obvious reasons, Japan has long held conflicted feeling about nuclear energy.
There is no better example of their inherited collective memory of atomic
devastation than the king himself, Godzilla/Gojira. The annual leveling of
Tokyo was definitely a macro, big picture event. In contrast, this radiation
monster operates on a micro level, flowing under doors to dissolve its prey,
one by one. The production team from the original Godzilla reunited to bring to oozing life the monster of Ishirō
Honda’s The H-Man (trailer here), which launches
the Japan Society’s new film series, Beyond Godzilla: Alternative Futures & Fantasies in Japanese Cinema.
so many monster films do, H-Man begins
with a maritime disaster. The crew of the Ryujin Maaru II are basically fodder
for the goo, but a few will survive to tell their tale. Shortly thereafter, a
mid-level drug trafficker named Misaki meets a rather strange fate, apparently dissolving
on the streets of Tokyo. This is not some sort cartel acid attack, because
Misaki’s disembodied clothes were left behind unharmed. Therefore, the cops initially
assume he is still alive and proceed to hassle his innocent girlfriend Arai Chikako,
in hopes of finding a missing shipment of drugs.
young Prof. Masada understands this not a garden variety gang war. The
phenomenon is nuclear (the “H” for Hydrogen might be a bit of a misnomer, but
whatever). He has even recreated predatory radioactive goo in his lab, using
frogs (or rather toads). Whichever, this is science, it doesn’t have to be
precisely accurate. Regardless, the cops are determined not to get it, until it
is too late. Still, they are not necessarily wrong to be concerned about the
gangsters operating at the night club where Chikako performs. Naturally, the
drug smuggling subplot will come to a head right when the H-Man strikes,
because that is how it always works.
is hard to think of a film that purees more genres than H-Man. It is sort of a kaiju film, but also somewhat akin to a
Universal-style monster movie, especially following Black Lagoon. There are science fiction elements, but also old
school gangster shenanigans. Plus, there are exotic Cotton Club-style night
club floor shows that are far more surreal than anything involving the H-Man.
Yet, it all fits together relatively logically and flows pretty smoothly,
thanks to Honda.
Shirakawa is convincingly innocent and vulnerable, while still rocking the
sequined Josephine Baker outfits. Kenji Sahara’s Masada is unflaggingly earnest
and tireless in the service of exposition. Technically, there is not much of an
H-Man to brood or emote, but Makoto Satō chews enough scenery for the two of
them as Uchida, the ruthless drug kingpin.
is weird and crazy in all the right ways.
Frustratingly, it is one of those films that was chopped up and redubbed for
its original American release, so it has often been presented in prints and
cuts that do not do it full justice. Happily, the Japan Society will present The H-Man as it should be seen (in color
and subtitles) when it screens this Friday (3/24), kicking off the Beyond Godzilla film series.
Labels: Beyond Godzilla, Ishiro Honda, Japanese Cinema, Monster movies