Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Prophecies of Nostradamus (aka Catastrophe 1999) (aka The Last Days of Planet Earth)

                                                Director: Toshio Masuda
                         Starring: Tetsuo Tanba, Toshio Kurosawa, Kaoru Yumi

It must have seemed like a great idea at the time for Toho. They were riding the (figurative) wave  of "Submersion of Japan", one of the biggest box office hits in the studio's history. Released in 1974 during the height of America's disaster movie cycle (Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno), it was a frighteningly believable epic which took the country by storm and launched the (far less successful) Television series "Japan Sinks".

Looking for a followup, the studio brass took note of a #1 best selling book by Ben Goto based on the prophecies of Nostradamus. This they decided, would be the perfect vehicle for their next blockbuster disaster epic. It was, and then some...

In what can only be described as one of the most purely freakish and outre films ever made, this movie showed in no uncertain terms how Nostradamus' predictions about the end of the world will happen; step by jaw dropping step. We witness such sights as giant snails in the backyard, wild plants in the subways, LSD freakouts, suicidal biker gangs, radioactive cannibals, snowstorms in Egypt and (in what has to be one of the most nightmarish images in the history of the movies) a giant hole in the ozone that when mixed with enormous pollution problems, causes the sky to act as a giant upside down mirror reflection.

At the center of it all is the great actor Tetsuro Tanba, playing a descendant of a 17th century man condemned for preaching the words of Nostradamus. His performance is about as "subtle" as anything else in this movie.

The film did indeed become a huge hit in Japan. That is, until a No Nukes group bitched and moaned about the treatment of survivors of radiation as subhuman monsters. This happens twice in the film. First in the New Guinea sequence where a tribe of aborigines are depicted as monstrous cannibals. The second sequence near the end of the film, shows the aftermath of global annihilation in the form of two mutant "monster" children fighting over who gets to eat a snake. After editing these two sequences out, Toho decided to place the film in it's vault out of fear of greater backlash. Oops!

There are actually three major edits of the film. The full length 114 min. print (Prophecies of Nostradamus), an 88 min. edit that was dubbed and sent to Hong Kong and other oversees regions (Catastrophe 1999) and further edit released in America under the title The Last Days of Planet Earth. This version (which until recently was the one most often viewed) is a terribly edited, horribly pan and scanned deal. Needless to say, either of the first two versions is preferable.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the fantastic score by Isao Tomita, considered one of the great ones ever composed for any Japanese Kaiju film.

The Prophecies of Nostradamus is an incredible, one of a kind movie experience. You may not like it (I loved it, personally), but you will not soon forget it.

                                                    **** / ****

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