The H-Man (1958) is one of Ishirō Honda’s most accomplished films. With an apparent ease Honda is able to combine the pulpy crime story with thrills of the atomic monster fable. Honda excelled in both arenas and is able to unify the two with breathtaking images of vibrant colors and moody shadows courtesy of cinematographer Hajime Koizumi.
The H-Man is about four sailors who are mutated into living liquid by the fallout of an H-Bomb test in the Pacific. They slowly make their way to Tokyo, melting every living person they encounter for sustenance. One of these people happens to a professional thief whom the monsters melt just as he is making his getaway from the scene of a crime. Now both gangsters and police are out to get his girlfriend Chikako Arai (Yumi Shirakawa). Only Professor Masada (Kenji Sahara) has made the connection between the H-Bomb test and the thief’s disappearance. It’s up to him to convince the police that the real danger is the atomic super monster known as the H-Man.
While Takeshi Kimura’s script weaves science fiction and crime story together, Honda imbues another element into the mix to maximize the entertainment value of The H-Man. By making Chikako Arai a nightclub sing, Honda is able to interject two musical numbers into the picture. These scenes are intentionally titillating and serve as a break from the escalating suspense. Kimura and Honda have a knack for making pulpy, two-dimensional material into high art. They can intuit the aesthetic similarities between the musical number, the monster movie, and the crime film and connect them seamlessly. The duo repeats the same level of genre sophistication on the masterful Matango (1963) five years later.
The H-Man is ripe with Cold War paranoia. The threat of atomic destruction is terrifyingly alluded to in the sequences where the sewers of Tokyo are set ablaze. As gasoline moves through the water systems of Japan’s most famous city Honda gives the viewer starkly lit images of giant flames engulfing the skyline of the metropolis. Herein lies the true horrors of The H-Man.