"The Invisible Man v The Human Fly", Dir: Mitsuo Murayama, 1957
Available to view on Amazon Prime, "The Invisible Man v The Human Fly", directed by Mitsuo Murayama and produced by the Daiei company, more well-known later for their rival to Toho's "Godzilla": "Gamera" , is very loosely based on both the H.G Well's novel and Hollywood adaptations of the same, but only in terms of featuring *an* Invisible Man.
The studios' 1949 film, "The Invisible Man Appears" (which I have yet to watch) - since again this was a random selection based on a recommendation and simple curiosity resulting from the intriguing and slightly surreal title - seems closer to both Well's novel and the Hollywood adaptations that preceded it, certainly in terms of the design of the invisible man.
The plot deviates wildly from the literary source to weave a rather bizarre plot concerning a series of unexplained and seemingly random, unconnected murders taking place in Tokyo and where the only clue is a strange buzzing sound heard at the point of the victim's death.
The film opens with a passenger aircraft that is about to land at Tokyo (Narita?) airport - on board is a professor who happens to be seated next to a man who moments before landing is found dead in the toilet cubicle.
The crew are at a loss to explain how this might have occurred since all the passengers were seated at the time of the crime apart from the victim, and it appears that he died from a knife wound to the back.
A young police detective, "Detective Hayama" (Yoshihiro Hamaguchi) is assigned to uncover the motive but the investigation is hampered by a lack of physical evidence, other than the curious buzzing sound, which, oddly enough is absent in the opening sequence aboard the passenger plane. The police department is baffled by the reason for the murders though there is a breakthrough of sorts when a matchbook is found at the scene of the latest murder.
The matchbook comes from a nightclub whose owner is found to have a criminal record and the police promptly decide to keep him under observation even though he has a watertight alibi - in the film this offers the opportunity for a musical interlude featuring a nightclub dancer who happens to be the girlfriend of the manager.
In the meantime we discover that Det' Hayama is a close friend of the family of the professor (of course :)) and keenly follows his work and that of his son in scientific research into invisibility rays, conducted in a secret lab in his home.
Gradually the police department manage to link the murder victims to a businessman, and it appears that they are in some way connected to him through their wartime service stationed on a Pacific island where the Japanese army were developing exotic weaponry - in this case a gas stored in a glass phial that has the ability to miniaturise people.
Without elaborating on the bizarre scenario further, the film makes use of stock elements from later Japanese science fiction offerings, combining straightforward murder mystery with fantastical elements and a freewheeling approach to science - eg the research lab is full of neon tubes and control panels and all the characters seem capable of entertaining any bizarre explanation for the murders without any sense that it could seem absurd and ridiculous.
That's not to say that no one questions Det' Hayama's sanity when he comes to the conclusion that the murderer might be some sort of insect however, as his superior suggests he take a much needed holiday to relieve the stress of the investigation.
In the meantime the professor's son turns the potentially fatal invisibility ray on himself to see if he can help in the investigation, and from that point on it becomes a device to expose the murderer and mastermind behind the crimes.
While the plot might seem wacky and improbable, it holds together due to the internal logic of the script, even if the scenario is a little far-fetched. The "Human Fly" of the title turns out to be the businessman's stooge who has developed a dependancy for the miniaturizing gas, which has turned him into an insane killer and tool for the businessman to eliminate his enemies.
Depicted as a tiny human figure through visual effects (which are generally quite effective in showing the invisibility ray and the Human Fly's interaction with normal sized people) , there are some curious inconsistencies such as the fact that he doesn't possess wings, as might be assumed from the buzzing sound when he is flying about (the gas also makes people lighter than air, see...?:)), additionally, the murder on the passenger plane is never fully explained and one is left to assume that the "Human Fly" had somehow entered the plane when it was airborne or was always present in miniaturized form - anyway, inconsistencies aside, and there are many, once the plot gets into its' very surreal stride you just go with the flow.
Overall I found it to be a quite enjoyable film that anticipates many of the stock in trade scenes of later Daiei science fiction films that are common to other films from other Japanese studios, such as conference room scenes to discuss a plan of action when confronted by strange occurrences and elements of comedy to offset the horror of the rather graphic murders depicted in the film.
The whimsical nature of the plot can be illustrated by a scene where the "Human Fly" alights on the semi-naked body of the nightclub dancer who he lusts after (and later murders in a fit of jealousy) and he is shown climbing over what to him must seem like an immense rolling landscape of cleavage :)
There are a number of other unintentionally funny sequences, in particular where the population of Tokyo are warned to beware of a "Human Fly" committing murders in the city through public announcements - a result of the Japanese to English subtitling.
Loopy as the plot sounds, by the end you are almost, but not quite, ready to accept that a "Human Fly" might even be a possibility. Having convinced an audience that invisibility is within the bounds of possibility in the earlier film with the help of a classic novel by a noted visionary author of science fiction, this time it appears that the film-makers aimed to explore more outlandish concepts inspired by films like "The Incredible Shrinking Man", (Dir: Jack Arnold) released in the same year, fused with the earlier "The Invisible Man", to arrive at something that skirts the realms of the absurd but without ever plunging headlong into surrealism.
If nothing else, it demonstrates a level of inventiveness and a willingness to explore superficially odd concepts that typify many of the later "Tokusatsu" giant monster science fiction films of the era.