"Half Human" is actually the English title of a movie called "Ju Jin Yuki Otoko" (translated as "Abominable Snowman") made in 1955 by Ishiro Honda, featuring what I thought was Toho's second attempt at a major kaiju monster. It actually isn't really a kaiju movie in the traditional sense, but I'll get to that in a minute. The reason I'm reviewing this one so far out of historical sequence is because "Half Human" is the single most difficult Japanese monster movie to find these days*, being available only on the Black Market from very sketchy websites. Which is how I got my copy. The problem is that "Half Human" features some very racist depictions of the Ainu people of northern Japan**, showing them as inbred savages that hulk around like zombies who may or may not be mating with the Abominable Snowman that they worship as a God. For that reason, out of political correctness, Toho has basically buried this movie, preferring to pretend it doesn't exist and never gave it an official release on home video.
Which is why my copy appears to have been captured off a television showing from decades ago, with subtitles added later. The quality was terrible, the picture had a strange blur at the top, and I think parts of the frame have been cut off. Really the main reason why I decided to see this movie was to join an elite group of super nerds, probably only about two dozen total who have seen "Half Human". I'm not joking, there cannot be more than thirty humans outside of Japan who have seen the original "Half Human" in its non-edited form. Lots of westerners have seen this movie though in a 1959 American release, which was chopped to bits in an editing process very similar to the American "Godzilla: King of the Monsters", where B-movie mainstay, John Carradine was added between the Japanese footage. As it turns out, that version of the movie is just as impossible to find as the Japanese. And since I had to choose between which bootleg I would order, I went with the original.
Well, I can't say anything about the John Carradine version, but I cannot imagine its worse than the movie I saw. For all the work I did combing the Internet far and wide to find any copy of this movie for this blog, its all wasted because unfortunately, "Half Human" is a terrible movie. This is very shocking to me, since the reviews I read actually ranked it as one of the better Ishiro Honda films, with the only complaint being that it was too long. You're damn right its too fucking long! "Half Human" has all the pacing of a Bert I. Gordon movie, its like watching "Beginning of the End" but without the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew cracking jokes to get you through it. Actually no, this is like a Colman Francis movie - yeah, I went there. This is one of the most boring movies I've ever seen. I waited four weeks for delivery for this? Worse, now I have to write a negative review, and come off as an asshole. I'm sorry, but "Half Human" barely even counts as a giant monster movie, it takes forever to get going, and is so painfully slow that you fade out and lose track of the plot. This is the worst kind of movie - boring.
So this review is probably going to be a quick one, since there really isn't much to say about this movie. I was barely awake watching it, and not for lack of trying. I have a really good attention span, so I could sit through hideous movies like this, though even I start to trail off. If you must watch "Half Human" do it with a case of beers, two buddies, and a hammer with which to smash into your fingers in order to keep yourself awake. Yeah, I'm being harsh, but this movie has it coming.
The plot opens with a group of Japanese tourists exploring the mountains of Japan on a ski trip. The only actors in this film who I recognize is Akira Takarada, the hero of "Godzilla", and a recurring actor in many Toho kaiju productions, and Momoko Kochi, the heroine of "Godzilla" and "The Mysterians", who is just as bland here as she is in everything. Momoko Kochi only plays one character: sweet polite non-threatening Japanese girl who gets kidnapped. Guess what her role in this movie is? I immediately started getting worried when Ishiro Honda decided that skiing was so fascinating that he included two minutes straight of the characters rolling down snow hills without any dialog. At least he could have done us the favor of adding KGB agents to chase James Bond for awhile. Well, the skiing is only the start of it.
Nothing in "Half Human" gets done quickly. This is a movie that pads every second, going out of its way to slow down the pace in every move. Its not being patient to create a mood like a Cowboy movie showing off the beautiful expanse of the American West - this movie was filmed mainly in a soundstage with (fairly decent) matte paintings. There's one scene where a few characters comb over a map while planning their expedition to find the Snowman. We then watch a short boring montage of the expedition marching along. Then we come back to the characters again looking over a map planning their next move. Tell me: why did we need two scenes of people looking at a map? Trust me, it wasn't that great the first time. And I could not even begin to count how many wordless scenes there are of characters walking through woods and mountains. This movie seems to be made, almost by design, to put you to sleep. These flat pointless scenes of nothing happening just throw you right out of the film, until suddenly folding your cloths becomes far more exciting than any Yeti adventure.
