Tômei ningen [The Invisible Man] (1954)

(aka Invisible Avenger)

Sometimes things just don’t work out.

Take the case of Tômei ningen:  it was Toho’s second science fiction film, a more-or-less adaptation of the famous novel by H.G. Wells (more less than more!) with some moderately impressive effects provided by Eiji Tsuburaya.  You’d have expected it to do well at the box-office.

And it might have, if Toho hadn’t released another SF film the same year that completely overshadowed it.

Mind you, they probably wouldn’t have made it if it weren’t for Godzilla, as it was meant to cash in on its success.  And whether it is the Big G’s’s fault or not, this is one of the more obscure Toho SF films, and is as hard to find — or perhaps even harder — than Jû jin yuki otoko [Half Human] or  The Prophecies of Nostradamus.

However, this is really a Japanese gangster film, more than a monster movie, complete with nightclub, song and dance numbers (lots of song and dance numbers!) and the nightclub singer who is tangled up with the gang.

But then, that was true of quite a few of these Toho creature features from the era, like The H Man, The Human Vapor and The Secret of the Telegian.

We get off to an interesting start:  a car stops in the middle of the road, the drver thinks he hit something, although no one saw anything.  That’s when blood appears on the pavement under the car and a dead body appears a moment later.

Turns out that the invisible men were made by a secret wartime project — but that they couldn’t make themselves visible again afterwards.  And there is at least one more out there.

This leads to public panic, and convinces the gang to carry out their robberies as “The Invisible Gang,” while dressed up like the classic Universal Invisible Man, complete with bandaged faces, overcoats and hats.  However, the real invisible man is hidden behind a particularly clever disguise, and he decides to go after the gang.

There aren’t many effects here — and I suspect that they may have used a method not too different from that used by John P. Fulton in the American classic.  However, the first unmasking scene is quite clever and remarkably successful, and I can’t remember seeing that trick used before (it is repeated with less effect later on).

Worth noting here is the rather dark portrayal of Japanese militarism.  It was fairly common in these Fifties films, although this shifted a bit in the Sixties and Seventies..

We could quibble and note that the invisible man’s disguise wouldn’t work as he made no provision for his eyes or mouth.  However, the basic idea is quite clever — although even the original posters (and most of the reviews) do give it away.

This was not one of Toho’s greatest films — and, in fact, the films I mentioned above are all better.  But it is typically well made and reasonably enjoyable in a modest sort of way, even if there are far too many dance numbers and not enough invisible bits.

However, you might not feel that it is worth the effort it took to find it.

…Unless, of course, you are a hardcore Toho Tokusatsu fan.

(Former Member of Mark’s Wish List)

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