The Invisible Man Appears/The Invisible Man Vs the Human Fly
directed by Nobuo Adachi, Mitsuo Murayama
starring Ikuko Môri, Shôsaku Sugiyama
Influenced by exposure to American films during the Allied Occupation of Japan following World War II, Daiei Film produced two Invisible Man films, The Invisible Man Appears (1949) and The Invisible Man Vs The Human Fly (1957). By this time little of H.G. Wells’ original novel remains, but the lure of invisible humans on screen persists to this day. Much of Daiei’s science fiction output was mined for U.S. TV and kiddie matinees these films were never released to the west, until now. Arrow Video has collected both titles for an overdue Blu-ray release for these long neglected bits of psychotronic film history.
Invisible Man Appears is a terrific homage to ’40s Universal Monsters movies that actually does a better job of capturing the essence of those films than Universal often managed. This is so much more effective with so much less parody than the Universal films like The Invisible Man’s Revenge, The Invisible Agent, or The Invisible Woman. In fact by the time this was made Universal was in the throes of lampooning all of their classic ’30s monsters in Abbott and Costello vehicles with Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man still two years out. The plot revolves around a nearly incomprehensible plot to steal a diamond necklace, a love triangle, kidnapped scientists, blackmail, and an invisibility formula. It is all a delightful mix of science fiction and gangster movie tropes with a surprisingly melancholic, if a touch melodramatic, finale. The screenplay often feels more comfortable in the mechanics of the diamond theft part of the story than the sci-fi elements, but it never drags and is quite entertaining. The film’s solid special effects, derived from John P. Fulton’s work on the original The Invisible Man (1933), were created by the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya who would soon get snatched up by rival Toho Studios to create the special effects for Godzilla.
Where The Invisible Man Appears took its cues from the Universal Monsters film of the 1940s, The Invisible Man Vs the Human Fly is closer in style to a Japanese science fiction superhero series. A string of murders committed by a man with the ability to shrink down to the size of…a fly have police baffled and the city on edge. Meanwhile a group of scientists have created an invisibility ray that will work on humans but will kill them when they try to regain visibility. The desperate police detective uses the ray on himself to try to track down the human fly. The human fly then obviously wants the invisibility ray and things take a turn for the zany as by the end you have several invisible people fighting to protect humanity. The main issue with The Invisible Man Vs the Human Fly is despite the gonzo title and promising plot ideas, the whole affair is damnably dull, in large part to the lack of wonder exhibited by the director or expressed by any of the characters. The entire notion of body shrinking, human powered flight, and invisibility are all treated as terrible normal mundane occurrences. Sure the detective wants to use the invisibility ray to catch the bad guys but it is with all the awe of wanting a faster car or a microphone in a coffee pot. The lack of awe over the spectacle undercuts the audience investment in the proceedings.
Both films of the disc were mastered from 16mm exhibition prints so there are unavoidable visual flaws. They are both perfectly watchable and actually pretty impressive all things considered. The disc doesn’t have much in the way of extras save for a trailer and a nifty interview on all things Invisible Man from critic/author/historian Kim Newman who always manages to unleash a torrent of information with great humor and love for the subject.
This Japanese Invisible Man double feature is a great example of the need for film curation. I doubt these movies were near the top of any wishlist but the world is a better place anytime forgotten movies are unleashed from lingering in film vaults to been seen once again,