Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Vapor Less Than Human

Between The H-Man ('58) and Matango ('63), Ishiro Honda made a dozen interesting pictures -- The Human Vapor ('60) was one of them.

I watched it for the first time recently with a fellow filmmaker. We were both very excited to see it for the first time.

HG Wells' The Invisible Man is one of my favorite books and favorite films (courtesy of director James Whale and screenwriters R.C. Sherriff, Preston Sturges & Philip Wylie)). I often refer to it as 'The Invisible Sadist' because of it titular character's monstrous bedside manner. It turned the HG Wells source into a sci-fi adventure with fascinating and deep psychological layering. It is a descent into madness, a cautionary tale with a mean-spirited sting.

I'm compelled but disappointed to report that The Human Vapor (the Americanization of 'Gasu ningen dai ichig') makes the theme of invisibility dull. The opener, in which an invisible man robs a bank, is strong and energetic. The police are scratching their heads about a slew of similar robberies. There are no suspects.

That is until 'The Gas Man' (Yoshio Tsuchiya), a librarian by day, is linked to a cabaret performer (Kaoru Yachigusa). Seems he is financing an upcoming performance by robbing banks.

I want to see the original version. What ruins this version is the structure. The Gas Man turns himself into the police and recounts how he became invisible. All suspense evaporates and we are treated to turgid descriptions of behavior and lengthy exposition. The lead character's origins are unfortunate, but because the film is recut in such a bland, non-dramtic way, there is little room to empathize with his situation. It feels like we're hearing a story about a distant, long dead relative.

Ishiro Honda made many brilliant movies. My favorite of his is Matango. Having seen both the original and the American bastardization, I suspect that the differences between the native and American versions of The Human Vapor are equally as stark.

On top of the problems I had with the structure were the difficulties I had believing Ms. Yachigusa's dancing talents were worthy of an invisible man's crimes and sacrifices. The sequences showcasing her dancing are embarrassingly unimpressive. If the point was that Tsuchiya is deluded as well as invisible, I missed it.

I'd love to hear from somebody who has seen the original. I'd rather not go to my grave telling myself that The Human Vapor is boring.


  1. Cor! May stink but what a great poster. I guess this is where MAN OR ASTRO-MAN? got their name.

    I would be stunned if "Invisible Sadist" wasn't taken already. Sounds so familiar...

  2. I find all of this absolutely fascinating! A few years back we salavicated scripts then dubbed the entire Star Movies, Chinese film library. I dunno, but the best way is to see the original film, and if the language is a problem, draw your own conclusions.

    A couple of years back we had a great Japanese TV channel on our cable. It was all movies and some really bizarre stuff to say the least. I really enjoyed them all. Unfortunately, I can't find any here on disc or VHS, which is strange since we are pretty close to Japan..

    I really enjoy your blog! Keep up the good work!
    Nick :)

  3. d -- The poster art is great. I'm sure the original film is, too.

    I have an unpublished novel that I wrote many years ago called The Invisible Sadist. Recently I've considered rewriting it. I never submitted it anywhere because, to me honest, I thought it was too sick to interest a publisher.

    And who knows if it's even good?!


    Nick -- very interesting that you were involved in dubbing those, Nick. You live a colorful life.

    Do you remember the name of that cable channel?

    Glad you're enjoying the blog. Thank you.