Film reviews

Ishiro Honda Double Feature: The H-Man & Battle in Outer Space – Blu-ray Review

It’s a double-bill of pulpy Japanese sci-fi goodness from the folks over at Eureka! Specifically the Ishirō Honda Double Feature. Who is Ishirō Honda? Well, have you ever heard of a little critter called Godzilla? How about Mothra? Rodan? Ghidorah? Meet the man who gave us probably the most famous monsters of all time. This release, The H-Man and Battle in Outer Space, is just part of Honda’s extensive filmography.

The H-Man, or to use its Japanese title Beauty and the Liquid People, is part police procedural movie, part noir, and part Japanese version of Steve McQueen’s The Blob (which was actually released the same year, 1958). It’s a tale of gangsters, drugs and the horrifying effects of radioactivity. No, not cancer. Not infertility. Not superpowers, unless you count the ability to turn into a blob of goo and eat people.

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While the police investigate an apparent drug deal gone wrong, a scientist works to prove that nuclear bomb tests are having horrible effects on anyone that gets caught in the fallout. Caught in the middle of all this is nightclub singer Chikako Arai, whose boyfriend has been implicated in the drug deal. As the film goes on, the bodycount escalates until even the initially sceptical police have to accept that something out of the ordinary is happening… before it’s too late.

It’s a strange sort of film. So much of it is very serious police officers doing very serious police things, only for the story to veer sharply into the realms of horror and then back again as people are mysteriously melted, leaving behind nothing but a neat pile of clothing. Speaking of which, particular praise has to be heaped on the melting effects, which still look amazing and really quite disturbing even today as people fold in on themselves before disssolving away into nothing. Seventy-plus years later, and the practical effects are still enough to elicit a bit of a shiver.

Coupled with this is the altogether more silly and pulpy Battle in Outer Space (released in 1959), where aliens make themselves known to the viewing audience by levitating a bridge up and into the air so that a train derails and crashes… only to then lower the bridge back down as if somehow nobody will notice that the tracks are all mangled and broken. This kicks off a series of bizarre events all over the world, with floods in Venice, a waterspout in Panama and the mysterious destruction of a space station.

It turns out that Earth is being attacked by strange aliens with the ability to control men’s minds a la Captain Scarlet‘s Mysterons, and they are determined to… uhm… well, that’s the biggest problem with this film. It’s never really clear what these aliens, the “Natal”, are actually after. Is it like Gerry Anderson’s UFO and they’re harvesting human organs? Is it like V and they’ve come to steal our water? Maybe it’s like the Dalek’s Invasion of Earth 2150 and they want to hollow the Earth out to use as a giant spaceship? Who knows! The movie doesn’t seem to care!

It doesn’t really matter anyway. All that you need to know is aliens bad, humanity good, aliens must be stopped. That sets the stage for battles on the moon, planes attacking flying saucers, explosive sabotage, general mayhem and lots of things going boom. It’s definitely the sillier of the two films, but it’s an entertaining watch and moves along at a brisk trot in terms of storytelling while The H-Man takes a bit more time to really get going.

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In terms of special features there’s a decent amount for folks wanting more background on each film, with each having an audio commentary with authors and Japanese sci-fi historians Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewskiand, and another with film historian and writer David Kalat. The audio commentaries are all worth listening to, providing not only details about the films but adding context in terms of what was going on in Japan at the time that influenced the writing and production.

While Ishiro Honda may be better known for his contributions to kaiju lore, these are two fascinating little pulp sci-fi movies in their own right. Any fan of Japanese sci-fi should check this collection out.

Ishiro Honda Double Feature: The H-Man & Battle in Outer Space is out on Blu-ray on 16th November from Eureka Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema collection.

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