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Old 10-05-2009, 05:29 PM
Closet SCREAM fan
 
Scored: 4
Views: 6,500
Last Days of Planet Earth (VHS)





Reviewer: Jeremy
Review Date: October 5, 2009

Released by: Paramount Home Video
Release date: 6/27/1995
MSRP: OOP
NTSC
Interlaced
Full-Frame 1.33:1
1974


inline ImageIn the 1500’s, nearly five hundred years ago, an extraordinary man of unique perception set forth in this book a lengthy series of prophecies, which became famous as the true prophecies of Nostradamus. Nostradamus predicted that during the twentieth century the world would experience the crooked cross of Adolf Hitler – and it came to pass. He predicted World War II – and it came to pass. Nostradamus predicted the rise of Red Russia, the emergence of Red China as a world power with nearly a billion people. He predicted the end of the British Empire, and it all came to pass. He also predicted THE LAST DAYS OF PLANET EARTH!

The Story

inline ImageWe open in Japan sometime in the near future, as scientist Dr. Ryougen Nishiyama (Tetsurô Tanba) laments over the development of a new type of fertilizer which is being touted as a solution to the world hunger crisis. The fertilizer produces remarkable growth in crops, but will also cause cancer for those who continually ingest it. But of course, this isn’t Dr. Nishiyama’s only concern about health and ecology – he spends much time haranguing local and national Japanese authorities about pollution, overpopulation and ecological destruction. One day, as police interrogate him about flying an airplane low over a factory – an attempt on his part to document the pollution coming out of it – he is visited by his daughter Mariko (Kaoru Yumi) and her boyfriend Akira (Toshio Kurosawa), a photojournalist who has just returned from a trip to Africa. No sooner do Mariko and Akira arrive when one of Nishiyama’s assistants tells him that some strange creatures – giant slugs, in fact – have been discovered nearby. They rush to the scene to find soldiers destroying the creatures with flame throwers. Despite Nishiyama’s plea to the commanding officer he refuses to capture one of the slugs so that they can find out what made them grow to that size.

inline ImageAnd from there the phenomena start getting stranger and stranger as radioactive clouds descend on New Guinea. A United Nations research team is dispatched into the jungles on the island and disappears without a trace. Nishiyama and Akira join a second search party which discovers mutated bats, giant leeches and natives driven mad by radioactive contamination. Back in Japan massive mutated plants grow in subways and the sky above Tokyo reflects the ground below because of pollution. Mariko learns that she is going to have Akira’s baby and, returning from New Guinea, Nishiyama realizes that his own wife Nobuo (Yôko Tsukasa) is dying from a disease caused by the pollution. The Japanese prime minister (Sô Yamamura) leads the government in instituting mandatory food rationing, causing civil unrest. But events are quickly getting beyond the ability of anyone to control. Will mankind change its ways fast, or will humanity ultimately be destroyed in an inferno of pollution, overpopulation and nuclear war?

inline ImageLike many Japanese horror and sci-fi films, The Last Days of Planet Earth has fared poorly with established critics in America. Unlike many Japanese horror and sci-fi films, it has also fared poorly with common viewers and fans in general. The reasons for this are fairly simple, and much of it has to do with the fact that this Americanized version of the film is what they have all been watching. Called Nosutoradamusu no Daiyogen (or, as it translates into English, Prophecies of Nostradamus) upon its initial release in Japan in 1974, The Last Days of Planet Earth is a Toho science fiction production that, in spite of many bizarre and outlandish scenes, still seems strangely grounded in reality when compared to the studio’s flagship Godzilla series.

The film went unreleased in America until the early 1980’s, when Henry G. Saperstein’s United Productions of America (UPA) picked it up for television distribution. UPA was never shy about editing the films it got from Toho, but Prophecies of Nostradamus got it worse than any of the others. The original Japanese version is reported to have run a whopping 114 minutes. This version runs a scant 88 minutes. Even worse, this release seems to have been literally taken from a TV master, as it is full of awkward fade-ins and fade-outs where the commercials would have gone.

inline ImageWatching The Last Days of Planet Earth again for the first time in many years, I was struck by a feeling of total despair about the world we live in, a feeling that I can only describe as paralyzing in it’s very hopelessness. Here was a movie, made in 1974, that despite its tackiness and sensationalism is an eerie predictor of the current state of the world and its possible future. I had watched this same VHS tape several times as a pre-teen and young adolescent in the 1990’s, but it was only now as an adult in 2009 that these things were sinking in.

