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HALF HUMAN (1958)

[aka Half Human: The Story Of The Abominable Snowman]

"It is my belief that this species is one half animal....and half-human!"





  Director:
 
Ishirô Honda, Kenneth G. Crane

  Starring: 
John Carradine, Russell Thorson, Robert Karnes, Morris Ankrum, Momoko Kôchi, Akira Takarada, Akemi Negishi, Nobuo Nakamura, Kokuten Kôdô, Sanshirô Sagata

  Screenplay: 
 

Synopsis:  Back in America after a sabbatical in Japan, anthropologist Dr John Rayburn (John Carradine) is persuaded to tell his colleagues, Professor Philip Osborne (Russell Thorson) and Professor Alan Templeton (Robert Karnes), of an extraordinary discovery. He recounts a tale of a group of five young Japanese people, four boys and a girl, on a skiing holiday in the mountains to the north of the country. The group separated, with two boys skiing on to the cabin where they were to spend the next few days in order to check on their accommodations, planning to meet the others later at the inn where they were to stay the night. Arriving at the inn, the caretaker warns the rest of the skiing party of an impending storm, which breaks violently shortly afterwards. Worried about their friends, the others try to reach the cabin by phone, but without success. Their fears grow as an avalanche crashes down the mountain. Unexpectedly, the phone rings. The girl snatches it up eagerly, then drops it in horror as she hears screaming, and the sound of gunshots. The inn’s caretaker rings an alarm bell in order to summon the mountain police. The next day, the friends accompany the police to the cabin, where they find a scene of destruction and one of the missing skiers, who is dead. They also find in the snow an enormous footprint, that of a huge, bare, human-like foot; while caught on the rough wood of the cabin’s wall they find a clump of strange hair. Suddenly, there is a commotion outside, and the crushed body of the second missing skier is carried in. Realising that the killer must be an animal of incredible strength, the police instigate a search.... Dr Rayburn explains to his colleagues that the two boys who were killed were his assistants at the University of Tokyo. He goes to recount the hysterical newspaper reaction to the survivors’ story, and the flood of false “sightings” that followed. However, Rayburn adds, none of that negated the facts of the footprints and the clump of hair. He tells his colleagues that he has with him a cast of one of the footprints, and a sample of the hair. He invites them to examine the latter under the microscope. Professor Templeton exclaims that he has never seen a hair follicle like it. Rayburn then shows the others the cast. Templeton comments that whatever made it must walk upright, while Rayburn adds that it was calculated that whatever made it must be nine feet tall and weigh approximately 1800 pounds. As the others react in amazement, Rayburn goes on to describe the failure of all the attempts to classify the hair, and the conclusions drawn by one member of the faculty, the famous anthropologist Professor Tanaka (Nobuo Nakamura), who argued that as the hair was closer to that of man than to any known animal, it might well be that of something related to man – the missing link between man and animal...

Foreword:  I’m sure I don’t have to tell any regular visitor to this site about my obsession with doing things “in order” and “from the beginning”. In truth, I cause myself endless misery by fretting over just where “the beginning” is for any given subset of films. Thus, many moons ago, I started out working my way through the genre films of the 1930s, starting not unreasonably with Dracula and Frankenstein. Not unreasonably for anyone else, that is: the exercise left me with the uncomfortable feeling I hadn’t gone back far enough. I began researching the pre-Dracula sound era....only to end up fretting over why I was stopping there. I then devoted about a year and more money than I care to think about compiling an almost-comprehensive collection of existing silent genre films, managing at least to make myself draw the chronological line with Georges Méliès’ 1902 epic, La Voyage Dans La Lune.

(But just to prove that there are people around even more obsessive-compulsive than myself, my esteemed colleague El Santo has recently ventured back even further.)

And this is the way it goes with most of my interests. I have a real psychological block about skipping things and moving on....which as you might imagine is something of a problem when the material I want just isn’t available, or not in the form that I need. Some time back I reviewed Gojira; but while that is the first of the kaiju eiga (or at least, the first still in existence, depending on your definition), it was not the first Japanese science fiction film. There were a handful of such movies made in the post-WWII era, all of them – perhaps not surprisingly – dealing with human beings becoming “mutations” in some way. I began to research these films, and discovered that while they were available, either officially on DVD or unofficially in grey-market prints, none of them had an English-language option.

