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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Ishiro Honda: Double Feature
The H Man / Battle in Outer Space


Starring: Yumi Shirakawa, Kenji Sahara, Ryō Ikebe and Kyōko Anzai
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £29.99


Certificate: 12
Release Date: 16 November 2020

Eureka continues to care for its physical entertainment home viewing audience by supplying us with Masters of Cinema from around the world restored, reengineered from the best elements available, spotlighting auteurs known, unknown or heretofore discounted. Ishirō Honda fits all three categories. To all but a few as “the father of Godzilla,” Honda is known and unknown. To a legion of Western critics and intellectual bellends, he is disdained as the worst director in the world. Honda was a loyalist to the great Akira Kurosawa in almost all his films from Stray Dogs to Ran. He staged Kurosawa’s battle scenes and was a peacemaker when crews rebelled against the sightless master at the sunset of his career. When Toho asked Honda to do a job, he did it. Kurosawa spoke the eulogy at his funeral. Nothing was beneath him, therefore nothing was above him. Only Mario Bava comes to mind as a world class master barely known to the public but honoured by industry giants. Tim Lucas’s study of the Bava legacy All the Colors of the Night has plumped a brick of golden respect on the scale for the Italian maestro.

It now remains to be seen if the same can be done for Honda, Japanese auteur extraordinaire. Eureka is thinking about this and their duel disc deluxe slip cover edition (first 2000 copies) and follow-up popular packaging is evidence the page is turning. A lot of dumb carnival logic is going to have to be revised or completely rewritten on IMDb and many young viewers are going to laugh at stodgy Boomers, X, Y and Z’ers because they “get it” and snout-in-the-air oldsters don’t.

To the new viewers I say, view the slightly longer original cuts in Japanese language with English subtitles. The English dubbing is off-putting and often condescending. And how many voices can we hear the late great Paul Frees do? The Japanese track is fluid and harmonious with the facial expressions and body motion. It belongs. It’s fair to have a nightclub chanteuse in H-Man sing in dubbed English because most of the non-English speaking world is used to hearing that. And the truth here is operatic.

The music score in Battle in Outer Space (Tomoyuki Tanaka) is big, orchestral and a comfortable precursor to all space movie scores of the future. This is not a fifteen piece rent-a-band but rows of instruments with giganza aspirations. The score for H-Man is delightful gruesome horror, electronic catapult and New York hip club jazz, all the way to a brilliant finale full orchestra piano-pounding tension bed, underneath a chase/race involving flesh-eating green Jell-o, fire crawling atop sewer tunnel water (courtesy of Mitsubishi gas, see what you don’t get in the English dub-a-wub?) all worthy of Elmer Bernstein slumming for a Republic Serial cliffhanger.

The lucent Eastman Color images are brilliant and it’s a shame to think these sixty year old negatives have been waiting to be reengineered for Blu-ray by somebody who cares. But it happened. Framing, composition, camera movement are all superlative. D.P. Hajime Kaizumi is the sure hand on both films. Cinematography fans this is for you.

Battle in Outer Space takes place in a future when Earth has large manned satellites in orbit and routine ground to air mobility. You know, the future of 1965. Since the movie was shot in 1959 what’s your problem? Japan was just being optimistic. Kubrick had the same future disappointment in 2001, didn’t he? Electronic woo-woo wails are awfully familiar, elements off the track of Ray Harryhausen’s Earth vs. the Flying Saucers which Columbia studios didn’t mind because they distributed both movies, Hey, when you steal from yourself it’s called borrowing. Same for the basso profundo voices of the aliens in both pictures too. Also, there are wavy auras that sound like they’re emulating from War of the Worlds . This could be a case of creative alteration or great minds thinking alike.

Bad aliens attack earth. Meticulous miniature sets get jerked askew. But my favourite is a long train streaking over a table top landscape. The engineers congratulate themselves over their speed. Ahh, sweet hubris. Up ahead the aliens hover over a bridge. They tractor ray the whole unit up in one piece. The engineers see this and, “Aiiieee!” as only can be screamed in these movies and we get to watch the whole miniature train plummet into the miniature canyon. Indulgently so, I must say. Then the aliens tractor beam the bridge back down in place. I don’t know about you, but I think Tim Burton studied this movie before making Mars Attacks.

In H-Man we get a rare splicing of two genres: crime and horror. Drug dealers are ruthlessly chasing after some lost heroin, worth enough to fill a car trunk with 5,000 yen notes. Green slime, sometimes superimposed, sometimes real goo running uphill with camera trickery, basically The Blob tech of the day, devours the flesh of its victims. It leaves their clothing though. Including a nightclub dancer’s tacky two piece and heels. Toward the end we’re treated with seeing the bodies fold up like shrinking basketball bladders. This is a very neat effect. I hope the Toho practical effects department got a bonus for that one.

There is a love story and a sneering criminal who makes it almost to the end of the movie. His fate is satisfying. The phenomenon behind the H-Man is the H-Bomb. Fukushima, anyone?

These are two gems. I’m scolding myself for all the consensual racism I’ve employed all my life toward Japanese Cinema, especially the Honda school. Oh, sure I was taught to respect Kurosawa. These Blu-rays deserve to be owned and watched whilst staying indoors waiting for the mail to come. Both are in authentic TohoScope.


John Huff

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