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Monday, June 7, 2010

The Human Vapor

Brenco Pictures purchased the rights to Toho's 1960 movie, Gasu Ningen Dai Ichigo (The First Gas Person), as they had Toho's other sci-fi epic, Gorath. Brenco re-edited the film and dubbed it into english in 1962. The new version was not released, apparently, until 1964. The dub was fairly faithful to the original, but the story is rearranged. More on the differences below in "Notes". The story is a variation on The Invisible Man and The 4D Man with a dash of Phantom of the Opera, and then all set in Japan. The Human Vapor is sometimes called the third movie in Toho's "mutant" trilogy, following The H-Man and The Telegian, though none of these are related stories.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Young and handsome Mizuno is interviewed by three newspapermen. He is confessing to being the Human Vapor whom the police are chasing. He tells via flashback about how a mysterious Dr. Sano promised to rescue him from his mundane life as librarian to become an astronaut. The 10-day treatment turns Mizuno's body into mist, yet he is able to reform into a human at will. Mizuno is furious over this and the knowledge that Sano had killed others before him. Mizuno suffocates Sano with his misty self. Mizuno eventually realizes his vapor power is useful. He robs banks in order to finance the dancing career comeback of the young aristocratic woman he loves: Fujichiyo. She is unaware of the source of the new money, the spending of which attracts police attention. They arrest her. Mizuno tries to let her escape, but she refuses. The police want her to help them catch Mizuno. She goes ahead with her comeback recital plans. The police plan to fill the theater with explosive gas and blow up the Human Vapor. Fujichiyo gives her recital. She refuses to leave the theater at the end. The police throw the switch, but the wires were cut. While Fujichiyo and Mizuno embrace, she flicks a cigarette lighter, igniting the explosion. She is killed, but the Human Vapor could not be killed. He is now alone for eternity. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
THV is an interesting human drama with several layers. The special effects hold up reasonably well for their age.

Cold War Angle
There is a hint of the older moral: science-is-dangerous, and mankind's ethical weakness, but little of the usual Cold War motifs.

Flipped Flashback -- The original movie is told as more of a crime mystery. Halfway through, Mizuno goes through a bit of flashback during his interview to explain how he became the "gas man". The story then resumes real-time. Brenco opted to remove the mystery angle. They started with the interview, flashback with Dr. Sano, and then narrates the first half of the movie's actions as an extended flashback. Both movies resume real-time after the interview is raided.

Theme Medley -- THV is a mix of familiar themes: Phantom of the Opera, with Mizuno's unrequited love for the dancer Fujichiyo being similar to the Phantom's love of Christine. The Invisible Man, in that Mizuno's misty morphing is like the invisibility in the Wells story -- it affects his mind, incubating mankind's darker, despotic, criminal nature. This theme also played in The 4D Man in which the lead character was able to alter his "state" and pass through solid walls. The same megalomania surfaces. There is a bit of Frankenstein, in that Dr. Sano, in the usual hubris, creates a monster that rampages around and kills him. Though here, we get more of the monster's POV (especially in the Brenco edit) and his ambition to use his monster powers. The doctor role is almost trivial.

Cultural Contrasts -- Writer Kimura and director Honda set up contrasting worlds within THV. Fujichiyo is a vestige of traditional, formal, old Japan, almost swallowed up in the bustling, crass, modernized new-Japan. We are told she is from an old and wealthy family, but she (and her faithful servant Jiya) are the only one we see. She always wears the kimono and sandals. Everyone else is in western dress and often shabby. Fujichiyo lives in a spartan traditional wooden country home. The rest are in a crowded and cluttered city. She exhibits a dignified stoicism. The rest are loud, pushy, grasping and selfish. The most dramatic example of this is when Mizuno opens the jail cell to free Fujichiyo, all the other inmates scramble like fleshy animals for their freedom. Fujichiyo sits stoically in the corner of her cell, refusing to escape. She must be "released" properly by the authorities who put her there. Honor. The death of Fujichiyo (and Jiya) at the end, seems like a poignant commentary on the disappearance of old Japan, being swallowed up by the new.

Automotive Contrasts -- of some interest to car buffs is the contrast between the many small Japanese cars on the streets of Tokyo -- the Toyopets, the Crowns, etc. and the big black Chrysler Imperial that becomes Fujichiyo's limousine. Sweeping tail fins and tiny econoboxes make for their own commentary.

Tragic Anti-Hero -- The Mizuno character is an interesting blend of tragic hero and villain. He is, at one level, a victim. His honorable career as a fighter pilot is ruined by traces of cancer in his lungs. Hoping for a return to an honorable contribution, he submits to Dr. Sano's ruthless experiments. For this, he gets turned him into "the gas man." Yet, like the Invisible Man, be becomes less pitiable in his growing callousness and arrogance. But then, he is using his powers to aid the career of a woman he loves. Even in this, there is intrinsic doom, as she is of noble birth and he was either a lowly nothing, or worse, a criminal. He could never have the love he wanted. Mizuno is also portrayed as well dressed, well mannered and confident -- more of the hero mix than the usual villain features.

Customary Sacrifice -- In THV, it is Fujichiyo who makes the customary sacrifice in the story. Realizing that Mizuno has become mentally unstable and will kill many others, she tries to blow him up (along with herself). In the Brenco version, the cut wiring is credited to Mizuno, but in the original Toho version, it is suggested that Fujichiyo did it, so that she, herself, might take him out and atone for her being the cause of his crimes. Mixed in too, is a hint of foreboding about her life (old style aristocratic japan) is doomed, from the taint of Mizuno's crimes. Her final tear seems to be more mourning for Old Japan than Mizuno.

In The Noh -- A subtle layer of messaging within THV which is certainly lost on almost all American viewers, is the traditional dancing that Fujichiyo is doing. Noh is an old and highly formalized art form dating back to the 1400s. It is a very ritualized pantomime style of play following strict rules. (definitely no improv) This writer is not sufficiently In-the-Noh to identify just which play is used for the recital. However, the visuals suggest a noble woman either dying, going mad, or committing suicide, and becoming an avenging spirit (the blue "devil" mask). Fujichiyo's embrace of Mizuno at the end, causing a fiery death, seems like an allusion to the Dojoji play in which the unrequited lover becomes a demon-spirit and burns up the lover she cannot have. Someone with a good knowledge of Noh needs to fill in this facet. Any Noh fans out there?

Bottom line? THV is thoughtful and dark tale. It has more dramatic "meat" which makes it entertaining. Despite being a Toho/Honda film, there is no rubber monster or model city getting destroyed. The original japanese version (with subtitles) is the better cut for the story, (sound track too) though the english version will suffice if you can overlook the usual awkwardness of dubbed films.

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