Unquestionably the end-of-the-world as beget by a lethal, unstoppably infectious man-made disease cataclysmic sci-fi thriller to end 'em all, an unmitigated take-no-prisoners-and-don't-pull-any-punches corker which at the time was the single most costly (a hefty $17 million), audacious and prodigiously ambitious shoot-the-fireworks-straight-to-the-moon-and-back film production made in Japanese motion picture history, a grand scale endeavor which took two whole years and the participation of five entire continents to get made. Naturally, and somewhat ironically considering the all-star international name cast, this hell-broke-for-humanity merciless skull-popper received short shift in the United States, forgoing a theatrical run for the undeserved direct to cable and video route. To make matters worse, this two and a half hour epic was badly butchered by American distributors, who cut roughly 45 minutes out of the film.
A plane crash in the Alps gets the grimly serious plot ball rolling with an electrifying bang, unleashing the East German conceived MM-88 virus, a highly dangerous, contagious and impossible to curtail mutant DNA strain designed for chemical warfare purposes which both mimics the symptoms and exacerbates the severity of other more common and controllable sicknesses. Pretty soon all of 863 people are left of the world's once teeming, now quickly dwindling population, specifically 855 males and just eight females. It's up to this barely hanging on by a thin, flimsy, easily breakable thread bunch, who are valiantly eking out a tough, exacting, human spirit-testing existence in the freezing Artic because the virus can't take effect in 10 below chilling cold weather, to put things back together by starting afresh from the ground up. Alas, there's still a dire threat to be found from a fully operative doomsday device activated by a hawkish US general (ripely overplayed to the fire-breathing hilt by Henry Silva), which will be set off by an impending earthquake and destroy the few remnants of human life on this planet in an infernal blaze of nuclear holocaust glory unless it's shut off in time.
Director Kinji Fukasaku, who also graced us with "The Green Slime," "Message from Space," and both "Battle Royale" films, builds on the heart-crushingly grave, uncompromisingly dark and downbeat tone with terrifyingly effective results, skillfully creating and sustaining a fiercely dour, distressing and disturbing all-hope-is-lost sensibility that's equally fatalistic and nihilistic in its depressing implications on mankind's self-destructive warmonger nature and desperate desire to keep on going in the absolute worst of situations. Sundry secondary characters are randomly dispatched like so many dominoes that have been lined up just so they can be knocked down (the little boy who commits suicide over a CB radio when he can't find anyone to talk to is an especially devastating sequence), hospitals overflow with dying patients, martial law gets declared all over the world, decomposing corpses litter the streets, and the few triumphs made by the struggling against savagely punishing odds ragtag group of folks who are still alive and kicking are very bittersweet hard-won victories indeed. The performances are uniformly superlative: Glenn Ford as the stalwart, pragmatic president, Robert Vaughn as a regretful senator, Chuck Connors as a steely, intrepid British naval submarine captain, Olivia Hussey as a resilient pregnant woman, Sonny Chiba as a South Pole base commander, Bo Svenson and Masao Kusakari as a dynamic pair of mighty fighting men who go into action to prevent a second catastrophe, Cecil Linder as a diligent doctor, Edward James Olmos as a hot-tempered Latino country leader, and George Kennedy as the fatherly admiral in charge of the Artic base all essay their roles with laudable conviction. Teo Macero's gorgeously elegiac orchestral score, Daisaku Kimura's agile, crystalline cinematography (the sweeping panoramic shots of the wintry, desolate, godforsaken Artic terrain are breathtaking), and a hauntingly bummed-out ending further enhance this hard-hitting knockout.