Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The H-Man (1958)

Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsuburaya, and Tomoyuki Tanaka return with another monster movie, this time in the form of The H-Man.  The H-Man is immediately distinguished from this team's usual monster fair, in that this time the monsters are not Godzilla-sized behemoths, toppling buildings in titanic battles, but are instead human-sized assailants, silently stalking their prey in the night.  In fact, the whole film takes on a tone of a serious, mature horror film more so than any other films on this list - save perhaps for Ishiro Honda's later Matango.  Infused with noir ambience and a crime-thriller flavor, The H-Man features haunted ships, anti-nuclear sentiments, extramarital relationships, yakuza, drug-running, scantily-clad dancers, and people being melted alive. The film was originally titled Beauty and the Liquidpeople, but the plot has nothing to do with the fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, but instead offers a mature, scary, brooding modern-day crime drama wrapped in a horror film.  The experience is overall extremely unique, and the concept can only be commended.

On a dark night in the outskirts of Tokyo, a drug smuggler by the name of Misaki is mysteriously killed while trying to get away from police, leaving only his clothes behind. The police investigate by going to his apartment, only to find his girlfriend, Arai Chikako, who says he hasn't returned for five days. Arai works at a cabaret, so the police decide to go there for further investigation. After her performance, the police go back to Arai's room and find a man backstage with her. After finding a note to Arai in his pocket, they bring him in as a suspect. However, upon his arrest they discover that he isn't one of the usual gangsters who frequents the cabaret, but is instead identified as Masada, an assistant professor at Jyoto University.  Masada explains that he wanted to talk to Arai about her missing boyfriend, Misaki, and explains his theory that Misaki's disappearance is the result of his physical form melting away, possibly from an extreme amount of radiation in the rain that night. The police don't buy a word of it, and set up patrols at Misaki's apartment where Arai is living.

That night, another criminal by the name of Nishiyama sneaks into the apartment and threatens Arai, asking her where Misaki is; however, he gets no answer as Arai explains that she simply doesn't know. Angry, Nishiyama states that he will spare her life for tonight, and leaves by the window. Not long after, Arai hears gun shots that are followed by a scream. Arai then opens the door to the apartment and faints in the hall. The police go the room to investigate, and look out the window only to see Nishiyama's clothes and a gun lying out on the street - but Nishiyama himself is missing.

In the morning, the police take Arai in for questioning, but get no new information from her. Professor Masada arrives at the police station to try and prove his theory to them once more, this time he invites them to go back to the hospital with him where he announces that he has collected witnesses that will prove his theory.  The witnesses tell a gruesome story about a stormy night at sea when they discovered the Ryujin Maru II - a seemingly abandoned derelict ship floating the stormy waves.  Curious, the men entered the ship, only to find it was entirely abandoned, but that it looked as though the crew had left suddenly, as their clothes and personal possessions were still on board.  However, just as they were beginning to suspect some kind of foul play, they were confronted by several ghastly, greenish phantoms in humanoid form.  Able to change shape, the creatures killed several of their comrades, instantly liquifying them upon contact.  Only two of the original six men who went aboard to investigate made it out alive, leaving the ship to drift at sea with its abominable inhabitants.

The story is frightening, but too amazing for the police to believe, and so Masada continues his explanation by showing them a bullfrog that he has exposed to the Ash of Death - radioactive fallout after nuclear weapons are detonated.  Upon contact, the frog is liquified, and Masada explains that he believes the Ryujin Maru II had drifted too close to a hydrogen bomb test at sea, and when the crew was exposed, they were liquified into these strange being - the Hydrogen-Bomb-Men, or H-Men.  Probably retaining some primitive form of their original humanity, the H-Men have now come to Tokyo because they remember it as being their home, and are now treating it as their own personal hunting territory. The police still don't buy that the Misaki disappearance is related to this, though, and they instead decide to question Arai again, this time showing her a group of pictures, asking her to identify who came into the apartment the night before. She points out Nishiyama out of the pictures, a member of the Hanada gang.