Now, I’m far too anal to review a film in a language I don’t know: best-guessing just doesn’t work for me. So after pondering the problem for a while, I finally sent out an oh-so-casual call to my colleagues: “Hey, guys – some of you understand some Japanese, right?”

It was Will Laughlin of Braineater who finally rushed in where B-Masters fear to tread.

The cost of the official Japanese DVDs of the earlier science fiction films was an expense that I could not, at that time, justify. However, another approach to the problem presented itself when I stumbled over an online source for Jû Jin Yuki Otoko, the legendary missing film.

Jû Jin Yuki Otoko was directed by Ishirô Honda in 1955. It was because of his involvement in this production that he was not available to direct the rushed sequel to Gojira, Gojira No Gyakushû. The film is, self-evidently, of enormous interest to fans of Japanese science fiction....yet very few of them have ever seen it. The film was yanked from public view shortly after its premiere in August of 1955, and has rarely seen the light of day since. The reason generally given for this suppression is that the film contains an insulting depiction of Japan’s indigenous Ainu people.

Well, that’s not quite how it was, as we shall see.

Anyway, to get back to the long and boring history of how this review came to be--- My initial proposal to Will Laughlin was that we tackle a review of Jû Jin Yuki Otoko together, with him acting as official translator. This later evolved into an idea to co-review both Jû Jin Yuki Otoko and its later Americanisation, Half Human. (The selection of hominids for a Roundtable was, I might point out, merely a piece of serendipity.) Finally, however, we split the films up, with Will taking on Jû Jin Yuki Otoko and Half Human falling to me.

In one way, I feel bad about this outcome. Half Human, for those who don’t know it, is perhaps the worst of all the Americanisations of a Japanese monster movie: a cheap, tacky dumbening of what is a sometimes powerful and very serious piece of work from Ishirô Honda and his people. The film is inconsequential and rather dull – resulting, I’m afraid, in an inconsequential and rather dull review. My apologies.

However, from a selfish point of view I can’t regret how all this has fallen out, because the assignment of Jû Jin Yuki Otoko to Will Laughlin has prompted him to carry out some remarkable research, and finally to write one of the richest and most fascinating of all his reviews – and as any visitor to Braineater would know, that’s really saying something.

Sir....I dips me lid.

************************************************************

Comments:  So – Half Human.

Perhaps strangely, the various Americanisations of the Japanese science fiction films of the 1950s were not done under a single deal, nor with a single company; hence the very random pattern of their appearance in America, and the wildly various nature of the treatments of the source films. The first of them, Godzilla, King Of The Monsters, although operating with a clear agenda, is wonderfully respectful of its source, and indeed, almost as sombre in tone. Later re-workings took different approaches. Some were content merely to dub their source; some, taking their cue from Godzilla, shot new footage with local actors and inserted it into the story, to greater or lesser degrees of success. Later on, understanding their potential market better, the producers of Japanese science fiction films hired American actors to appear in them, making this approach unnecessary.

And then there’s Half Human, which apparently decided that the right way to treat its source material was to crap all over it.

 

....and half a film.

Make no mistake: Half Human is a very bad film however you look at it; but without being familiar with Jû Jin Yuki Otoko, it is hard to appreciate exactly how much of a travesty it is. For one thing, the source material has been gutted: Half Human is only sixty-three minutes long, and a third or more of that is three bored actors sitting in an office spouting absurd dialogue for which no-one was willing to take a screen credit. (I’m certainly not going to add insult to Takeo Murata’s injury by blaming him.) The Japanese soundtrack has been removed in its entirety: Masaru Satô’s score has been replaced by library cues, a lot of them very inappropriate, while the interspersed Japanese footage is silent, with a voiceover from John Carradine explaining what’s going on. As a result of this, almost none of our main characters even have a name! The only person who gets one is Professor Tanaka – and that’s not even the right name! I can only assume this particular rechristening was a reference to Tomoyuki Tanaka, the original film’s producer – how grateful he must have been! – when in fact Will informs me that the character is called Dr Koizumi.

