Friday, September 5, 2014

THE H MAN


I watched THE H MAN (1958) with my buddy Kelly Greene the other day. It's a Japanese science fiction film directed by genre master Ishiro Honda. Known in Japan as BEAUTY AND LIQUID MEN, the film was released in the United States by Columbia as THE H MAN.

The story concerns some sailors who are exposed to atomic radiation following the detonation of a hydrogen bomb. The fallout turns the men into a weirdly glowing green jelly like substance. In short, THE H MAN is the Japanese version of the American film, THE BLOB (1958). The ship bearing the men arrives in Tokyo bay and the H men venture into the city, dissolving various gangsters before finally being put to the torch in the sewers.

THE H MAN is a weird mash up of a standard science fiction thriller with a hard boiled crime film. Much of the action takes place in the police station and at a nightclub (a visually spectacular one, I might add) that is run by gangsters and drug smugglers. There's a pretty young nightclub singer, a nerdy scientist who has figured out the secret of the H men, clueless cops and vicious gangsters.

The trouble is, it takes forever to wade through the crime elements of the plot and get to the H men, who don't make an onscreen appearance until more than thirty minutes into the film. If I had tried to watch this one on television when I was a kid, I would have turned it off before I ever got around to the H men sequence. It would have struck me as boring and talky and hey, where the hell is the monster?

Despite the narrative flaws, THE H MAN  is beautifully shot in color and Toho-Scope (the Japanese version of CinemaScope). Director Honda (who helmed the masterpiece GOJIRA (1954)), made THE H MAN in between THE MYSTERIANS (1957) and VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE (1958). He was a busy man in the late '50s.

I'll give THE H MAN credit for trying to be something different. It's not a bad movie at all and I did enjoy watching it. But it's not as exciting and fun as any of the other Japanese kaiju films. Chalk up THE H MAN as a noble effort and a film worth seeing once if you're a fan of the Japanese cinema of the fantastic.


 

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