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Thursday 2 April 2009

The H-Man (1958)

Director: Ishiro Honda
Stars: Kenji Sahara and Yumi Shirakawa

As if Gojira wasn't enough four years earlier, here's director Ishiro Honda and Toho Studios kicking off another movie with an atomic bomb explosion just so we get the point. Dubbed by Columbia for western release with what must have been deliberately hilarious voiceovers, it even threw in a basic sci-fi title, The H-Man, to replace the literal translation of the original Japanese title, Beauty and the Liquidman. Yet the original substance still shines through, making me wonder how much better this would be in a decent subtitled widescreen version.

There are a number of threads to follow. The main one has Misaki, a gangster and drug dealer, disappearing after pulling some sort of raid. The raid was successful and he's trying to load the proceeds into the getaway car, but instead begins to shoot at something and then gets run over by an oncoming taxi. The weirdest part is that when the driver looks down at the corpse, he sees only clothes, Misaki's complete wardrobe down to his watch and shoes, but no body. The cops investigate, of course, and keep tabs on his wife, a nightclub singer called Chikako Arai, which is where they find university professor Dr Masado.

Dr Masado is doing research on the effects of atomic radiation on human beings and so leaps straight to the conclusion that Misaki didn't just disappear, he was instead dissolved by radioactive rain. He has absolutely no scientific proof of this at all, just a hunch that Misaki may have been in a H-bomb test area on some remote island but hasn't even found that out for sure yet. However he's sure enough of his hunch to tell the police with a straight face and to keep on investigating himself, even though the cops ask him to keep out of the case.

And of course because his theories are utterly ludicrous, he's spot on the money. It doesn't take too much buildup of suspense before we see the monsters in this monster movie, out on a boat that was a little too close to Masado's theoretical H-bomb test in the Pacific. The monsters are gelutinous masses that don't have much chemical cohesion so they splat around all over the place except when the various bits decide to merge together into vaguely human shapes. It's not a vast single mass like the Blob, it's a living liquid that's sometimes translucent but mostly looks like the blue gel used to soothe acheing muscles that can form into whatever shape it likes.

I think my favourite part of this incoherent atomic mess, beyond the Asian erotic nightclub dancers and the fact that every gangster seems to think a translucent moving blob is something they can shoot, is the fact that Dr Masado, apparently some sort a scientific genius working in atomic radiation experiments, seems quite happy to wander around with whatever he can find from radioactive ships. No radiation suit, no protection in any way, just skin and a business suit and an utter disregard for the danger he's so busy warning the police about. It's the difference between science fiction and scifi, terms that nowadays are interchangeable. Science fiction always contains thought and perhaps has cool monsters too; scifi always contains the cool monsters but never contains the thought. This is scifi.

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