Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The H-Man (aka The Beauty and the Liquid Man)

                                                  Director: Ishiro Honda
                          Starring: Yumi Shirakawa, Kenji Sahara, Akihiko Hirata


One of director Ishiro Honda's finest films as well as one of the most horrifying sci fi features of the '50s.

Filmed in 1958, this was the first of Honda's unconnected "Mutated Man" trilogy (the other two being 1960's The Human Vapor and 1963's Matango aka Attack of the Mushroom People) and like the original Godzilla, had it's core sci fi story based on an actual incident. That being the Lucky Dragon 5, a tuna fishing boat which in 1954 had unwittingly drifted into nuclear fallout from the U.S.s Castle Bravo thermonuclear test in the bikini atoll. The fishermen were exposed to high levels of radiation and many subsequently died from the poisoning.

With this horrific story fresh in the local public's mind, it was used as a not so subtle plot device in relation to Godzilla's first appearance. Four years later, it was revisited even more blatantly in The H-Man. For this story, we have a fishing boat that drifts unwittingly into the center of an H-Bomb experiment. It's crew dissolves into liquid puddles of radioactive goop. "Transformed", these H-Men  attack other humans, dissolving them in order to survive. It is especially unsettling because these are former human beings now attacking and dissolving other humans. This gives it almost a faint cannibalism twist. At certain points, these "Liquid Monsters" (as so called in the English dubbed version) can form what look like vaguely human appearances, making things all the more uncomfortable.

Mixed into the main story is a pulpy and somewhat trashy underworld tale (complete with Cabaret dance numbers featuring the gorgeous and scantily clad Yumi Shurikawa). This plot devise had been used previously (1949's The Invisible Man Appears) and since (Dogora, the Space Monster and Ghidrah, the Three Headed Monster, both from 1964), but this is perhaps the only time where the material was treated in such an adult manner (the other films mentioned tended to play the Cops and Robbers scenario as mostly tongue in cheek). The combination of the two stories may not exactly seem to mesh, but this was a popular combo for local audiences. With it's garish colors and suggestive cinematography, it comes off as an irresistible Neo Noir.

Featuring some of the most memorable special effects of Eiji Tsuburaya's career, The H-Man ranks as the best "blob" movie ever made. As much as I enjoyed the Steve McQueen starrer (coincidentally released the same year), it can't hold a candle to Honda's neon soaked vision.

                                                        ***1/2 / ****                                   

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