10.22.2009

The Human Vapor : 3 of 5

After enjoying The H-Man recently, I wanted to watch another one of Toho's "mutant" films right away, so I tracked down a copy of the 1960 classic The Human Vapor (unfortunately not officially available on US DVD, but you can find it if you keep your eyes open!). Although this movie doesn't typically get good reviews (mainly due to a butchered edited US version, which thankfully I didn't have to endure), I really enjoyed it, especially since director Ishiro Honda creates a masterful slow-build with the plot. In my opinion, this is one of Honda's strengths (also present in my favorite Godzilla films), since this movie is able to keep the audience interested even though there isn't a real special effects shot until the 40-minute mark! The story is about Mizuno, a man who can transform into mist or smoke, who uses his strange power to rob banks (and even commit murders) and gives the money to his beloved Kasuga, a traditional dancer who dreams of holding a big recital. In many ways the plot reminded me of Phantom of the Opera (especially because of the tragic ending), but most of the film unravels like a good detective movie. The Gas Man (as he is known in the original Japanese) is pursued by a cop and his journalist girlfriend (who has some great spunky lines and nice conversation scenes), and they eventually decide to destroy him via combustible gas in the dance recital theater (making for an intense, emotional ending!). Tsuburaya's special effects shots are truly incredible for 1960, showing Mizuno transform into smoke as his suit billows to the floor, and he even throws objects and suffocates his victims (via an animated effect) before our very eyes! Yoshio Tsuchiya is totally creepy as Mizuno, driven by his love for Kasuga (that she helplessly returns as if by fate) to an almost maniacal state. There are several long dance sequences which are interesting to Japanese culture fans, and the way the final dance is integrated into the film's finale is fantastic. The list of Toho films I still want to see keeps growing with no end in sight!

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