Few Toho sci-fi films from the studio’s golden age dip to such seedy, uncomfortable lows. The H-Man deals in narcotics, gang wars, guns, seedy night clubs, sexual suggestiveness, and abuse. This combined with an overarching radiation theme, steeped in the immediate post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki “black rain,” which showered those cities in deadly nuclear fallout. H-Man joins Mantango in disseminating the war’s gruesome toll at a human level.
Near H-Man’s release in 1958, Japan tightened their gun laws. In the post-war reconstruction, underground crime rose along with the drug trade. So too did gun-related crime. H-Man puts guns in everyone’s hands. One of the earliest shots is of a gangster hiding his weapon from a nearby cop. His partner then fires rounds at an unseen enemy, frightening a young couple nearby, and beginning a film that turns guns into more a hazard than defense – bullets cannot stop radioactive ooze.\
H-Man is full of nervous people, always on edge
H-Man is full of nervous people, always on edge
In its cultural critique and paranoia, H-Man refuses to withhold a personal reality. Director Ishiro Honda (also Mantango, and Godzilla) places this monster within a changing, more liberal culture. The H-Man is a life-sucking slime, existing under a society – literally – as sensuous nightclubs blare passionate saxophones behind unclothed dancers, gang members watching intently. H-Man is full of nervous people, always on edge, either the rising violence or seeping after-effects of war always nearby. No longer an occupied country, this Japan feels entirely on its own, and lost in its way as western influence shifted the country away from tradition.
Often, Honda’s films invoked a colorful atmosphere, predicated on countries working in unison. Not so much for this early post-war output, evoking a certain anxiety and fear. Where Godzilla utilized symbolic iconography, H-Man brings lurid gore, at least by late ‘50s standards. People bubble and melt on screen, those deaths cruelly evocative of real world circumstance in blast zones. Victims disappear. No bones, no skin, all vaporized by radiation, which in H-Man, is depicted as an unfeeling, creeping apparition.
It’s a successful story, tropes and all, rich in method, lighting (or lack thereof), and pace. H-Man even predicts the now prevalent CSI, using the typical scientist (Kenji Sahara) as a catalyst for change within the detective/police. Initially dismissive, Inspector Tominaga (Akihiko Hirata) begins listening to theories as the cases grow, leading to a solution that sees scientific method and policing brought together. The result is an exciting finale as sewers are flushed with cleansing fire in the best methods of effects technician Eiji Tsubaraya.
Debuting on Blu-ray in a two-pack with the previously released Battle in Outer Space, Mill Creek licenses this transfer from Sony/Columbia with passable results. The look is typical of Tohoscope color efforts from this period, meaning slight color fringing at the extremes and slightly askew focus.
What matters is whether the master holds up, and it does. Not the greatest in resolution, H-Man still maintains pure, natural grain minus compression problems. This allows pleasing, natural detail in full, especially in close-ups or the few wide shots capturing the city. Textural qualities remain firm and consistent, mild print damage/dirt barely a bother.
Yellowing saps a little vibrancy in the color, if to little detriment. Some lavish primaries stick out when in the club, especially lighting, thanks to focused reds and greens. Flesh tones carry warmth (to an excess at times), and scenery employs vivid hues. The sewer fires, backed by strong black levels, exhibit fantastic brightness. Some crush is native to the cinematography.
Both the English dub and original Japanese dialog offer DTS-HD mono. The end result is about the same. Dialog is coarse and worn, age taking a definite toll. While thankfully free from hiss or popping, the output lacks firmness. Every line is strained, and Masaru Sato’s score is thin at its best.
If there’s a standout, Martha Miyake’s two dubbed singing scenes where the vocals breathe a little. That’s the cleanest element on either track.
Other than the shorter US cut, nothing. Note Battle in Outer Space, given a separate disc in the case, mirrors the previous release with the same commentary commentary/transfer/audio.
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An eerie, thoughtful examination of post-war Japan, H-Man uses numerous tropes for its horror, but succeeds in mood, theme, and visuals.
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