inline ImageThe film has a serious, somber tone to it that cannot be covered up by the cropping, cutting and atrocious dubbing that the original Japanese version had to endure for this long out of print release to become possible. But it is a tone that is compromised by the sensational aspects that were present even in the original Japanese cut, presumably as an attempt to make the film more commercial. Perhaps the most questionable of these is the idea of Nostradamus and his prophecies, which introduces an unsolvable dilemma that the film never touches upon. My dictionary defines a “prophecy” as “the foretelling or prediction of what is to come”. If a prophecy is accurate, then it simply will come true. If Nostradamus really was a true seer (as the narration on this version explicitly says) and he predicted the end of the world, then we are all simply doomed. The pleas and cries of Dr. Nishiyama are therefore no longer earnest attempts to help the world, but rather, futile efforts against a pre-ordained fate.

inline ImageOf course, the prophecies of Nostradamus, which have been reprinted continuously for centuries, are open to plenty of debate as to their true predictive power. Many of his texts have been misinterpreted, mistranslated or worse, adding to the confusion. This is not the place to debate Nostradamus’ abilities as a seer, although he seems to have had some ability to predict general trends in world history. This is a difficult thing to do, but by no means does it require the supernatural abilities that some have imbued him with. In either case, The Last Days of Planet Earth works much better if a viewer tunes out the narrative junk about Nostradamus and focuses on the film’s depiction of a collapsing world. And here there are some prophecies that have come true, as some of the film’s dire predictions have indeed “come to pass”, as the narrator likes to say. No, there may not be any giant slugs or giant mutated bats flying around (yet), but the screenwriters accurately predicted the dilemma that would come from using technology to solve problems created by other technology.

inline ImageIn the world today we have enormous problems related to energy and its consumption. The nations of this planet use huge amounts of it, the bulk of it coming from fossil sources like coal and oil. But those pollute, contribute to global warming (a disaster not predicted by the film) and exist only in finite quantities. Also, in the case of oil, the fact that the majority of it exists in politically unstable parts of the world leads certain nations to militarize their energy policy. So technological solutions are proposed. Hydrogen fuel cells look promising, but it takes an enormous amount of energy to create such fuel, which, for the moment at least, makes hydrogen look like an unlikely solution to the energy crisis. Or there’s biofuels made from corn. But corn takes significant amounts of energy to grow, and agricultural land turned over to production of ethanol can no longer be used to produce food. In 2008 there were food riots over high prices in many developing countries, high prices that were partially caused by loss of agricultural land to biofuels. It is these types of unintended consequences that Dr. Nishiyama is talking about when, in a meeting with government officials, he warns them that their technological solutions to the crisis could be causing new problems that have yet to show themselves.

inline ImageShort of the all-out nuclear war shown at the end of the film, it’s unlikely that humanity can truly and completely destroy itself. But what is ironic though is that The Last Days of Planet Earth puts so much emphasis on overpopulation as a cause of global catastrophe, when today whole cultures and nations are slowly choosing to go extinct by failure to reproduce. Although world population is still growing and there are still plenty of nations with high birthrates, many developed nations have seen their birthrates drop below the point where they can maintain a stable population. Canada, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Britain and many others are slipping into demographic oblivion. One of the most highly affected is Japan itself, with a birthrate of just 1.27 children per woman. Japan is facing an end to its society that will not be anywhere near as dramatic or as sudden as predicted in the film. Such an end will not mean that the Japanese home islands will go uninhabited and it will not necessarily even mean an end to the Japanese state. But it will be the end of the Japanese as a culture.

inline ImageThe Last Days of Planet Earth is sadly unavailable on DVD in any form, even in its native Japan, where it never even had a VHS release. Cultural sensitivities with regards to several sequences have kept it off home video in its native country, sensitivities that will probably persist as long as there is a Japanese culture to take offense. The sequences in question depict the effects of radiation on human beings. The most notorious example is near the end, when two mutant children – examples of the remnants of humanity that have survived the nuclear apocalypse – fight each other over who gets to eat a worm crawling around on the ground. For Americans, a scene like this means nothing. The idea of depicting atomic war survivors as mutant barbarians dates back to 1950 with Rocketship XM. Even Western viewers who have not seen movies depicting the idea have probably encountered it parodied somewhere in pop culture. But for Japan, the only country to actually be a victim of nuclear war, and a country where nuclear bomb survivors still live, a scene such as this touches a deeply raw nerve.