But still, like I say, at least he got a name. The other Japanese characters are simply referred to as “the girl” and “the boy” – and, believe it or not, as “the other girl” and “the other boy”. Because hey! – who cares what Japanese people are called, am I right? Frankly, I’m astonished that Professor Tanaka didn’t just end up as “the guy in glasses”.

(For the purposes of clarity, and my own sanity, I’m going to cheat and call the characters by – gasp! – their actual names; for many of which I am also indebted to Will.)

 

"....and some Japanese people whose names escape me."

The final piece of reworking is, however, rather more interesting. Jû Jin Yuki Otoko, as all of you would know by now (I hope: and if you haven’t read Will’s review, what are you wasting your time here for!?), features not only the “Beast-Human Snowman” of its title but also the creature’s offspring. Despite this, and despite the way that Son Of Godzilla would later use the introduction of a juvenile monster to make a pitch for a much younger audience, the inclusion of the young snowman is no sign that the film is in any way a children’s film. On the contrary: the subplot concerning the immature creature is one of the saddest aspects of a pretty grim film. However, there’s a certain amount of evidence out there that the good [sic.] people of the Distributors Corporation of America didn’t realise that. Possibly they assumed (not understanding just how seriously the Japanese took their monster movies) that any film featuring a child monster must be a child’s film.

At any rate, they asked for, and received, the suit used in the portrayal of Snowman Jr; just as the Godzilla and Anguirus suits from Gojira No Gyakushû were shipped to the US for use in the stillborn production, The Volcano Monsters. However, it may be that the suit arrived in the same shipment as the film itself, which I’m guessing that its American handlers hadn’t seen up to that point. One can only imagine their dismay upon realising that not only was it not a kid’s film, but that there was no earthly way of recutting it that could force it to become one. They did eventually use the juvenile suit, however – in a way that, I suspect, was about as far from its intended use as it could be.

Be that as it may, there’s really no good explanation for advertising art like this, which gives as entirely false an impression of both Jû Jin Yuki Otoko and Half Human as it possibly could:

The hell - !?

Anyway--- Thwarted, in all likelihood, in their intention of marketing their film to a young audience, DCA went to the other extreme and monster-fied it instead. This is, in its way, just as big an injustice to Jû Jin Yuki Otoko as turning it into a kid’s movie would have been. Jû Jin Yuki Otoko is very much a, Who is the real monster? film, and spends a significant portion of its running-time dwelling on the humanity, if we can use that word, of the creature at its heart. Half Human, on the other hand, turns its creature into a figure of fear.

Most of the original footage used in this film was simply inserted intact, although the purpose of the scenes is frequently altered. Some of the footage of the creature, however, was re-edited, and in a way that perverts the intent of creature’s actions and makes it appear much more of a threat. The removal of the original score serves the same purpose, with those overly-familiar horror-movie stings used to heighten the tension (theoretically) and again to nudge the audience into viewing this very complex creature as – just a monster....

Half Human opens at an unidentified American university, where we meet anthropologist Dr John Rayburn, as played by John “Hey, I’ll do anything for money!” Carradine, and two of his colleagues. Rayburn is just back from sabbatical in Japan; and although he’s due to address “the entire society”, whoever they are, Rayburn offers to tell the story of his experiences to the men who are both his “colleagues” and “his dearest friends”....which I guess explains why he proceeds to address them as Dr Osborne and Dr Templeton. (Although it doesn’t explain why the credits call them both “Professor”.)

We get our first Japanese footage here, with a party of five young people, four boys and a girl, on a skiing trip. Amongst them are two of what should be our main characters, the brother and sister Iijima and Machiko (played by Akira Takarada and Momoko Kôchi, both returning from Gojira. By the way, in Jû Jin Yuki Otoko, these two aren’t brother and sister, but boyfriend and girlfriend. As you might imagine, this alteration lends a weird vibe to some of the reused scenes). Two of the party ski off to inspect the cabin that is to be their base for the latter part of the holiday, while the others head to the inn where they are to spend this particular night; the other two agree to meet them there later.

THRILL to the chain-smoking ACTION!...ACTION!...ACTION!

As they do so, Dr Rayburn comments in voiceover, “As they took off, no-one knew that the next time they saw their friends, most of them would be stilled by death” – and the combination of the insouciance in John Carradine’s voice as he utters those words, and the inappropriately cheery stock music that plays over the scene, almost makes this silly film worth sitting through.

