Tômei ningen arawaru [Invisible Man Appears] (1949)

Just for the record, this is not Toho’s 1954 Invisible Man film, Tômei ningen:  instead this one is by Daiei and is the oldest preserved Science Fiction film made in Japan — and, depending on how you count the two King Kong copies they supposedly made in the Thirties, quite possibly the first one made.

It is also a far better film than Toho’s:  in fact it doesn’t take much imagination to see this one as an entry in Universal’s series of Invisible Man films of the Forties.  A scientist develops the secret of invisibility, only to be kidnapped by one of his closest friends and his formula used to create an invisible man to steal a valuable necklace.

It really doesn’t bear too much resemblance to H.G. Wells’ novel, but then, neither does it give it any credit.  Instead, we get a convoluted crime drama punctuated with a number of interesting effects sequences — and a quick series of scenes from what is supposed to be a big theatrical revue starring the invisible man’s sister, Ryûko.  I have to wonder if they were borrowed from another film or films.  I might almost suspect they were part of an actual revue starring the actress playing Ryûko, Takiko Mizunoe, who was a dancer, singer and stage actress, except that they just do not look like a filmed stage production:  they look more like a Hollywood extravaganza version of a stage production.

One of the more striking aspects of this one is how well it is filmed, despite the fact that the director had little success and never made many films:  not only to we get some fairly well done P.O.V. shots of the invisible man, but the camera is  fluid and the entire film looks crystal clear.   It looks a lot like a classic Forties Hollywood Film Noir and far better than Toho’s later effort, despite Daiei studio’s notoriously low budgets.  I was struck by the inclusion of a few expressionist shots used to convey the villains lust for the notorious “Tears of Amour” necklace, and the constant use of mirrors and reflections throughout the film:  these always require a bit of extra planning as it is too easy to have the crew or equipment accidentally reflected in them — although the most intriguing is an obvious process shot, when the villain sees a woman’s face reflected in one of the jewels of the necklace.

The unseen star of the proceedings is Eiji Tsubaraya.  Thanks to some problems with the American occupation forces, he had set up as an outside contractor providing “special techniques” (effects work) to various studios.  Daiei hired him for this one, although he seems to have taken the job because it sounded interesting — and despite the fact that they weren’t willing to pay him much.  Soon after, he was hired by Toho and became the real star of their endless series of Kaiju Eiga films.

But that’s another story.

Here he creates several dramatic unveilings, the usual scenes of cigarettes smoking themselves and a bravura practical sequence as an invisible cat runs wild through the Professor’s house and across a piano keyboard.  On the whole his work is far better here than in Tômei ningen, although the first time he uses the effect of the invisible man removing his makeup in that film is far more striking than anything he does here.

Okay, it’s far too convoluted, there are too many sideplots and in one of the fights with the invisible man, someone actually grabs himself by his own collar!  Two other characters dress up in the Invisible Man’s signature hat, bandaged face and overcoat before we’re done.  Some of the plot twists do seem a touch unlikely and the finale, when everyone shows up at the villain’s lair at the same time, threatens to become absurd without quite going that far.

Not quite.

But that doesn’t change the fact that this is a fun little film, reasonably well made and quite entertaining in its own modest way.

Which is pretty much what we’d expect from one of Universal’s Invisible Man sequels.

It’s definitely worth a look — if you can find it.

Which, unfortunately isn’t that easy right at the moment.

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And check out our new Feature (Updated May 16, 2019):

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