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April 20, 2021

The Invisible Man Appears

invisible man appears.jpg
The Invisible Man Appears / Tomei ningen arawaru
Nobuo Adachi - 1949

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The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly / Tomei ningen to hae otoko
Mitsuo Murayama - 1957
Arrow Video BD Region A

What I found most interesting about these two films is how they reflected changes in Japan after World War II by what was said, or not stated. The character of the Invisible Man is mostly inspired by the James Whale classic, especially the in The Invisible Man Appears where the title character is dressed with the bandaged head, trench coat and fedora. Both films are dependent on the same special effects of objects floating in the air, and actors pretending to hold invisible objects on occasion and put themselves through various contortions while pretending to be assaulted by the unseen nemesis. Also, the more critical viewers of both films will be challenged to make sense of the stories.

Admittedly, the title The Invisible Man Appears is self-contradictory. A professor who looks a bit like Albert Einstein is supervising two protoges working on rival formulas to achieve invisibility. The two younger men are also rivals for the professor's daughter. The professor decides to show off his own formula, a liquid thus far tested on animals, to a businessman friend. The professor declines to sell the formula as there is no way to undo the invisibility. That does not stop the businessman who sets in motion a plot involving kidnapping and the theft of a valuable diamond necklace.

The Invisible Man Appears was filmed partially in Kobe as well as Daiei's Kyoto studio. The area appears to have been untouched during World War II. The professor notes that he had been working on his own invisibility formula for ten years, suggesting that he was left on his own during the war. A subplot has one of the young men with a sister who is a member of a variety troupe in Kobe. The film veers off to a series of excerpts from a stage show which is mostly made with a mix of more culturally traditional entertainment plus some western style music and dress. The professor's daughter is played by Chizuru Kitagawa, whose appeal was more Japanese specific.

What has made The Invisible Man Appears of most interest is that the special effects were the work of Eiji Tsuburaya, most famous for his special effects for Toho Studios' science-fiction films. At the time the film was made, Tsuburaya was temporarily blacklisted by American authorities for his too realistic recreation of the bombing of Pearl Harbor for a film released one year after the event. Takiko Mizunoe, the stage performing sister here, is better known if not by name, then by her work as Japan's first female producer, instrumental in creating Nikkatsu Studios' "borderless cinema". It may be less than coincidental that Mizunoe's career ended at about the same time following the release of Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill. There is virtually no substantive information on writer/director Nobuo Adachi beyond this filmography. There is an amusing scene with an invisible cat, heard but not seen, padding across a piano keyboard and generally knocking over anything perceived to be in the way. Adachi also repeats a superimposed close-up of a pair of eyes over a shot of the diamond necklace.

A bit more scientific mumbo jumbo informs The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly. Actually there is more than one invisible man, plus one woman, who subject themselves to a special ray of light that renders them temporarily invisible. There is also more than one human fly, a villain who has some kind of formula that causes him to shrink to the size of a housefly and flit around unnoticed, going back to full-size at will. Plot holes are blithely ignored in favor of the spectacle of partially and completely invisible people, and a human fly who somehow manages to carry a full-sized knife as a backstabbing villain, and his employer, a businessman seeking revenge by blowing up parts of Tokyo.

The film takes place in Tokyo experiences its post-war resurgence. The war is directly referred to as the chief villain is seeking revenge on some fellow soldiers who left him alone to take the punishment for a wartime crime. One of the scientists view of nuclear weapons is that they were the unintended results of scientific research, a curiously apolitical stance. There are also breaks in the narrative taking place in a nightclub. The featured showgirl, Mieko, played by Ikuko Mori, wears outfits on stage that are more revealing, especially of her midriff and legs. Her stage performance is western in style and music. The other actresses indicate the changes in Japanese film towards women who more closely fit the western standards of beauty.

Aside from this film, the most well-known work in Mitsuo Murayama's filmography is Kenji Mizoguchi's Yang Kwei Fei, on which he served as an assistant director. Setting aside the risible narrative, Murayama proves to be a capable stylist here in his visual choices. An early scene where we just follow the legs of a couple might have been influenced by George Stevens. A couple of chases in empty streets accompanied by the sound of footsteps may have been lifted from Carol Reed. The film also benefits from a more solid budget. Like several other Japanese directors, Murayama worked in Hong Kong for the Shaw Brothers in the 1970s.

In addition to the two films, the blu-ray also has an overview by Kim Newman on the history of Invisible Man films. Included is an excerpt from the earliest known film to have been inspired by H. G. Wells' character, made in 1903. The accompanying booklet has essays by Keith Allison, Hayley Scanlon and Tom Vincent, helping put the films in their contexts regarding the title character and Japanese film culture of the time the films were produced. Both films were sources from surviving 16mm prints, with The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly noticeably better preserved.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 20, 2021 08:39 AM