Just as Iijima, Machiko and their companion, Nakata (Sachio Sakai, also a carry-over from Gojira and a familiar Toho face) arrive at the inn, a violent blizzard breaks, eventually provoking an avalanche, as the friends hear to their dismay. Iijima tries to contact the cabin by phone, but is unable to get through. He and the others try to comfort themselves with the thought that it’s just that the line’s down, and that their friends are safe at the cabin; but their relief when the phone rings is overwhelming. Machiko snatches the receiver up, but then drops it horror as she hears screaming, and then gunfire....

The innkeeper rings a distress bell to summon “the mountain police”; and the next day, the storm clearing, the friends join the search party that heads for the cabin. From outside all seems peaceful; but inside is a scene of devastation, and a dead body. The second missing skier, also dead, is found outside; while Iijima points in bewildered horror to the enormous footprints in the snow, and to the clump of strange hair caught on the wall of the cabin.

Did I mention that the fades from the Japanese footage to the American inserts are not only wavy-edged, as per tradition, but also accompanied by those equally traditional sit-com harp chords?? Even Claws didn’t sink that low....

And as the soundtracks strums inappropriately, it is indeed back to the US of A, where we learn that the dead boys were Dr Rayburn’s “two assistants from the University of Tokyo”. It may not, however, be until the end of the film that it dawns upon us that Dr Rayburn actually plays no part in the story that he’s telling; and that this tangential connection to the main characters is as close to it as he ever gets, apart from being attached to the same faculty as “the guy in glasses”.

"I'm afraid it's true: they've sold our film to the Distributors Corporation of America."

The added American scenes in Half Human are amazingly dull in conception and staging, and if they took longer than a day to shoot I’ll mange mon chapeau. However, they do have two things going for them: John Carradine’s voice, which can make even the most nonsensical dialogue seem---well, slightly less nonsensical, anyway; and, yes, some truly nonsensical dialogue. As I mentioned, it seems that no-one was willing to cop to writing these intrusions, and maybe no-one did: some of them are certainly loopy enough to be ad-libbed, as we shall see.

For instance, here Rayburn comments that the death of the boys was, “The first of a series of horrible events that led to the discovery of the answer to one of the great mysteries of anthropology!” However, it appears that Dr Templeton, despite being an anthropologist, isn’t much interested in the great mysteries of anthropology – and that he has trouble joining dot ‘A’ to dot ‘B’ – as he waves aside this pronouncement to demand to know whether they ever found out what left the footprints? This is the cue for Rayburn and Osborne to chuckle at his youthful impetuosity, and for Rayburn to observe that Templeton didn’t change a bit while he was away in Japan (how long was he there?): he’s still, “Combination detective and scientist!” Osborne cuts in here to suggest condescendingly that, “We let Dr Rayburn proceed in his own way”, prompting Rayburn to observe even more condescendingly that, “Alan’s questions sometimes can be quite helpful!”

Not this time, however. We hear that, no, the search didn’t find whatever left the prints. However, the papers got hold of the story of a monster and went to town with it. (I must say, Rayburn’s snotty attitude here is a bit odd, considering he knows that something even more bizarre than the papers were suggesting was discovered.) Rayburn then reveals that he was allowed to bring home both a cast of the footprint and a sample of the hair, which he offers to show the others. He leads them to a bench where sits, not only a microscope, but also a collection of Conical Beakers Filled With Mysterious Coloured Fluids. Some of us might be prompted here to wonder what, exactly, an anthropologist needs with those....or why indeed, assuming he did, he’d keep them in his office.

But I guess SCIENCE!! is SCIENCE!!

And Rayburn then proceeds to do a little SCIENCE!!, as he prepares a mount of the unidentified hair for his colleagues’ examination – by which I mean he slaps a clump of it between two loose glass slides.

 

Look, everybody! SCIENCE!!

