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Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Secret of the Telegian

Once deemed a "lost" member of Toho's "mutant" series, Denso Ningen ("Transmitted Man"), the film actually just fell victim to economics. The American distributor, Herts-Lion International, on financial hard times, did not issue it for theatrical release.(Hence the Japanese poster) Instead, dubbed into english and retitled as The Secret of the Telegian (SoT) went straight to the television market in the mid-60s -- often in black and white prints, cropped to 3:4 ratio. Even in that, it was not very widely distributed. SoT is a weaker member of the "mutant" series, and while told as a crime drama, is more sci-fi than others.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A man enters a carnival "Cave of Horrors" with several other visitors. He is confronted by someone, who stabs him with a bayonet. Detectives find few clues. A science reporter, school mate of detective Kobayahi, finds an electronics part in the cave. A professor tells him it is part of a cryotron -- a sort of super-transistor which needs cold temps to work. The killer sends military ID tags to his next victims, who are a band of shifty gangster types. The slowly revealed back story is that they all killed (or thought they had) a fellow soldier at the end of WWII to cover up their theft of government gold. Sudo did not die, however, and is out for revenge. Another slowly revealed back story is that the soldiers also killed (or so they thought) a scientist named Dr. Nikki who was working on a matter transmitter. Both Sudo and Nikki survived, somehow. 14 years later, Nikki has working transmitter machines. Sudo is using them to get revenge. Detective Kobayashi and reporter Kirioka slowly figure out what's going on. They trace Sudo to a desolate farm, but can prove nothing. The police find Nikki there, and his machines, but still no proof. Sudo disappears. Meanwhile, one of the gangsers, Taki, is killed while in police protection. The gangster leader, Onishi, hides in a remote coastal village, but Sudo somehow knew he would and has a transmitter machine delivered there. Sudo appears and stabs Onishi with a bayonet. The police give chase. Sudo makes it to his hidden transmitter and starts the process. However, back at the ranch, a nearby volcano erupts. The tremors damage the house, shutting down the receiver. Sudo dissolves (amid moans of agony) into oblivion. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
SoT is well paced and has many nice visuals. It is fun to see the matter transporter gaining traction as a sci-fi device.

Cold War Angle
There is more of a latent message about the deadly legacy of WWII than anything. (It just keeps on killing) Of particular note, is the total absence of things nuclear. No radiation-spawned monsters or mutations. SoT appears to be Cold War free.

Mutant Family -- SoP (Denso Ningen, 1960) was the second of Toho's "mutant" series. Unlike the more famous kaiju series with giant rubber-suit monsters, the "mutant" series focused on ordinary people changed or altered. SoP came first, with corporal Sudo being only somewhat changed. His existence had some fragille or ephemeral quality due to being transported several times. In The H-Men ('59), the first of the mutant series, men are transformed by radiation into shape-shifting water-beings. In The Vapor Man,('60) an unscrupulous scientist inadvertently creates a man who can turn himself into vapor, and back again. One could include Matango ('63) (Attack of the Mushroom People, '65) since eating the radiated mushrooms turns the people into mushroom beings.

Semi-Noir -- Director Jun Fukuda was more comfortable with crime drama than sci-fi, so it's little wonder that SoP is played out as a murder mystery. The killer just happens to have a sci-fi trick to carry out his attacks. Little time is spent on the matter transporter itself. It just is. (but looks pretty cool too). A crime-drama setting was common in the mutant series. In the noir-vein, Onishi and all his men are unscrupulous criminals. Few mourn their deserved deaths. The anti-hero, Sudo, could almost garner some pity for Onishi's treason and attempted murder, but his ruthlessness at killing innocent peripheral folks (like the cabaret worker, policemen, workers, etc.) make it hard to feel bad for him, either. A rather un-noir feature, is that the good guys, the detectives and Kiroka are pretty clean and noble.

Transport -- Not much is made of Dr. Nikki's matter transporter machine. The idea in movies was not new. Andre Delambre was working on one in The Fly ('59). Others followed, but SoP's was one of the early ones. All we are told about is that it uses "cryotron" circuits -- which act as super-transistors. To work, they must be kept cold. This requires refrigeration units, providing a handy link to the outside world for the detectives to follow.

Follow the Money -- How did Dr. Nikki and Sudo build all those expensive transporter machines in such secrecy? The gold. Lt. Onishi was stealing gold bars from the government, on the eve of the surrender. There were two boxes of them in the cave with Nikki and Sudo. Taki blew up the cave entrance a bit too hastily, following the (supposed) killings of Nikki and Sudo. (just how they survived multiple gunshot wounds AND being buried in a cave-in, was never explained). When Onishi and his men went back a year later to dig out the cave, they found no bodies AND no gold. THAT is the bankroll that built Nikki's machines.

Muted Beauty and the Beast -- Easily lost amid the more flashy crime drama angle, is the hint of monster-love-story. Sudo falls for Akiko, the pretty sales executive of the refrigeration company. Sudo appears to have "stalked" her on her walk home (alone down dark deserted alleys? What was she thinking?). Perhaps he had intended to take her with him then, but was thwarted by the police chase. Later, Sudo invites her (as a company rep.) out to his 'facility' -- a remote and desolate ranch -- and at a time ensured that she would have to spend the night. The beast was certainly trying to get his beauty.

Babe of Interest -- Actress Yumi Shirakawa was no stranger to being the babe of interest in Toho's sci-fi films. She played Kiyo in Rodan. She was Etsuko, whom the Mysterians wanted. She was Chikako, the nightclub singer pursed (and protected by) the liquid men in The H-Men.

Bottom line? While not exactly "lost", The Secret of the Telegian can be harder to find. Fans of Toho's "mutant" sub-genre will enjoy it -- even though it is the weaker of them. SoT has some appeal to fans of Japanese crime stories, or a fondness for noir. The prime techno-gadget gets little development, but does look cool (in a 50s sense). The color & widescreen version has interesting visuals.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of the Mutant Family motif, but I think you should include THE MANSTER in with these films. In it, an ordinary reporter is subjected to an experiment which transforms him into a two-headed monster.