The H-Man

Ishiro Honda is one of my favorite directors of all time. He is responsible for such revered city-stompers as Godzilla vs. Mothra, King Kong Escapes, Destroy All Monsters and War of the Gargantuas. While you might say that he was a kaiju specialist, Honda wasn't entrenched within the ambits of giant monster movies. He fiddled with other genres. 1958's The H-Man is a prime example of his willingness to probe antithetic styles of filmmaking. It combines science fiction with film noir to create a singular oddity, a Japanese murder mystery that poses the question, "What if the clammy intumescence in The Blob was a gangster?"

Have I blown your mind yet? Calm down. This flick isn't quite as rich as the premise would suggest. The story is definitely...well, stupid, but Honda takes a passive approach to the script. As for the details of the plot, cops are in pursuit of a drug dealer named Misaki who vanished into thin air. When I say that he vanished, I mean just that. All that remains of the elusive malefactor is a pile of clothes in the middle of a busy street. Misaki's songbird girlfriend (she performs in a smoky nightclub...with a perfect English accent, of course) is interrogated to no avail. The case seems impossibly inscrutable until a scientist comes forward and broaches the topic of radiation sickness.

Shocking, I know. At any rate, the scientist links Misaki's disappearance to the bizarre deaths of several men aboard a ghost ship that materialized in the harbor. What was on that ship? I'll give you a hint; it's blob-like. The H-Man isn't entirely derivative. This blob takes the shape of a pellucid wraith on occasion. Think Slimer, only less cartoonish. The optical effects are nifty. Honda uses editing tricks and in-camera ingenuity to make his victims dissolve. It's cool, but atomic thrills are few and far between. I described the direction as passive earlier, and that's pretty much how I would describe this film in a nutshell.

The bulk of The H-Man is detached, standoffish even. It's almost as if the DVD itself mellowed out and delighted in a swig of cold medicine. I watched the Japanese version, and I'm thinking that I should have tried the American version on for size. Many scenes drag on for no discernible reason. This flick is heavy on dialogue, so that doesn't help. Most of the characters blend in with one another, and no, it has nothing to do with race. On the flipside, I had fun with The H-Man to a degree. The color print is marvelous. You could do worse as it relates to Japanese sci-fi reels. A lot worse.

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