The Invisible Man Appears / The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly
1949, 1957 / 1.33:1 / 87, 96 min.
Starring Chizuru Kitagawa, Takiko Mizunoe
Cinematography by Hideo Ishimoto, Hiroshi Murai
Directed by Nobuo Adachi, Mitsuo Murayama
Founded in 1942, Daiei Films appealed to the hearts and minds of movie-goers with a remarkably diverse catalog. Movies like Akira Kurosawa’s enigmatic Rashomon and Koji Shima’s apocalyptic Warning from Space were emblematic of the studio’s output—high art or low, Daiei took the same discerning approach to their productions, no matter the subject matter. At times the company may have been too thoughtful—for a movie that featured giant starfish aliens as a selling point, Warning from Space takes a dark turn toward real-world catastrophe that might have put some audiences off their popcorn. And the Saturday Matinee thrills of the Daimajin films—an early sixties trilogy featuring a sky-scraping samurai—go sour when we’re forced to ponder the relentless bloodlust of the Terminator-like title character.
Daiei’s measured approach to its material—no matter how looney—hampered what should have been two of the studio’s most entertaining films, 1949’s The Invisible Man Appears, written and directed by Nobuo Adach, and 1957’s The Invisible Man Vs. the Human Fly, directed by Mitsuo Murayama. Both films are stylistically similar, graced with crisply somber black and white photography and a crackling energy that emphasized Japan’s fascination with the hot-blooded noirs popping up in American movie houses. More tellingly, these supposed science-fiction films are in fact straight up crime stories whose gun-happy characters keep the movie’s fantasy elements bound and gagged in the back seat.
The Invisible Man Appears—we should pause to appreciate this brilliant title—stars Ryunosuke Tsukigata as Nakazato, a middle-aged scientist whose mild-mannered demeanor masks his fascination with some mighty peculiar topics, including invisibility. Daijiro Natsukawa and Kanji Koshiba are eager up-and-comers with similar objectives but the buttoned-down Nakazato is closer to the answer than he lets on. It’s not long till gangsters and other sundry opportunists get wise to the old man’s invention and spirit it away for their own use. Soon a series of robberies begin to rock the city, each one performed by a bandaged fugitive in aviator sunglasses and trench coat. As opposed to the title character, the movie’s plot is anything but transparent—warring crime gangs, kidnappings, love triangles, and the movie’s central mystery, the invisible man’s true identity— keep Adach’s film from gaining much steam—especially when the audience is checking its score card with each new revelation.
The cinematography by Hideo Ishimoto creates a compelling atmosphere, maintaining a suspenseful mood even when Adach’s pacing trips up the momentum—the movie feels an hour longer than its 82 minutes. Surprisingly Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects are haphazard and stilted—John Fulton had nearly perfected the illusion beginning in 1933 with his wizardly effects for Universal’s Invisible Man series so it’s puzzling that the careful craftsman responsible for the ghostly effects of The Human Vapor and The Secret of the Telegian—not to mention the super-sized Kaiju fun of Godzilla and Mothra—doesn’t conjure up a more believable vanishing act.
Like André Delambre, the titular mutant of 1958’s The Fly, The Invisible Man vs. the Human Fly is a hybrid—part gritty crime film, part gothic sci-fi thriller, and part skin flick with nightclub sequences featuring a beguiling bump-and-grinder. Plus a bonus; an invisible woman (don’t worry, it’s not the stripper). Rife with comic book style transformations and dream-like set pieces, the gonzo storyline—a mysterious invisible man pits his superpowers against a murderous insect—was courtesy of Hajime Takaiwa, a prolific writer who specialized in street-wise pulps like The Hot Corner Murder and the violent Rōnin adventures of the Sleepy Eyes of Death series. If The Invisible Man Appears was shy about its fantastical trappings, Takaiwa makes sure to wallow in the absurd concept of a drug-addicted house pest who announces his presence with an eerie buzzing sound that’s like a rattler warning its prey.
The pint-sized killer is Yamada, a crazed hit-man who works for Etsuo Kusunoki, a business man harboring a years-old grudge. Like so much of Japan’s postwar output, the war looms over most characters; Kusunoki is using Yamada as a miniaturized weapon, seeking revenge on the band of soldiers that betrayed him. Hiroshi Murai (Giants and Toys, Samurai Assassin) did the inky cinematography and the intricate, near surreal, special effects were handled by Katsujiro Hanaoka—while the plot line is a muddle, thanks to these technicians and a singular storyline, The Invisible Man vs. the Human Fly pays off with some memorably twisted fun.
Weeks before its appearance, word on the street was that this Arrow Films Blu ray release was marred by sub-subpar film elements; scratches, faded elements and at a few points, the film actually slipping the gate. Not surprisingly the damage does little to effect the enjoyment—or non-enjoyment—of the features. At times it’s comfortingly close to replicating a typical grindhouse experience.
Arrow has done their best with a decidedly mixed bag, packaging both films on a single disc in an attractively illustrated slipcase with art by Graham Humphreys. The case contains a booklet with new essays by Keith Allison, Hayley Scanlon, and Tom Vincent. Extras on the disc itself include the original theatrical trailer for The Invisible Man Appears, image galleries for both films and Transparent Terrors, a bookish presentation from the venerable Kim Newman about the history of invisibility in the movies.