Because of Henry Saperstein’s unique business relationship with Toho, UPA retained permanent North American ownership of the films it distributed, including this one. When Classic Media took over ownership of the UPA catalog after Saperstein’s death they got the rights to this film and even announced it for a DVD release at one point. Sadly, that release did not materialize and Classic Media chose to return the rights to most of its non-Godzilla Tohos to the company. Sources with contacts at Toho have posted information on some online forums that The Last Days of Planet Earth is still available for international licensing (unlike the Japanese version of Half Human, which for similar matters of political correctness seems like it will be permanently suppressed), but with the current state of the DVD market can we have any hope that someone will decide to do a release?

Image Quality

inline ImageEach successive leap in home video technology has raised the bar higher for what we expect from a new release. This being a VHS tape, the bar is much, much lower than a Blu-Ray or even a regular DVD. That being said, The Last Days of Planet Earth cannot even reach the painfully low bar that VHS established thanks to the fact that it is recorded in the inferior EP/SLP format. This tape was released at a time when Paramount Home Video was slumming with their catalog titles. Before the UPA catalog found a permanent home with Classic Media, Henry Saperstein had a distribution deal with Paramount that resulted in most of his Toho titles getting video releases. During the early days of this deal UPA/Toho titles like Godzilla vs. Mothra were available on Paramount VHS in the superior SP format, but by the mid-90’s they had all been reissued in cheaper EP/SLP versions (the same thing was done to the Friday the 13th films). This is the only VHS release that the title has ever received in the United States.

inline Image(For those who are legitimately too young to remember, VHS tapes could play at three different speeds. SP was the best, LP was okay and EP, also known as SLP, was the worst. EP/SLP was the slowest, and thus the cheapest because you needed less tape and could use inexpensive cassettes. But more audio/visual information had to be recorded onto each inch of tape, sacrificing the quality. I suppose you could consider this the analog equivalent of putting too much data on a DVD and losing quality because of compression.)

The full-frame 1.33:1 transfer is cropped from the film’s original 2.35:1 Tohoscope aspect ratio, and badly at that. There is no attempt at panning and scanning, it’s just cropped. Colors have a muted look that could be just as much a result of an intentionally subdued color palette as the limitations of the format. Print damage is minimal, although the film does rely on a fair amount of rough looking stock footage of natural disasters and military hardware. It’s not an unwatchable presentation, especially if you are still watching your films on a standard definition TV, but still, it fails to meet even the full potential of the lowly VHS medium.

Sound

The dubbed dialogue is presented in Dolby 2.0 Mono. Adequate is the best way to describe the audio on this release. There’s some minor hissing and popping, but at least I can understand everything that’s said by the voice actors.

English closed captions are included.

Supplemental Material

No extras on this tape. The older SP releases of the UPA catalog had trailers at the end of them for other titles, but here there’s nothing.

Final Thoughts

Even in its bastardized form, The Last Days of Planet Earth is still of interest and still retains some power to shock or amaze viewers. I have not seen the original Japanese Prophecies of Nostradamus and cannot speak for its quality. It does not seem likely that the original is a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but surely it must at least be better than this American version. Unfortunately most of us will never know unless someone actually licenses the damn thing for a real release, as this VHS tape is inferior even by VHS standards, and the preponderance of cheap EP/SLP releases was one of the many reasons why the advent of DVD was cheered. This tape is for Toho completists only.

Rating

.
Movie – C

Image Quality – C-

Sound – C

Supplements – N/A




Technical Info.
  • Running Time – 1 hour 28 minutes
  • Color
  • Not Rated
  • 1 Tape
  • English 2.0 Mono
  • English captions

Supplements
  • No supplements

Other Pictures

 


Last edited by Jeremy; 10-05-2009 at 07:45 PM..
 

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Old 10-05-2009, 10:50 PM
HackMaster
VHS review? Awesome! Keep 'em coming.
 
 
Old 10-05-2009, 10:55 PM
HackMaster
If you are doing VHS, review "The Killing of Satan" - best movie ever.
 
 
Old 10-06-2009, 03:43 PM
They stay the same age...
I have a friend who hooked me up with The Killing of Satan and he praises it to all hell. I was supposed to check it out, but never did. The pictures he showed me blew my fucking mind, though.
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Old 10-08-2009, 08:19 AM
HackMaster
I remember seeing LAST DAYS on latenight TV in the 80's,might even gave it on VHS tucked away in a box somewhere.Odd one.
 
 

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