“There is no good or evil in science, but it can be used for good or evil purposes.” A maxim which opens The Invisible Man Appears (Tômei ningen arawaru), it could equally well be applied to its belated follow up released eight years later, The Invisible Man vs The Human Fly (Tômei ningen to hae otoko), parallel tales of endeavour and envy, of research and revenge.
Directed by Shinsei Adachi and Shigehiro Fukushima and originally released by Daiei Studios in Japan in September of 1949, The Invisible Man Appears tells of a rivalry both professional and romantic of Doctors Kyôsuke Segi and Shunji Kurokawa (Daijirô Natsukawa and Kanji Koshiba), both engaged in research in the laboratories of Professor Kenzô Nakazato (Ryûnosuke Tsukigata) and both seeking the attention of the Professor’s daughter, Machiko Nakazato (Chizuru Kitagawa).
His protégés interested in different ways of rendering an object invisible, one proposing a material so black it absorbs all light, making it impossible to see, the other interested in making an object permeable to light in order that it cannot be perceived, they are unaware that Professor Nakazato has already developed a formula he has named Atomina Invisibilitator which achieves just such an effect and has understandably become of interest to a jewel thief posing as an investor.
While it might not be possible to definitively state whether the pun of the translated title was intended or not, the dialogue of The Invisible Man Appears carries many variations of the same joke – “You can laugh,” one of the characters exclaims, “You haven’t seen him.” A tale of a priceless diamond necklace, the Tears of Amour, much of Nobuo Adachi’s script parallels the ideas of H G Wells and the 1933 Universal adaptation by James Whale, the story built around the effects which could be achieved at the time and the resolution hanging on improbable contrivances.
With no direct link to its predecessor, The Invisible Man vs The Human Fly was directed by Mitsuo Murayama and originally released in August 1957, stylistically very different even as it weaves the same threads of science and crime as Chief Inspector Wakabayashi (Yoshirô Kitahara) investigates a series of murders with no clues, no witnesses and no apparent links between the victims other than the method of the killings.
All stabbed in the back by an assailant who was able to approach his target without raising alarm and then escape unseen, any tenuous leads Wakabayashi follows only brings more death, but consulting with Doctor Tsukioka (Ryûji Shinagawa) he finds the research his friend has been undertaking on cosmic rays has led to the development of a device which renders objects imperceptible to the eye, an effect unfortunately irreversible.
The intervening years having brought the influence of film noir to bear, The Invisible Man vs The Human Fly is filled with underpasses lit from below, tall shadows towering over victims and their stalker and a surprising amount of violence, though the premise of “the human fly” is something of a stretch, a miniaturised psychopath whose seeming mode of locomotion is drifting on currents of air which always guide him to and from his victims, though both films have an inexplicable inclination towards musical numbers.
Officially released outside their native Japan for the first time, the exhibition prints of The Invisible Man Appears and The Invisible Man vs The Human Fly which Arrow have been obliged to use for their double feature Blu-ray transfer are not to their usual standards but are the best sources available, and Kim Newman supplies his customarily well-informed overview of the history of the many iterations of the character in cinema.