An unusual Japanese virus is incubating in the tiny town of Kleinburg, Ontario, but this one isn’t a variation of the Hong Kong flu and it won’t leave anyone sniffling. This Virus is a $15-million Japanese feature film that is going to give the Canadian film industry a booster shot of $4.25 million. A few million dollars might not seem all that impressive in a country that played host to a slew of feature films last year and saw production hit the $150-million mark. Certainly there were (and are) higher budgeted pictures filming on Canadian soil—many of them hiding under maple leaves just long enough to receive tax incentives and government funding to pay for high-priced expatriate stars and directors who pick up budget chunks and run back home. When the Japanese take Virus away in April, all of the $4.25 million spent on Canadian cast, crew, studios and support facilities will stay in Canada.
Which is a notion that fills all those profiting from the reflected light of the great Canadian film boom with glee. “As an outside production* this film is unique,” says Brian Villeneuve, an Ontario ministry of industry and tourism film consultant who served as an early liaison with the film community last September when the Japanese arrived
zto scout locations. “It’s the first Japanese feature to be shot in Canada and it’s not a Canadian co-production. It’s all Japanese money.” The fact that Virus decided to shoot here proves that Canada has taken the myth of Hollywood North and pushed it one step further, not only receptive to local projects but with arms open to all comers. While Canadian production facilities are as sophisticated as those found anywhere in the world, production costs are significantly lower. (Studio rentals, for example, are 40-per-cent cheaper than Hollywood’s.) Another big “only in Canada” plus for producers is the choice of unions representing film production technicians. Because Virus’ producer, Haruki Kadokawa, is putting up most of the $15 million himself, he was determined to shoot the film his way—with a familiar first-unit crew that is entirely Japanese. When the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) was asked to provide 20 or more Canadian crew members to round out production, the Japanese were told “no go” unless they were prepared to hire one-on-one (one Canadian crew member for each Japanese). If Kadokawa had been filming in the United States he would have been forced to comply— IATSE is the only film production union in the United States. Canada’s alternative—the Association of Canadian Film Craftspeople, which broke IATSE’s stranglehold on the industry some 18 months ago—promptly provided most of Virus’ Canadian crew.
With that problem solved, Kadokawa went on to hire a Canadian cast of more than 50 actors. As well as employing a healthy number of people in the five months it has been here, Virus has provided a valuable lesson in East-West relations. Director Kinji Fukasaku (Tora, Tora, Tora) speaks no English. Most
of the actors, including the “stars” (big Bo Svenson, ex-Rifleman Chuck Connors, who - remembers - how - many -Airports George Kennedy and B-movie king Glenn Ford), speak little Japanese-even though television has installed them like household fixtures in Japan. Translators abound. And while the language barrier continues to be a problem that slows production considerably, Virus had another problem that nearly halted it forever—the striving for authenticity.
Virus is an On the Beach derivative that follows the progress of a supergerm as it kills off the world’s population leaving its cities intact (a submarine crew discovers Tokyo empty in this one). The catch with the germ is that it can’t flourish in very cold climates— ergo, for the first time in history, a feature film crew shooting on the frozen continent of Antarctica. Authenticity in a disaster film can be dangerous. Kadokawa originally planned to transport cast and crew to the land of ice floes and penguins for three weeks of filming last November. Getting there wasn’t easy. He tried to reserve enough space on a sightseeing DC-10 but, fortunately for the film crew, the flight was booked. On Nov. 28, while circling Antarctica, it crashed into the side of a volcano killing all 257 aboard. Undaunted by that brush with death and still determined to shoot in Antarctica, Kadokawa paid $320,000 to rent a Swedish cruise ship, The Lindblad Explorer. Everything was going as nicely as could be expected in sub-zero weather until the day before Christmas when the ship’s captain plotted a location shortcut of 2Vz nautical miles through the Gerlache Strait. His charts showed a depth of 216 feet but his charts were wrong. At noon the ship slammed into a reef knocking holes in its hull, and there it sat like a great beached whale until help arrived 17 hours later. The disaster cost Kadokawa $500,000 in lost shooting time. “We’ve been in a shipwreck but everybody is alive,” he shrugged. “Had we been on that plane, we’d all be dead.”
Some 2Vz months later the disaster film that could have been a disaster is finishing production safely ensconced in Kleinburg, without even much of the usual Canadian snow and ice (let alone icebergs) to contend with. When the film is released in June, it will have a number of “firsts” and “mosts” attached to it: the most financially ambitious film project ever to come out of Japan; the first feature film shot in Antarctica; the first Japanese film shot in Canada. And the first fable of survival to actually have survivors: for its Japanese premiere Kadokawa plans to call his movie Resurrection Day. Barbara Matthews, with files from Alan Markfield
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