Meanwhile, Masada finds a lifesaver on the docks that belongs to the Ryujin Maru II, and he starts to suspect that the liquid might have attached itself to it and traveled to Tokyo. Masada takes the lifesaver back to the University, where he and his colleagues find out that the lifesaver is indeed radioactive. Arai then visits the institute to find Masada and tells him about the murders, and how a liquid killed the victims. Professor Maki is intrigued by the girl's story, and asks that Masada goes to the police station and tell them their findings. Masada complies, but is still laughed at down at the station - again. The police becomes notably annoyed with his persistence in pursuing this theory. So, to stay in their favor, Masada divulges that he believes that a waiter at the cabaret may be in on the drug smuggling.

That night, the police visits the cabaret again, disguised as customers. They watch, and mark down which tables the waiter stops at for long periods of time. Every time someone from one of these marked tables starts to leave, they arrest them as a suspect. Eventually the guests of the club begin to catch on, and one of them fires his gun right before they cuff him. The waiter hears this and warns Uchida, an intricate figure in a drug smuggling ring, and they retreat to one of the dancer's rooms. Once inside, they try to escape through the window, but are cut off by an H-Man who has been skulking in the shadows, waiting to take its next prey. The waiter, along with one of the dancers is killed. The H-Man next tries to get Arai, but is distracted by one of the policemen, who starts firing at it. The H-Man liquefies the officer, and then escapes through the window. During the commotion, the criminal Uchida takes off his clothes to fake his death, and escapes.

The police now accepts Masada's theory about the Ash of Death. It's also confirmed that the liquid got to Tokyo by attaching itself to the lifesaver. Maki explains to the authorities that the only way to kill the creatures is by electrocution or incineration. Then Masada, after studying Uchida's clothes, explains to the police that they weren't radioactive, meaning Uchida must have tricked them and escaped. Shortly after this discovery, Arai is kidnapped by Uchida. Meanwhile, the authorities, upon discovering that the H-Men are living int he canals and sewers around Tokyo, plan to fill the surrounding bodies of water with gasoline, to incinerate them once and for all.

However, before the authorities can put this plan into operation, Uchida leads Arai into the sewers to retrieve a stash of drugs that the cabaret waiter had been hiding down there. In the meantime, Masada finds a piece of Arai's clothing floating in the water near one of the sewage valves, and rushes into the sewers to find her before they are incinerated by the police's plan to destroy the H-Men. Luckily, the police catch wind of Masada's actions and ask permission to go down with one of the teams preparing the gasoline operation. A rescue team is then prepared, and goes in after them. Uchida is killed shortly after by one of the H-Men, and Arai begins to flee for her life. Masada finds her, and manages to help her get away as the rescue team discovers them both, with the H-men in hot pursuit. The water is then ignited, burning alive all of the monsters and putting an end to their reign of terror.

The H-Man has drawn inevitable comparisons to The Blob, which came out at around the same time, and the comparison is fairly reasonable.  Both involve amorphous monsters that eat and liquify their prey, unable to be harmed by conventional weaponry.  Still, the two films are quite different in both tone, plot, and even subtextual message.  Whereas The Blob is a fun and frightening teeny-boppers vs. monster-on-the-loose tale, The H-Man is considerably darker and more mature. Rather than The Blob's hot rodding teens in a small town, The H-Man centers upon ruthless gangsters prowling the rain-streaked streets of Japan's largest city, and running a bar teeming with exotic dangers in the city's seediest of underbellies (though, perhaps it's the second seediest of Tokyo's underbellies, as beneath the streets is the sewer lair of the titular H-Men, the film's most savage and deadly antagonists). The hard-bitten police officers face off against the gangsters, and in the midst of this war between law and disorder comes a new and terrifying force that literally dissolves victims right in front of the camera. Eerie, dark imagery prevails, and the mystery behind the monster unfolds slowly, building tension step-by-step. While the central concept of the film is obviously pure fantasy, the plot has enough of a hook to really captivate audiences.  Certainly the pacing slows a bit once the police accept the existence of the liquid monsters in their city, overall The H-Man is one of Toho's most unique monster offerings, as well as one of its most adult - along with the original 1954 Godzilla, that is.  And, of course, the H-Men themselves - radioactive ghosts, more or less, made of oozing ectoplasmic fallout - are as unique and memorable foe as any monster put to screen.

No comments:

Post a Comment