Friday, 6 June 2014

The H-Man (1958)

Made by Toho Studio in 1958, The H-Man is something of an oddity among Japanese monster movies. There’s a strong hint of film noir to it and it’s clearly aimed at a more adult audience than usual. Or rather it seems at times to be unsure exactly what kind of movie it wants to be.

It starts with a drug deal gone wrong. One of the dope peddlers is killed. That isn’t unusual in itself but what is unusual is that this criminal has disappeared completely leaving only his clothes behind. The police are acting on the assumption that for some bizarre reason hoodlum has fled from the scene naked. That doesn’t make any sense but there seems to be no other explanation. Until a young scientist named Dr Masada turn up at police headquarters with an alternative theory - that the mobster was the victim of a liquid monster unleashed by H-bomb testing in the Pacific. The police dismiss Dr Masada’s theory as the ravings of a madman.

Dr Masada bases his theory on the strange story told by a group of fisherman. They had discovered a freighter apparently abandoned by its crew. When they boarded the freighter to investigate two of the fishermen were liquified by a green slime monster. The surviving fishermen have severe radiation sickness.

The monster initially takes the form of liquid slime but then coalesces into a green monster man.

The girlfriend of the liquified mobster is night-club singer Chikako Arai (Yumi Shirakawa). She now has other gangsters pursuing her (they think her boyfriend double-crossed them) plus she has the police keeping tabs on her and also Dr Masada. Dr Masada’s interest in her seems to be a bit more than just professional. When a mobster trying to attack her gets slimed the scientist thinks he has enough evidence to convince the police but they remain sceptical until he demonstrates the radioactivity creating slime monster thing in his laboratory using a couple of unfortunate frogs.

It all leads up to a rather exciting climax in the sewers of Tokyo, with a gangster holding Chikako hostage while being pursued by the H-Man (as the slime monster man has become known).

There are some obvious similarities to The Blob. As always in Japanese movies the anti-nuclear message is far from subtle. The movie also suffers a little from trying to be both a yakuza movie and a monster movie.

Ishirô Honda directed many of the classic Japanese monster movies. This is a much darker movie than one expects from this genre and he manages the film noirish atmosphere quite well. The night-club scenes are done well although Yumi Shirakawa’s musical numbers are rather clumsily dubbed into English in the Japanese version.

The acting is perfectly adequate by monster movie standards.

The special effects are a mixed bag, some being extremely effective and genuinely chilling and some being rather less successful. The best scenes involve the slime creeping around the abandoned freighter and later on slithering through the sewers. The H-Man himself is less effective.

It’s an interesting movie insofar as it avoids the usual clichés of Tokyo getting stomped and cute but annoying children.

The H-Man is one of three movies in the Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection. The DVD includes both the English dubbed version (which is slightly cut) and the Japanese version (which is uncut). It’s a reasonable anamorphic transfer which has the major plus of allowing viewers to see the movie in its correct Tohoscope aspect ratio.

The H-Man is not a complete success but it’s unusual enough in its blending of monster movie an film noir elements to make it worth seeing. Recommended.

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