This act provokes some wonderful gobbledygook from the three SCIENTISTS!!, which I have preserved for the ages over in Immortal Dialogue. No, no! – don’t bother to thank me!  Of course, our experts have, “Never seen a hair follicle like that!” Rayburn then produces the cast, telling the others that the creature that made the print was calculated to be nine feet tall and to weigh 1800 pounds. This further prompts our experts to make various remarks about “THE monkey family”; and indeed, we get so many references to “THE monkey family” here that I began amusing myself with a mental image of “THE Monkee family”, and a rampaging Mickey Dolenz. (Wait, wasn’t that The Night Of The Strangler? – which by the way, was directed by Joy N. Houck Jr, who also made Creature From Black Lake. It’s a mighty small world inside my head.)

It was, we learn, Professor Tanaka – “One of the most brilliant men in the entire field of anthropology!” – who finally developed a theory about the unclassifiable hair. Observing that it was closer to human hair than to that of any animal, Tanaka concluded that it might come from something that was “a combination of man and animal” – nothing less, in fact, than “the missing link”. Based upon this theory, Tanaka proposed an expedition into “the uninhabited and uncharted” section of the mountains, which the university agreed to fund.

(Man! – I wish I could find a funding body like that! By the way, do watch John Carradine point at the western coast of Japan on his map, while talking about the eastern part of the mountain range....)

And so, come the spring, Tanaka and his people set out accompanied by the survivors of the original skiing party.

Cue harp chords.

If Jû Jin Yuki Otoko has a major flaw, it’s the amount of time devoted to various parties tracking through the snow and up the mountains. (I tell you, after this and Snowbeast, I’m just hankering for something set in the tropics.) Half Human does us something resembling a favour in this respect, as between its crude pruning of its source and John Carradine’s inane narration, these scenes pass quite painlessly. Tanaka and his team finally establish a base camp for their expedition, and bed down for the night. Iijima and Machiko share a tent (and nothing more; still, I’d bet that’s why the American film changed the relationship between them); and as they drift off to sleep a shadowy figure approaches....

"....and by the same logic, Krakatoa is east of Java."

There’s a flap-window at the rear of the tent, and the next moment a face appears at it, gazing in at Machiko. We get our first look at the entire creature a moment later, as we cut outside to find it glancing cautiously around the campsite. At this point, the stock music SWELLS TO A TERRIFYING CRESCENDO SO THAT WE GET THAT THIS IS REALLY REALLY SCARY!!!!....which it isn’t; and which, I’m sure I need hardly say, wasn’t the original intent of this scene at all. On the contrary: the creature’s actions are hesitant, and its subsequent touch of Machiko’s cheek quite gentle.

Machiko stirs in her sleep and opens her eyes....and, upon seeing a huge hairy hand sitting on the pillow beside her, screams.

The creature runs away instantly, although Iijima, waking in shock, is quick enough to catch a glimpse of its retreating form. The members of the expedition pour out of their tents, waving rifles, and run after the creature. Iijima outstrips all the others, so that in the end most of the others end up searching for him; and his pursuit ends badly when, running through the darkness, he falls down an unseen slope.... It is morning before the others return to camp, telling Machiko that they found Iijima’s rifle but not Iijima.

Wavy harp chords.

Templeton here interrupts Rayburn with another one of his unhelpful questions. This time around he’s been given the job of playing Dorothy Dix about the creature’s behaviour, and its “obvious emotionalism”. “Why did this killer suddenly, almost tenderly, touch this girl’s cheek?” he demands. Uh, because it’s not a killer? Oh, sorry, wrong film. Osborne interjects here, frowning deeply as he sucks on his cancer-stick, and finally uttering the following profundity:

“I don’t know what explanation Dr Rayburn will give for his species’ behaviour, but it’s logical to assume that he ran because....the girl’s sudden scream frightened it.”

Scientists, folks! – we’re so much smarter than the rest of you, who would certainly never have thought of that. Or jumbled your prepositions quite so brilliantly.

"That's too bad. Have you tried Ashley & Martin?"

Honestly, Half Human’s absolute determination to treat its central trio’s superficial and ungrammatical blather like precious pearls of ultimate wisdom is probably its most entertaining aspect.

And indeed, we get one of the screenplay’s real gems a moment later, after Rayburn reveals that Iijima was rescued by “a strange mountain people”, who had never seen “a civilised human” before:

Templeton:  “Were these people you refer to....savages?”
Rayburn
:  “Oh....not to the point of eating their own dead.”

