The prolific and versatile director of fifty films, it is with science fiction action films that Ishirō Honda is most associated, among them the original Godzilla (ゴジラ, Gojira) and Mothra (モスラ, Mosura), and it this genre which is represented in the double feature which forms Eureka’s latest Masters of Cinema Blu-ray release.
Originally released in 1958, The H-Man (美女と液体人間, Bijo to Ekitai-ningen, literally translated as Beauty and the Liquid People) is a tragedy of the nuclear age, a shadow cast far beyond the bomb test of the Pacific Ocean into which the trawler Ryujin Maru II sailed.
The fishermen aboard killed by a lingering radiation which then contaminated the crew which found the floating hulk, like a curse it is passed along, exposure resulting in the cells of the body turning into a liquid state yet still possessed of a consciousness and a will to enact revenge.
Written by Takeshi Kimura, The H-Man is an ambitious but confusing affair, set amongst the denizens of the drug underworld of Tokyo, the nightclubs they frequent, the police who are investigating the killings and the scientists they turn to for assistance, the erratic plot giving the game away rather than teasing the audience with mystery.
Where The H-Man is occasionally atmospheric and spooky as with the luminescent ghosts which haunt the deck of the Ryujin Maru II, altogether more spectacular as might be expected of the title is Battle in Outer Space (宇宙大戦争, Uchū Daisensō) with its impressive sets, model work and epic scope.
Written by Shinichi Sekizawa and released in 1959, Battle in Outer Space is set in 1965 and opens with an attack by forces unknown which obliterates Space Station J-SS3 with other incidents of mass destruction occurring soon after on Earth, the derailment of a high speed train at Tokaido in Japan, a ship lifted out of the Panama Canal and flooding in Venice.
All of them connected by sudden reversals of the gravitational force, a meeting at the Space Research Centre in Tokyo determines that the effect is caused by such extreme cold that the very atoms of the objects stopped vibrating, and a failed attempt at sabotage leads to a spy who is revealed to be under the control of aliens from the planet Natal.
The aliens operating from the Moon, reconnaissance reveals a complex whose glowing multi-coloured design and ethereal voice of command can be seen as influences upon Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, but while the subsequent space battle being is spectacular the looped fanfare emphasises the repetitious nature of the footage.
The two features presented in their original Japanese format and the versions recut and dubbed for the international market, both also have two separate commentaries, from Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski, authors of Honda biography A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa and Japanese fantastic film expert David Kalat.
Enthusiastic and filled with detail, Ryfle and Godziszewski parallel The H-Man with the aftermath of the radiation exposure upon the population of Japan as opposed to the immediate destruction of the blast, in particular the incident of the “death ash” which fell upon the Daigo Fukuryū Maru, while Kalat offers context for the films within the output of Toho Studios and the equivalent films produced within the same era in Hollywood and more widely distributed.