I suppose saying that the timing of this film was fortuitous would be the same as congratulating a fellow on having his wife die while the funeral home was having a 50% off sale. But certainly watching this film in Bangkok a few days after a number of new cases of H1N1 were reported here and while much of the world treads softly in hopes that the flu breakout has been put on hold gave it a certain timely edge. And as in the real flu breakout, this film shows that in this high flying borderless global traffic jam, there is no place so remote that it can’t affect the entire world. Coming from Japan is particularly pungent with much of the population hiding under surgical face masks with the news of the flu striking many schools. The film was actually released in January in Japan before this latest scare but is now apparently being picked up around the world due perhaps to its prescient nature. Produced by TBS and distributed by Toho, it was a box office hit.
In the small city of Izumino, a man checks into a hospital where the young doctor Matsuoka (Tsumabuki Satoshi) diagnoses his illness as the common flu. A few days later the patient is back with blood gushing out of his nose and through his eyes and after some violent convulsions he quickly dies (though not before spitting blood on a few others). This contagious disease begins to spread around the town and the hospital is soon inundated with patients. Initially, the authorities suspect that it is a derivative of avian flu but the bodies are quickly piling up and the known treatments are ineffective. WHO sends an expert to combat the crisis, Eiko (Dan Rei), who coincidentally has a star crossed romantic history with Matsuoka. Her mission is to isolate the virus, find out where it came from and learn how to kill it. But it spreads at a terrifying speed and soon millions are affected and the fabric of Japanese society begins to collapse. Japan is quarantined by the rest of the world which is problematic of course since the whole point of the film is that diseases like this spread too quickly to be contained easily.
The film has many of the same characteristics as many of the movie soap dramas that Japan revels in – flat shooting style, a cutie actor who looks like he just got out of high school, loads of tiny mini dramas and tragedies interspersed throughout, way too many scenes shot in the rain and an acting style that shouted out “TV drama”. Kind of like Bayside Shakedown set in a hospital. But as with many in this film genre, it is fairly effective in hitting some emotional moments and it surprises the viewer with some unexpected demises that do indeed hurt. After watching the film I tried holding my breath all the way home on the Skytrain. I didn’t quite make it, but fortunately I was wearing some very loose boxer shorts and was able to reach down and pull them up over my face for the remainder of the ride.
Viewed at the Lido Theater in lovely downtown Bangkok.