(aka: The Prophecies of Nostradamus; Catastrophe 1999: The Prophecies of Nostradamus; The Last Days of Planet Earth)
This is one of the best known completely unavailable films around. It is also one of the strangest in Toho Studios’ long history.
Years ago, when AMC ran it along with the first US “release” of the Heisei era Godzilla movies at some ridiculous hour in the middle of the night, I ignored what sounded like a routine documentary about Nostradamus, even though it would have been easier to tape it along with the others I wanted to see. However, when I accidentally caught the last few minutes of the film with its atomic mutants I knew I’d missed something truly bizarre and was quite frustrated that they never showed it again.
Mind you, I’m surprised that they showed it at all, as Toho has pretty much kept it safely locked up in the attic along with the crazy aunt. Apparently they were afraid that the mutant sequence would be offensive to the real life survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I don’t know, they might have a point, but the rest of the film is so absurd that it’s hard to think anyone would ever take it that seriously.
For the most part, I should note that there is an awful lot of talk in this film. More than you can possibly imagine. Nor has that talk held up very well: while we’re still concerned about pollution and ecological damage, it no longer stirs up quite as much fear as it did back in the 70s. The dire predictions of the age, such as we see here, never came true, our rivers didn’t turn into rivers of excrement as Paul Ehrlich predicted would happen within a decade, and in fact, thanks to concerned citizens, public pressure, lawsuits and new technologies, our air and water are cleaner now than they were then.
Nor does the film always make sense on its own terms. We start with the outcast Samurai and his daughter, who is thought crazy because of his belief in the prophecies of Nostradamus, and whose warnings about the coming of the Westerners “black ships” are ignored. Where, exactly, he got a copy of the book – and in Japanese translation – before the “black ships” arrived is, of course, never explained. But we are told that his family passes down Nostrdamus’s warnings from generation to generation.
It’s like some sort of goofy religion. Which, admittedly, is how some of Nostradamus’ followers do seem to treat his occult revelations.
Still, none of this matters as it gives us plenty of room for giant slugs, mutant bats, foot-long leeches, and a biker gang riding off a cliff one by one in dramatic slow motion. Admittedly, it does cop out at the end with one of the all time classic cheating endings, but it still manages to be just absurd enough to be entertaining, no matter how heavy handed its preaching gets.
Which is “very”.
Oh, well, you never know. Maybe some day Toho will relent and there will be an official DVD release.
I just wonder if it’ll have all five versions, like the bootlegs?