Sunday, 24 April 2011


Film: Pandemic **
Year: 2009
UK Release date: 9th May 2011
Certificate: 15
Running time: 138 mins
Director: Takahisa Zeze
Starring: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Rei Dan, Ryoko Kuninaka
Genre: Drama/Action
Format: DVD & Blu-ray
Country: Japan
Reviewer: Adam Wing

Outbreak gets a Japanese makeover in Zeze Takahisa’s crisis drama, in which a deadly virus is the key to mankind’s annihilation, infecting millions of people and threatening to destroy the lives of many more...

Tsumabuki Satoshi (Dororo) stars as a young doctor who finds himself centre stage in a fight against a highly contagious illness that begins with flu-like symptoms and ends in death. Dan Rei (Love and Honour) plays a World Health Organization officer, not to mention token love interest, who joins him in the race against time to find a cure. They used to be lovers but personal ambition drove them apart, and now they must work together in order to survive the relentless chaos that threatens to consume them.

Directed by Zeze Takahisa (Flying Rabbits), Pandemic spreads fear through the heart of an impressive supporting cast including the likes of Sato Koichi (The Magic Hour), Ikewaki Chizuru (Strawberry Shortcakes), Fuji Tatsuya (Flavour of Happiness), Kuninaka Ryoko (Train Man) and Mitsuishi Ken. It’s a large ensemble, and as a result, Pandemic struggles to find its feet early on.

Most of the characters are faceless at first, and not just because they’re wearing surgical masks either, which means that the majority of them fail to make an impact. Much of the opening act is spent in surgery - Pandemic wastes no time in cutting to the chaos - which gives Takahisa a dilemma that he struggles to surface from. Without the viewer’s investment in characterisation, any attempts at emotional blackmail are found wanting, simply because we haven’t had enough time to care about the individuals yet.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Takahisa’s picture - this being a Japanese production and all that - would be more than willing to embrace the heartbreak. Heartbreak equals sentiment, and Japanese filmmakers do love to wallow in melodrama and misery. Takahisa should be credited for reigning in the anguish, Pandemic sure has its moments but they’re not as troublesome as they could’ve been.

The only real issue you’ll find is with the weather, because the emotional downpour comes as frequently as the rain. Instead of relying on his impressive cast to do the hard work, he enlists the help of Mother Nature, bringing on the storm clouds in order to hammer his point home. It’s calculated and unnecessary, reaching for affecting but coming away with mildly amusing.

Things do improve in the second act, as the main characters find their voices and the devastation threatens to engulf an entire nation. Pandemic touches on themes of love and loss but never fully commits to either of them, skimming off the surface in order to cater for everybody. Occasionally it does hit home, but not as often as you would like, fortunately you can always rely upon children to bring about an appropriate emotion.

The love story that takes place is almost an afterthought, and isn’t helped by the director’s decision to throw in every possible weather condition known to man. Just in case the rain hasn’t convinced you of their emotional trauma, down comes the snow in a cynical attempt to turn up the turmoil. Takahisa, restrained for so long, pushes one too many buttons and Pandemic struggles to make a genuine impact.

The same can be said for the final act, which arrives on the scene half an hour too late. Takahisa really goes for the heartstrings, utilising every trick in the tearjerkers handbook, but his characters just aren’t engaging enough and Pandemic drags its heals towards an inevitable conclusion. At times it feels like you’re watching a hospital procedure documentary, especially in the opening act, and these scenes fail to affect because they're just not personal enough. That’s the biggest problem with Takahisa’s picture, if you consider the potential of the drama at hand, there’s very little pay off beyond intrigue and curiosity. Intrigue in the storyline and its ramifications, not in the characters and their eventual outcomes.

A captivating scenario and compelling themes are commendable, but Takahisa fails to deliver the goods when it comes to character development and requisite emotion. Pandemic aims high but misses the mark, outstaying its welcome much like the very outbreak it depicts.

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