Rayburn goes on to load the mountain people with more civilised epithets, calling them “strange”, “ignorant”, “superstitious”, “uncivilised”, and then reveals that they worshipped the Snowman as a god.

(Without getting into the rest of it – I’ll leave that up to Will – I feel compelled to say that I don’t see how you could call these people superstitious: after all, their god lives in a cave just down the street.)

Anyway, wavy harp chords. We watch the tribespeople bowing down an chanting before their altar, and then cut inside a cave shelter, where Iijima is just waking up. He finds standing near him someone to whom Rayburn refers as “this girl” – as opposed to “the girl” – but who we shall call Chika.

(Rayburn also has the colossal nerve to describe her as strangely silent....as if every Japanese person in this stupid film isn’t “strangely silent”!)

Iijima and Chika are suddenly confronted by the elderly leader of the tribe (played by Kokuten Kôdô, the first person ever to speak the word “Godzilla” onscreen), who is obviously less than thrilled with Iijima’s presence in the village. The chief orders Chika to follow him outside, where she is confronted by the furious tribespeople who are convinced that she has, yes, angered their god. The chief then sends Chika to the Snowman’s cave with a “sacrificial offering” and, as soon as her back is turned, the villagers set upon Iijima, truss him up, and dangle him off a nearby cliff as vulture-bait.

 

"We don't like your type around here!"

The scene where, above all others, the intent of Jû Jin Yuki Otoko is perverted follows. The Snowman is returning from a hunting expedition with a deer slung over his shoulders when he sees Iijima’s predicament and proceeds to rescue him, hauling him up onto terra firma and undoing his ropes before picking up his prey and moving on, leaving Iijima to stare after him in stunned disbelief.

The Snowman’s act is presented as one of – we have to use the term – simple humanity, and a very casual one at that: assuming that anyone, seeing a fellow creature, not to say their fellow man, in trouble, would naturally go their rescue. This is the key sequence of Jû Jin Yuki Otoko, the one that cuts right to the heart of its thesis.

In Half Human, from the moment we glimpse the Snowman, that damn SCARY! DANGER! stock music kicks in again, and continues to blare throughout what follows – which is a scene fatally divided against itself. On one hand, the film’s re-cutters couldn’t get away from the fact that the Snowman does, in fact, rescue Iijima; but the footage is re-cut and scored so as to try and make it seem that the creature is threatening him, or toying with him, and might just toss him off the cliff at any moment – or indeed kill him and eat him. I suppose when it doesn’t, when again it just moves peaceably away, we’re all supposed to tug at our collars and say, “Phew! That was....too close!

A wavy harp chord later, our specimens of Homo sapiens seem to be having trouble with the concept of a creature that doesn’t kill just because it could. Templeton works himself into a lather here over the startling notion that the Snowman might have “thought processes” and “conflicts”, which gives Rayburn the chance to take us through a wonderfully counterintuitive change of direction: pondering the “emotional capacity” of the creature, including its “capacity to love”, Rayburn concludes that the answers to these questions must come from, “The field of medical science rather than the field of anthropology” (!).

Rayburn, looking rather smug, then announces that the body, not of the Snowman, but of its son, is at the university hospital, awaiting autopsy by, “Dr Jordan, Dr Carl Jordan” – played by Morris Ankrum, whose general’s uniform must have been at the cleaners that afternoon.

We did get a brief look at Snowman Jr during the scene in which Chika took the “sacrificial offering” to the cave. Now we find it lying on a slab, looking very much the worse for wear. I stand by my opinion that DCA originally intended to do something very different with Junior, before dropping the idea in the Too-Hard basket. Unless they thought that nothing says “children’s film” like an autopsy scene.

"Strange, ignorant, superstitious, uncivilised.... But enough about me!"

Morris Ankrum only gets this one scene, but he makes the most of it, showing that he can gobbledygook with the best of them. His first startling revelation is that the creature’s head is half-human, at any rate: one side of the “skull vault” is human-like, the other, animal-like. Next we hear that the creature’s respiratory system is just like ours – “As indeed are the lungs” (!). The vocal chords are remarkable, allowing the creature to, “Bellow like an animal, yet cry and whimper like a human being” – or at least like a human being watching Half Human.

