The Invisible Man Appears/The Invisible Man Vs. The Human Fly
Finally released outside Japan for the very first time, these unique riffs on H.G. Wells classic character (though undoubtedly also indebted to Universal s iconic film series) are two of the earliest examples of tokusatsu (special effects) cinema from Daiei Studios, later the home of Gamera.
In The Invisible Man Appears, written and directed by Nobuo Adachi in 1949, a scientist successfully creates an invisibility serum, only to be kidnapped by a gang of thugs who wish to use the formula to rob a priceless jewel. In addition to being the earliest surviving Japanese science fiction film ever made, the film s entertaining special effects were an early credit for the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya, five years before he first brought Godzilla to life.
Eight years later, Mitsuo Murayama s exciting The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly tells the story of a series of mysterious murders where the only clue is strange buzzing noise at the scene of the crime could this be linked to secret wartime experiments in shrinking humans to the size of insects? And can a scientist who s just invented an invisibility ray be the one to stop it?
Arrow Video presents two Japanese takes on the Invisible Man story with The Invisible Man Appears (directed by Nabuo Adachi) and The Invisible Man vs. the Human Fly (directed by Mitsuo Murayama). Both films are given 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes and presented on the same dual-layer disc. The Invisible Man Appears is presented in the aspect ratio of around 1.33:1 while the second film is presented in the ratio of 1.37:1.
Arrow precedes each film with a note about the lackluster condition of the elements available, indicating that the only existing copies were 16mm exhibition prints, which—to no one’s surprise I’m sure—were in rough condition. The notes then go on to state that the extensive restoration efforts required would have “[compromised] the integrity of the image.” Though they also include the note in the restoration portion of the included booklet (limited to the first pressing!), I’m sure they felt they needed to place the note front and center before the films start to temper expectations.
The note plays down the amount of restoration that went into this release but I feel that some would have had to have gone into each film: what we get is rough, there’s no doubt about that, but I honestly would have expected these films to come off a lot worse than they actually do. At their best they come off looking decent.
Of the two The Invisible Man Appears is in the worst shape, at least for about 2/3rds of its running time. The frame jumps consistently every which way during these portions of the film, but then eases and stabilizes during the last portion, with jumps limited to occurring around some edits. Scratches are quite heavy, getting heavier during fades and transitions, while the edges of the frame can look worn and faded. The image is rarely sharp, detail being significantly limited, but I’m pretty sure this comes down to the elements themselves. For what it is, though, detail can still manage to be decent enough from time to time.
The second film fares a bit a better overall, in that it’s far more stable through its runtime, even a bit sharper. The frame doesn’t jump all that much, only doing so around edits and transitions. Scratches and marks are still prominent, and the edges show some wear and tear, but it's all milder in comparison to the first film. Like the other film, transitions and fades show more damage, but clear up once the effect is done. For both films, optical effects clearly show their edges, and the damage can get a little heavier during these moments, more than likely a side effect of the optical process around creating them.
While the films are in rough condition, Arrow has, at the very least, encoded them both as well as they can. The digital presentations for each film are solid, nothing severe popping up. Grain management has been applied, though I feel this was more than likely necessary, otherwise the presentations could have been even messier. It's applied more noticeably to the first hour or so of the first film, but is eased up on during the last portion of it, where grain becomes a bit more prominent. The second film doesn't use it so much. This can lead to a processed look, especially through most of the first film (which the screen grabs make look worse than it actually is in motion), but I still think the image for both films retain a film-like look to them. Rough film, but film no less.
Granted, the solid digital presentations don't make the films look all that much better than what their source materials allow, but this aspect at least makes sure the problems with the elements aren’t emphasized or made worse. Arrow has, in the end, done what they reasonably can.
The Invisible Man Appears (1949): 5/10 The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly (1957): 6/10
Each film comes with a lossless PCM 1.0 Japanese soundtrack. The second film may sound a bit better than the first but otherwise they’re both a little rough. To my surprise, damage is pretty limited, and I have to assume some work went into it: outside of an audible hiss there isn’t much worth noting. Both tracks can come off a bit edgy and distorted at times, but dialogue is still easy to hear and the tracks rarely come off flat.
Unsurprisingly, as I’m sure the appeal of both films is limited, Arrow doesn’t go all out with the on-disc features. The disc includes a trailer for the first film and then small galleries for each. Kim Newman also appears for a 22-minute interview covering the Invisible Man sub-genre of science-fiction/horror, from H.G. Wells’ original novel to the Universal Monster films and the various takes on the source, including the two films here. The interview was originally filmed in 2019, though Newman recorded some new material in 2020 (appearing to wear the exact same outfit) to address Universal’s failed attempt at franchising the monster movies (with Tom Cruise’s disastrous take on The Mummy), which led to Universal switching gears and releasing the more successful 2020 version of The Invisible Man, which Newman notes did carry over some attributes of Wells’ novel.
Though I enjoyed his talk around the subject matter, I was hoping Newman would focus more on these two movies, which are quite bizarre genre-twisting takes, more noirish crime thriller with sci-fi elements than monster films. Alas, his conversation is more around the Invisible-whatever sub-genre as a whole. Thankfully the included booklet remedies that with a couple of essays. The first, a lengthy one by Keith Allison (reprinted from a 2020 article he wrote for Diabolique) delves quite a bit deeper into both films, while the second essay, written by Hayley Scanlon (exclusively for this edition), looks at the film in relation to the tokusatsu special effects/monster movies that were produced in Japan after the war. The third essay, by Tom Vincent, looks at the effects work of Eiji Tsuburaya, who worked on the effects for this film (pointed out in this booklet a few times as Japan’s first major science-fiction film) and would go on to work on Godzilla and other kaiju films. The lack of significant material on the disc is disappointing but the booklet manages to make up quite a bit for that.
I think the release is an easy recommendation for those with an interest in Japanese science-fiction but be forewarned: the presentations are rough due to the source materials, but Arrow has done a fine job encoding them to this disc.