Akane (Natsuo) face the wrath of his paranoid neighbourhood folk for spreading the disease via his chickens. Unfortunately it is on the same day Shosuke hangs himself the news arrives that this mystery virus is not Bird Flu at all. Whoops.

Thus we have a two and quarter hour race against time to discover the source and nature of the virus, give it a name – the media choose “BLAME”, complete with a western newspaper headline apparently declaring it to be a “Satanic Disease” – and find a cure. One patient Asami Manabe (Chizuru Ikewaki) may provide the solution since her doctor father recently returned from a small Asian island with a dodgy cough.

Meanwhile Japan crumbles and society goes into meltdown with deserted streets resembling war torn dystopias as a result as the hospitals are overloaded with the sick. This aspect of the drama is hammered home with some unsettling scenes which see the doctors being forced to prioritise their treatment to those with the best chance of survival. And this virus doesn’t discriminate – even some of the hospital staff fall victim to it as well.

Through all of this there is still room for a romantic subplot as, rather predictably, handsome young Dr. Matsuoka was the toyboy lover of Kobayashi before an acrimonious split, and unresolved feelings resurface. To be fair this doesn’t interfere with the main plotline since the lives of the entire nation at the mercy of a relentless infection.

This isn’t Hollywood, you know, and thankfully this only comes into play for an emotional, if somewhat schmaltzy denouement. Despite a failry broad cast of characters these two are the only ones afford some form of development and attention; the rest are either hospital staff making up the numbers or victims with of the disease, some with a minor purpose to the plot.

Even when films of this nature are based on genuine events there is always going to be strong elements of dramatic license present. Pandemic is no exception as explained above but the medical and scientific aspects of the script appear to have been well researched, with the hospital procedures executed and presented with much authenticity.

Perhaps if the hospital staff weren’t largely made up of impossibly attractive people things may appear more convincing but this is the movies and not real life – a rather ironic statement to make considering the message implied here is just how devastating a virus like BLAME could be an entire nation especially one so ill-prepared to tackle it. Could it happen in real life? Who knows? But the makes of this film are damned sure to scare the bejesus out of you to make you think about it.

Pandemic hits hard with its messages and concerns but feels more like an American made for TV movie and a very long one at that, which lessens the impact of its intent. Its glossy production, good looking cast and occasional tacky sentiments (like the snow magically falling on the night of a breakthrough) prevent this from leaving a lasting impression, instead relegating it to a Sunday afternoon flick that may not see the inside of the DVD player again for a long time after if ever.

Good for what it is but unlikely to cause any widespread contamination to DVD collections outside of keen Asian film fans.





Ratings – *** 

Man In Black