Dr Jordan then sums up his findings with the pronouncement that, in his opinion, the creature is - “One half animal....and half-human!”

It’s obvious, by the way, that we’re not supposed to interpret this as meaning what it says – i.e. that the creature’s mother was human. Rather, we’re in the midst of another wonderful illustration of the extent of Hollywood’s understanding of the processes of evolution and speciation. Osborne brings matters to a head by asking:

“Would you say that over a period of 200,000 years, this species’ system, as it grew, might slowly evolve into man?”

I hope you’re looking bewildered just now, folks. I know I am.

This is Morris Ankrum’s big moment, and he milks for everything it’s worth. He’s already done the dramatic rubber glove strip; now, instead of answering, he gives everyone a grave look, wanders away, takes off his apron, and starts washing his hands. In the middle of that, he starts muttering about “controlling the animal part of his brain” and “treat[ing] his glands” – and we realise we’re in the middle of a sort of tennis match, with each idiotic question getting batted back with an even more idiotic answer. Anyway, Jordan’s conclusion is that if we tinkered enough for long enough, in ten or fifteen generations we’d have a creature that, “Might be able to speak a single sentence.”

Which, unless I’m very much mistaken, would be something along the lines of, “Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty humans!”

"It was found dead in front of its television, a copy of Half Human in the DVD player...."

I can hardly begin to tell you how much nonsense is talked over the next minute or so (although most of it’s over in Immortal Dialogue, so you can see for yourself), but this meeting of The Four Towering Intellects climaxes with this remarkable exchange:

Osborne:  “Would he be able to differentiate between male and female?”
Jordan
:  “Yes, I should think so.”
Templeton
:  “Would he have a marked preference?”

Hey, hey, hey! – don’t ask, don’t tell!!

Anyway, somebody must have realised it was time to get back to the actual story; so Jordan makes a casual remark about the bullet he found in the creature’s heart, which prompts a wavy harp chord segue. This time we find ourselves dropped into the middle of Jû Jin Yuki Otoko’s main subplot, about a team of nasty types who capture animals – and half-animals – for exhibition purposes. (We also discover that John Carradine thinks the singular of “species” is “specie”.) According to Half Human’s version of events, the trappers are following, “Professor Tanaka’s map, which had been re-printed” – a pretty good trick, considering that he and his people are, to our best knowledge, still halfway up the Japanese Alps. Cutting to the chase, the trappers manage to find the cave right away – “Incredible as it may seem,” comments Rayburn – and find Snowman Jr playing outside it. Their plan is to capture the juvenile, and use it as bait for the adult, which they duly do. In an astonishingly wrong-headed touch, wild animal snarling is dubbed in here, whereas the original soundtrack has the young creature uttering rather pathetic cries of distress. Anyway, the plan works, and the trappers manage to drop a net over the adult Snowman and then chloroform him.

While this is going on, Snowman Jr manages to untie himself, and watches as his father is trussed up and lifted into the back on a truck. The young creature manages to jump onto the truck as it moves away from the site of the capture and tries to free his father, but it all goes horribly wrong. Long story short, the combination of strangling and truck crashes kills most of the trappers, their boss tries to shoot the Snowman but plugs Junior instead, and Dad responds by grabbing up the head trapper and tossing him off a cliff. And rightly so.

"....and now that I've taken care of the animal trappers, I'm coming for you, DCA!"

And then the Snowman goes on a perfectly understandable rampage – which the film treats as his “animal” side coming out, as though there weren’t dozens of films about human parents behaving just like this in similar circumstances. The Snowman destroys the village and villagers alike – all except Chika, from whose stunned face we do a wavy harp chord.

Back at the slab, Templeton wonders how Rayburn got the young Snowman’s body out of the burial cave in which his father left it. “I didn’t,” says Rayburn – well, duh! – “Professor Tanaka did.”

“Strange,” remarks Osborne. “I was so interested in our scientific discussions I almost forgot about Professor Tanaka and the expedition.” Well, don’t worry about it, a lot of people did: you, the screenwriter.... It turns out that Iijima, after his rescue, managed to find Tanaka and the others, and told them what had happened. Convinced that the Snowman is no killer, they set off to find him – only to discover that, in the interim, things have changed just a tad. Coming face to face with their quarry, the members of the expedition must scramble for their lives as he starts a rock slide that almost wipes them out.

