Blob’s Your Uncle
The H Man
aka Bijo to ekitai ningen
Japan 1958 Directed by Ishirô Honda
Toho/Eureka Masters Of Cinema Blu Ray Zone B
It’s been a while since I saw The H Man but I’m really grateful for Eureka putting this out on a really nicely restored Blu Ray (as part of a double bill set with The Battle In Outer Space) because the film hasn’t grown old for me. I still think this is a much more interesting movie than the original version of The Blob, which was released the same year as this one and shares a somewhat common element. The inspiration for this was the real life incident of the Lucky Dragon Number 5 fishing boat which strayed into a nuclear testing zone, the very same thing which inspired the director’s earlier classic, Godzilla (aka Gojira, reviewed by me here).
I’m also delighted to find that the print is subtitled with the actual translation of the real movie title on the Japanese language version here, so it’s Beauty And The Liquid People which is, frankly, a much more accurate title for the film. Although The H Man is also pretty cool, let’s be honest.
The film starts off strongly with some eerie pinging from Masaru Satô’s wonderful score, marking time on the soundtrack as the suspenseful prelude to a rainy night’s narcotics pick up goes wrong for the gang members involved. One gang member starts shooting at the floor and runs into the centre of the road and into the path of an oncoming vehicle and, when his partner gets out of the getaway car to see what’s happened, all that’s left of him are his clothes.
We then get the usual bafflement from the police, headed up by kaiju eiga legend Akihiko Hirata. They go and hassle the disappearing gang member’s girlfriend, the ‘beauty’ of the Japanese title, played by the wonderful Yumi Shirakawa, who is a singer at the local night club. The police obviously mitigate their bafflement by assuming that the gang member, quick as a flash and before anyone could see him, removed his clothing and ran off. Because, yeah, that’s just what a normal person would do in the middle of a rainstorm, right? Well, apparently, according to the police and various members of the gang in question, who also hassle Shirakawa (one of them coming too close and being violently absorbed by The H Man of the UK title).
Meanwhile, a dashing young scientist and new love interest for Shirakawa, played by classic kaiju actor Kenji Sahara, believes a liquid monster, possibly more than one, is absorbing people it doesn’t like, who are getting in the way of its former girlfriend. And, of course, after the police refuse to listen to him multiple times, he’s later proved right.
The whole thing is actually pretty fun and, well, some of the special effects are wonderful and... others not so good but it never once stops being entertaining. Honda brings his usual, wonderful sense of screen composition and injects the thing with a sense of cool more reminiscent of something Seijun Suzuki might have cooked up if he’d have wanted to make a monster movie.
Beautiful frame designs abound with some nice greys and greens plus a really good eye for using natural and, not so natural, vertical slabs of the screen to frame different things in. Indeed, this is so pronounced in some shots that they are literally split into exact thirds by the vertical slats created by doors or boxes etc. There’s a flashback scene on a ship where some sailors discover the bizarre ‘liquid people’ of the Japanese title, when they are going into the belly of the ship with lanterns to light the way... and the director uses these shots to further push his fascination with vertical patterns, using the travelling light source in the actors hand to literally light upright rectangular slabs filled with people while the rest of the screen is left black. It’s a really wonderful use of the ‘Tohoscope’ ratio and exactly the reason why I end up watching these kinds of films in the first place.
Another thing he does, which is something I would more associate with much later films, is to use a cut to a shot meaning one thing before cutting away to reveal a transition to another scene. For instance, when the lead scientist drops the lifebuoy of the irradiated ship onto the floor at police headquarters, we cut to a close up of the shot of the buoy on the floor and then, when we cut away from it again, we are already in the scientist’s crowded lab with the various people also looking at it on their floor. So, yeah, nice stuff like this is what watching these films are mostly about for me. Along with listening to some cool music and seeing outrageously bad monsters, of course. Although, the two night club scenes, where the actress is dubbed with a completely inappropriate voice as she sings to songs in English, had me scratching my head a little... especially as to why Eureka felt they needed to subtitle the song when it was already being sung in English. It’s a little bizarre.
However, when it comes to great colours, great composition, slime monsters and a cool soundtrack, this movie really delivers the goods and, I think, is one of Honda’s better movies (and he made a lot of highly entertaining movies in his time, as watchers of his various kaiju eiga will know. So, yeah, Eureka Masters Of Cinema’s new Blu Ray restoration of The H Man is definitely one I’d recommend for any fans of this period of Japanese cinema’s output. I’m really pleased that I have this version on a beautiful looking Blu Ray.