Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Molecular Man Terrorizes the World!

The H-Man
(Bijoto Ekitainingen, 1958)

DVD Description:
Released by Columbia Pictures; additional material: Japanese and U.S. versions, commentaries, trailers

Directed by Ishiro Honda

Starring: Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa, Hisaya Ito, Akihiko Hirata, Yoshifumi Tajima

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

At long last, Toho's 1958 foray into the more horrific side of science-fiction, The H-Man, is now available on DVD, as part of the Columbia Toho Collection package that also features Battle in Outer Space and Mothra. The story is openly based on the 1954 Lucky Dragon incident—oftentimes referred to as the third nuking of Japan—when a Japanese fishing boat strayed into waters contaminated by nuclear fallout, resulting in the crew succumbing to radiation sickness. The H-Man goes a step further, in that the radiated crew members are transformed into green, blob-like entities who prey on other humans by dissolving and consuming their bodies. Their ship drifts into Tokyo harbor and the H-men (short for "hydrogen-bomb men") escape into the city and are soon making a grim and gooshy mess of things.

Noted Toho regular actor Kenji Sahara plays Dr. Masada, an up-and-coming nuclear physicist who deduces the origin of the H-men but has a tough time selling it to skeptical police investigator Tominaga (Akihiko Hirata). Yumi Shirakawa plays nightclub singer Chikaku Arai, the girlfriend of gangster Misaki (Hisaya Ito), who the police believe is in hiding—though in reality, he has been dissolved by the H-men. Masada, understanding what has actually happened to Misaki, becomes involved with Chikaku, but she is abducted by a rival gangster who, like the police, believes she is actually hiding Misaki. At the climax, the H-men intervene in their own gruesome way; Masada rescues Chikaku; and the authorities, in their efforts to purge Tokyo of the slimy, radioactive invaders, leave a large portion of the city's harbor district enveloped in flames.

With its grim atmosphere and suspenseful plot, The H-Man succeeds as a horror thriller, while retaining plenty of the trappings of standard, 1950s-vintage science-fiction melodramas. The early scenes aboard the abandoned, radiated ocean vessel are outright creepy, and Eiji Tsuburaya's unique special effects bring the mutated humans to life in very convincing fashion. The "dissolving" scenes were accomplished via life-size balloons created to resemble the actors, which were rapidly deflated, filmed at high speed, and optically enhanced, so that when replayed at normal speed, the illusion is of a human being dissolving into an oozing blob.

Composer Masaru Sato offers an enjoyable, somewhat frenetic orchestral score, occasionally accompanied by staccato, pinging percussion that adds an unsettling mood to the visuals. In the U.S. version, the opening theme is edited to accompany an abbreviated credit sequence, but thankfully is otherwise left intact, unlike too many other Japanese imports from this period.

The prints of both the Japanese and U.S. versions of the film are very good, though the American version is edited somewhat. Stick with the Japanese to get the fullest, best viewing experience.

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