Jû jin yuki otoko [Half Human] (1955)

If you’d asked me which Toho monster movie I thought I would never see, I would probably have replied Jû jin yuki otoko (or, more probably, Half Human, as the original Japanese name is much harder to remember!).

That might seem strange when we’re talking about one of Ishirô Honda’s monster epics — even if the monsters aren’t giant — and perhaps stranger still when you remember that this was the first monster movie Honda made after Godzilla.

Nor is it true that there aren’t any copies available (as has happened to many rare films) or that the existing copies are horrible.  There was even a dubbed American version – although it’s half an hour shorter and has far more than that cut out, with John Carradine stuck in to fill the (huge) gaps.  Mind you, that version is even harder to find and the original materials are probably lost.

No, it’s just that Toho has this one locked away in their vaults and refuse to show it:  in the film, there’s an unknown and undiscovered village hidden up the mountains, which has a curious relationship to the monster – and Toho is worried that it would be seen as insulting to the Ainu people.

Mind you, the natives don’t look much like the pictures I’ve seen of the Ainu, nor can you read too much into the Great Elder’s beard, as we’ve seen bearded elders in a lot of Japanese movies.

And then there are all those Toho monster movies which come complete with native tribes in places like Kong Island and Infant Island, which don’t particularly seem to bother the bosses at Toho.

But then that might just be because so many people have already seen those films and want the DVDs and Blu Rays.  Or perhaps because they’re set on South Seas islands, with vaguely Polynesian Islanders, and it’s okay to offend them.

Oh, well.

The original title, incidentally, translates as Beast Man Snow Man, and it is tied into the stories of the Himalayan Abominable Snowman which would have been current at the time.  It starts out with a framing sequence where the members of a mountaineering club recount their story to a reporter:  this may be the story’s biggest flaw, as it takes longer to get to the good stuff — and we already know which characters are going to survive.

But then we get a blizzard, avalanches, a frightening phone call, and strange screams.  One of the students has vanished, apparently carried away by the beast – and they then set up a expedition to find him after the spring thaw.

As in King Kong vs. Godzilla, we also have a business man after the creature so he can cash in on it, although played seriously this time.  Still, you have to wonder if the idea affected the later film.

I suspect a lot of viewers will find this one a little slow, although once it gets going it stays entertaining and builds nicely.  There’s a nice moment when we get our first view of the creature — and an even better one early in the film when we don’t.   The hero ends up a particularly nasty predicament towards the end (somewhat let down by the bird effects) and there’s an impressive model sequence later on, after the creature is captured.  On the whole, it’s more complicated than the later Toho Kaiju Eiga, although the storyline with the rival monster hunters does feel tacked on.  

The problem with finding that “impossible” film is that it is hard to keep your expectations low enough.  It’s far too easy to let yourself get carried away.  But if you like your monster movies Toho, there’s a lot to like in this one.

(Former member of Mark’s Wish List)

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