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Friday, May 1, 2009

The H-Man

There was more to Toho Studios than Kaiju (rubber-suit monsters stomping model cities). The H-Man was the American title for Columbia Pictures' english-dubbed version. The 1958 original title translates to "Beauty and the Liquid Human". H-Man is an interesting blend of japanese film-noir and horror, with just a dash of "science" (there is a lab scene). The result is so much not Godzilla that it is intriguing. There are similarities to The Blob which American audiences could not help but have noticed. The H-Man isn't a japanese Blob copy, though. They were in production at the same time. There must have been some fascination with blob beings in 1958. Also, despite the American title, there isn't just one blob man. There are many "liquid humans."

Quick Plot Synopsis
Open with stock footage of a Nevada nuclear test. Cut to a rainy Tokyo street. A drug money drop goes bad when one of the criminals is attacked and melted by something, leaving only his clothes behind. The police investigate Misaki's disappearance as if it were conventional. They hound Misaki's girlfriend, Chikako (a nightclub singer) suspecting she aided his disappearance. The hoodlum gang also stalk Chikako. They assume Misaki has run off with the missing drugs. A scientist gets embroiled in the crime drama. He has the police listen to a hospitalized fisherman's story. They found a derelict ship with no one on board. Some blob-slime stuff began melting members of the search party. Two survivors fled. Masada suggests the blob-things melted Misaki. The police scoff at the theory. Meanwhile, more people are getting melted. Professor Maki demonstrates how intense radiation liquifies living tissue (a frog). The liquid frog can liquify another. The police finally have to take the theory seriously. They figure the multiple liquid-men are all within a several-block area. Professor Maki they can only be "killed" by fire. Citizens are evacuated and fire crews positioned. A hoodlum kidnapped Chikako and took her into the storm sewers in the cordoned area. He wants her to be "his" and is picking up the drugs still hidden down there. A liquid man gets the hoodlum. Masada and a rescue crew find Chikako just as the flames approach. Things end on a conference warning mankind not to mess with nuclear testing. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
As a variation on the "blob" theme, H-Man adds some nice depth. Toho's blobs are more sentient and deliberate. They ooze and creep like The Blob, but since they "hide" in rainy streets, puddles and sewers, they seem all the more insidious. The whole ghost-ship segment is well done

Cold War Angle
Like previous Toho/Honda productions, H-Man is blatantly spun (at the end) as an anti-nuclear cautionary tale. Viewers might well have inferred as much from the story, but Honda makes sure no one misses the moral of the story with a little speech at the end.

Lingering Fallout -- The movie Gojira was an immediate reaction to the Lucky Dragon incident. When that fishing boat had strayed too near a nuclear test at Bikini Atoll, crewmen were sickened by the fallout. This event apparently left a deep impression in Japanese culture. H-Man stages a sort of worst-case recreation of the event. Nuclear test fallout, "The Ash of Death" doesn't merely sicken the crewmen of the doomed boat, it liquifies them and transforms them into some bizarre new form of life.

Nippon-Noir -- The backdrop for all the liquid man action is the seamier side of Tokyo. Ruthless criminals, hard nosed police, and the dark side of society -- all good elements of film-noir. The wide screen and color of TohoScope tend to make things seem cheerier and warmer than film-noir usually does, so the dystopic noir mood never quite gets there.

Mindful of Beauty -- The Japanese title, "Beauty and the Liquid Humans," points to a central feature that did not get many lines in the script. Chikako, the beautiful night club singer is the innocent central character that links the multiple plot threads. At one point, the scientists theorize that the liquid humans still retain their previous "psyche". Hence the ghost ship's crew's hitching a ride back to Tokyo "to get home." What isn't really explained, is why the liquid humans go about liquifying other humans. Perhaps it's for companionship? For whatever reason, Misaki is liquified in the opening of the film. As a liquid human, he appears to be both carrying out revenge on gang members who crossed him and trying to protect his girlfriend Chikako. This deliberate action makes for intriguing speculation.

Sung in English -- A curious little feature is that when Chikako sings her two songs in the night club, she sings in English. Even in the Japanese version, she's dubbed by a real singer, but even then, it's sung in English. Perhaps jazz was still too new for Japan to have developed any native language nightclub ballads and the whole nightclub experience was so identified as American that english-lyrics songs just had to be there.

Bottom line? H-Man is quality 50s Japanese sci-fi. It's thoughtful and deep. The many many cheap Kaiju films that littered the 1960s would give Japanese movies a bad reputation, but H-Man was done before that decay had begun. It is well worth the effort to find and watch, perhaps as a blob double feature with the 1958 classic The Blob.


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Mike Scott said...

I'm with you on Japanese sci-fi movies. The '50s ones are the best and H-MAN is one of my favorites!

The "liquid-men" are really spooky, the way they rise up out of the water! Some of the creepiest movie monsters, ever!

I like the music, too (that title "march" kinda thing). Not your typical monster movie music, but very infectious!

Anonymous said...

I was thoroughly and completely terrified by this movie as a child and the effect still lingers as I just saw this again a few weeks ago and was too scared to sleep afterwards.

Your review presented me with an entirely new perspective about the movie. I had always had it in my mind that the H-Men were eating their victims, just like The Blob. And because they seemed more intelligent and deliberate than that monster, that just horrified me.

Nevertheless, this is still one of my favorite Japanese monster movies. Excellent review.

Randall Landers said...

TCM recently ran the H-Man one evening, and I had never seen it before. It's a wonderful production, very terrifying, and was a joy to watch. I have to rank it with The Mushroom People as one of my favorite Japanese imports!

Unknown said...

I was so frightened as a child watching this movie that I didn’t even know the plot. I can just remember this liquid rolling down the sidewalk and some unsuspecting man lets it roll up on him and in less than a minute only his suit and some hair was left. Not even sure if it was this japanese movie or an American re-make.