(Actually, this is a dirty cheat: this footage is transposed from early in Jû Jin Yuki Otoko, and the rock slide is not set off by the Snowman.)

The expedition gives up its pursuit and returns to camp, but the vengeful Snowman follows them. That night, it makes its presence known, and most of the party rush out with their rifles to look for it, leaving Machiko behind under a single guard. The guard ventures a little too far into the surrounding jungle, however, and the Snowman is able to rush into camp and carry the screaming Machiko away.

Amusingly, in Half Human this scene is almost a kneejerk: it’s getting close to the end of a monster movie, so the girl has to get carried off, right? In Jû Jin Yuki Otoko, however, they are not just fooling around here: it is made perfectly clear that the Snowman, having just lost his child, intends to have another one.

The next morning, the expedition finds first the smouldering remains of the village, and then the shattered Chika, whom Iijima recognises, of course. Iijima persuades her to lead them to the cave. There, they find their way to the burial chamber, and discover the body of the juvenile Snowman.

"As for me, well, who knows what the future holds? My phone might ring at any moment. It could be Jerry Warren, or Al Adamson, or Ted V. Mikels, or Coleman Francis, or...."

Roars alert them to the Snowman’s presence. He is standing on a ledge above them and, as they look up, he lays the unconscious Machiko carefully on the ground. One bright spark shoots at him but misses, causing him to snatch up Machiko and run away. The others follow, and find him on another ledge – this one overhanging a long drop and a sulphur pit.

(Alas! – no-one suggests that, It must be the sulphur in the cave that’s kept him alive all these years....)

The Snowman waves Machiko around, clearly threatening to drop her in the pit if the others get any closer. However, Chika makes a sudden move, climbing towards the ledge. The Snowman makes another threatening gesture, but finally puts Machiko safely down.

Chika pulls her knife and attacks the Snowman, who defends himself easily; but his distraction allows Iijima to get away a shot. The creature staggers backwards, sways, and then plunges into the sulphur pit....without relaxing his grip on Chika’s wrist....

(Here, Chika’s fate seems unwarrantedly grim. In Jû Jin Yuki Otoko, she betrays the Snowman’s whereabouts to the trappers – to be fair, not realising their intentions – and is thus indirectly responsible for the mayhem that follows.)

Our final wavy harp chord follows, with Rayburn commenting, “And now you know why I wasn’t able to bring back the Snowman.” Hey, I’m still trying to figure out how you were able to bring back Snowman Jr! What, Professor Tanaka didn’t want him?

Rayburn pats the post-autopsy corpse on the chest in a friendly way – although you’d think, Y-incision aside, that thing would be just a bit on the nose by this time –  and our three geniuses shake their heads over the “scientific tragedy”, with Osborne saying solemnly, “With the death of the Snowman, the species no doubt became extinct.” Which is true in Jû Jin Yuki Otoko, although we have no reason to think so here. Rayburn, indeed, counters the notion, suggesting that other reported sightings of “hair-covered people” around the world may mean that other “derivative races” may yet exist, even if the Snowman’s doesn’t any more. Rayburn then makes a stirring [sic.] speech about Man’s search for knowledge, and we fade – but that’s not the end of the film. Instead we close with a title card....which I think I’ll let speak for itself:

You bastards.

So that’s Half Human, and as much of Jû Jin Yuki Otoko as most of us are ever likely to see. Will Laughlin’s review of the latter provides a probable explanation for its extreme rarity; although the fact that it does make occasional public appearances at revival houses gives us hope that one day this film might indeed be made commercially available.

Here’s an odd fact, though, which I’ll leave you all to ponder: Jû Jin Yuki Otoko is not commercially available in Japan, but Half Human is. We can only shake our heads over why this might be so. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that while Jû Jin Yuki Otoko insults only the burakumin, Half Human manages to insult everyone equally.
 

 

Don't you love the very Caucasian damsel in distress?

Click here for Will's review of Jû Jin Yuki Otoko.
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Click here for some Immortal Dialogue.
 
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----posted 30/05/2010