Arrow Video: The Invisible Man Appears/The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly (1949-1957) - Reviewed

Arrow Video continues to bring films from around the world never released in the US or UK before into the homes of voracious cinephiles eager to gobble up the latest and greatest motion picture discoveries both old and new.  Their latest endeavor concerns two of the earliest tokusatsu (early Japanese special effects movies) to emerge from Daiei Studios, which would eventually produce the Gamera film series. 
The Arrow set consists of two wholly original spins on H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man story, inspired in part by the Universal monster movies started in 1933 with James Whale’s film.  Separated by eight years, differing in tone and narrative design, they are Nobou Adachi’s 1949 The Invisible Man Appears and Mitsuo Murayama’s The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly.
Two early progenitors of Japanese supernatural thrillers rife with arresting in-camera effects, both movies presented by Arrow Video are technically speaking in rough shape.  Opening with a note stating both films were transferred from the only existing 16mm exhibition prints despite being originally lensed on 35mm, neither picture has received any restoration work whatsoever. 

The undoctored scans were apparently done to present the most uncompromised vision of the film’s visual effects as audiences originally saw them, as any restoration work might have altered the film’s still pioneering effects work.  The resulting images take some getting used to but ultimately don’t deter from either film’s narrative hooks which ensnare the viewer almost immediately.  With this in mind, let us take a look at these two inspired effects driven thrillers which are only now being made available outside of Japan for the very first time.
The first film The Invisible Man Appears made in 1949 tells the story of a scientist who manages to invent an invisibility serum only to be abducted by a group of thieves eager to exploit the new invention in order to rob a priceless diamond.  Of the two films it has the closest kinship with the Universal movies which inspired it from the design of the scientist’s laboratory to the optical effects of the invisible man peeling off layers of clothing in front of the camera to reveal nothing behind them. 
While this one mixes in an exciting blend of the yakuza thriller as well as being one of the earliest known Japanese science fiction features, the real star of the film is visual effects artist Eiji Tsuburaya, making an early stint years before legendarily rendering the effects for the Godzilla series. 
The second film by Mitsuo Murayama The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly, made eight years later, starts off as another mixture of the crime thriller with science fiction involving a criminal who is able to transform himself into a fly with a secret formula created during wartime experimentation.  The one thing standing in his way is a scientist who just recently completed building an invisibility ray.  At first the picture is a bit of a subgenre hodgepodge but then the stakes are raised when the so-called ‘Human Fly’ starts committing mass murders in the hundreds, creating a military crisis threatening the safety of Japan’s population. 
While not nearly as technically brilliant as the first film with some decidedly silly ideas at work here, it turns real rather abruptly which was an unexpected and surprising development in the story.  The film is also decidedly more Japanese than the first which seemed steeped in Universal Monsters horror lore and as such takes a lot more offbeat directions with the storyline.

While neither film can be considered masterful examples of Japanese filmmaking, they do represent two of the earliest science-fiction feature films to emerge from the country with visual effects that were years ahead of their time.  Though the presentation on the disc of both films is sadly very poor, from a historical perspective these two Invisible Man films are indelible chapters in the development of the Japanese special effects sci-fi flick which would be furthered by directors like Koji Shima with Warning from Space (the first color tokusatsu) and Ishiro Honda with the now iconic Gojira. 
As always, Arrow has done a fine job curating these two rare and hard-to-see effects movies which are linked by the kindred theme of invisibility but couldn’t be more different as films.  Yes these require you to look past the rough and ragged presentation but once you get used to it, these are two rather unusual slices of very early Japanese visual effects science fiction fodder you won’t find anywhere else.

--Andrew Kotwicki