Prophecies of Nostradamus (1974)
Alexander Smith
August 20, 2012
Note: review may contain spoilers

End of the world films have always piqued a morbid interest in me. Toshio Masuda's 1974 disaster flick Prophesies of Nostradamus is no different. “Storyboarding” every single event that happens in the film with a prophesy from Nostradamus, this film is a warning to humanity. Masuda is one of my favorite directors ever, and his movies always have a majorly artistic flair to them.

Throughout the Nishiyama clan's history, dating back to the Meiji era, the family has held a secret that may be the key to knowing history, a great book of prophesies from Nostradamus. It is now 1999, and the world is experiencing massive change once again, with food supplies dwindling and growing unrest. Dr. Ryougou Nishiyama, the latest successor to the clan, is working out ways to save the populace of Japan and the world. But can he do it before things foretold in the prophesies such as nuclear war, cannibalism, mass insanity, riots, drugs, and other threats to society end up being it's undoing? And will his family survive with all the horrid things such as birth defects and cancer going up?

The plotting is laid out well, as everything that goes on is storyboarded by reading of the prophesies by veteran actress Kyoko Kishida, cousin of Shin Kishida, whose voice feels extremely ghostly and haunting. Many of the events are also shown using actually newsreel footage to up the feeling of dread. Furtrhermore, there's also some stock footage from one of assistant director Yoshimitsu Banno's non-Toho films, Cruel Famine Continent, used to portray the famines in Africa. The plotting shows the Nishiyama family throughout the generations, from Meiji era to World War II to the “present day”, as well as showing how his family changes with the rapid events in 1999. This is a very well laid out film.

The acting is top notch, Tetsuro Tamba as Dr. Nishiyama is standout due to his histrionic acting in the face of terrible events. One of the film's most powerful moments is between him and his wife, played by veteran Toho actress Yoko Tsukasa, who sadly barely appears in the film. Tamba's Nishiyama is clearly troubled by the fact no one will listen to him. His tearful acting in many scenes such as the infamous New Guinea sequence is amazing. The other leads are top notch too, the gorgeous Kaoru Yumi as Nishiyama's daughter, whose beauty shines throughout the film, and one of the best sequences in the film is when she “teases” Toshio Kurosawa's character with the fact they'll be having a baby soon, gracefully dancing and very happy. Speaking of Kurosawa, he is the least defined character in the film, perhaps he’s supposed to be an audience surrogate to what’s going on, as he asks Nishiyama for explanations through out. His romance with Yumi’s character is nicely done, but he himself seems to serve little more than as a slightly blank slate for the viewer to possibly project themself on.

Now what many people came for, the great effects by Teruyoshi Nakano. Nakano is uneven, but I feel he deserves much more praise, as some of the stuff done in this film, such as the infamous softbodied humans that freaked out the censors, could easily rival what Hollywood did well into the eighties.

There's some not-so good creature effects, such as the rather flimsy flying bats that are suspended clearly by strings, but the destruction sequences are amazingly filmed. This especially includes Nakano's remake of his teacher's (Eiji Tsuburaya) best work from The Last War (1961), with nuclear missiles being launched from everywhere, mushroom clouds enveloping Earth’s once blue skies, and the silos themselves being annihilated (although the film still borrows plenty of stock footage of the city destruction from the 1961 movie to complete this sequence). Nakano is a master of pyrotechnical effects, reportedly setting an entire soundstage on fire in the making of the movie, and he also takes great care with water, flooding miniature sets with extremely realistic results. The result is a body of effects for the film that are mostly good.

For the music, Isao Tomita composes a FANTASTIC score, mixing synthesizer with classic orchestral work for a score that punctuates the film perfectly. The main title theme is chilling as it is bizarre, and the Love Theme is beautiful and calming, resonating with the message Masuda was trying to send perfectly. Heavy choral and synthesizer work back most of the disasters that devastate the world. Tomita's score is pitch perfect, bravo.

Overall, the film makes you think, in this modern world where “The Age of Reason” is at its peak, wouldn't it still be wise to keep in mind the things people said/did in past generations and mythologies? The film has an excellent warning to never forget history or the writings of the past. If you can track down a copy (this film is self-banned by Toho in its native Japan due to drawing complaints from hibakusha groups) I recommend wholeheartedly you see it.