The skiing trip goes pretty badly as one character, Nakada disappears for awhile and gets trapped in a blizzard. You won't even notice this guy is gone until they mention he's been killed. They try calling his cabin, only to get the response of him screaming and gunshots. After many minutes of searching the snow, the characters decide to wait until spring. Next scene: its spring. Wow, that was fast. So now the "Godzilla" couple are part of an expedition to find Nakada and the Abominable Snowman who ate him. But they're being tailed by an evil carny and his partner, this fat man with a Hitler mustache. Ultimately the characters come to a forbidden valley, Momoko Kochi sees a furry hand reach into her tent, and Akira Takarada gets captured by the carny. Somehow he wakes up in an Ainu village, having been saved by a very pretty but very dumb girl named Chika. Chika does an excellent job of leading the foreigners into her hidden village, right to the Abominable Snowman her people worship and have been trying to protect. So the village elder hits her over the head. Then she lets herself get tricked by the evil Carny, and the Abominable Snowman is captured.
The only thing in this movie I even mildly like.
As it turns out, that cover is a lie. I was expecting a movie with a King Kong-sized Abominable Snowman, instead the monster is... human-sized, or maybe he's ten-feet-tall, it depends on whether the actor inside the suit is working with real humans or dolls. The suit, honestly, is pretty impressive, I like how the monster is balding. Unfortunately, he doesn't really get to do much in this bloated plot, barely getting a single village to ravage, and not even appearing in any form until forty minutes into the film. Also, the carny is the main villain for most of the running time, the Abominable Snowman is pretty much nothing but sympathetic. He even has a little boy Snowman (where he came from, I'm not sure). Oh, and when the Abominable Snowman escapes with his kid, the evil Carny shoots the child.
Thus proving forever and ever, humans are dicks. I keep saying it, and I keep getting more and more evidence. Luckily the Carny and his sidekick, Hitler, both get thrown off the side of a cliff.
The death of his son causes our Yeti no small amount of distress. He immediately attacks the local Ainu village, killing quite a few of them and burning it down. Out of sadness or fascination or an aborted attempt for "Half Human" to imitate "King Kong", the Abominable Snowman kidnaps the Girl, and leads her into the cave. Then all the other characters chase after her, and finally confront the monster. (This all sounds like exciting plot points, but between the last two sentences was like twenty minutes of nothing happening. I am not joking.) Then a million years later, Chika tries to stab the monster, but only succeeds in tripping over the side with it, into a waterfall. Or maybe its lava, I can't tell since this movie is in black and white. Then just when you'd think its over, the movie pads out even further by throwing in a completely pointless frame story involving a reporter talking to the heroes. Then its over.
I guess "Half Human" isn't a completely wretched abomination, it does have some decent elements. The score by Masaru Sato is inspired and sets the mood well... when they use it. Half this film has no music at all, further dragging on the crushing sense of surreal doldrums. I rather liked the Abominable Snowman effects, when they were used. But I'm still disappointed that the monster was so small. And I'm really disappointed this movie offered nothing in the form of interesting characters, exciting monster attacks, and most especially pacing. Movies need to flow, they need to get their story on with some kind of narrative efficiency. You can have a bad script, and bad actors, and bad special effects, but please, oh god please, have a good editor. I don't know if "Half Human" even had an editor. This is now the worst movie I've watched on this countdown. Yeah, its obscure, and it should stay obscure, Toho should have locked it up in an even deeper dungeon. As a matter of fact, forget this review entirely. I'm sorry I even brought "Half Human" up.
On the next episode of All-Out Giant Monster Attack! - hopefully something better than this, "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad".
* Well, second-most. There was a silent Japanese version of "King Kong" that was made without permission back in the 1930s, which has been completely lost aside from just about two minutes of footage. How did it get lost? Well, we Americans can thank ourselves for that, since we bombed Japan so thoroughly in World War II that we basically erased their entire pre-war film stock, wiping out a considerable portion of film history. Freedom is not free.
** If you've never heard of the Ainu people, don't be too worried, you aren't living under a rock. Most people think that Japan is just the home of the Japanese people, and that's that, this isn't entirely true. Actually, up until the 19th century, Yamato Japanese (the ethnic group most people are thinking of when they think "Japanese") were limited to just the lower major islands of Japan. In the northern island of Hokkaido there was the Ainu people who spoke the Ainu language. Ainus lived all across that corner of the Pacific, in Sakhalin, in the Kuril Islands, and even into parts of what is today mainland Russia. Their culture, dress, cuisine, and language is very different than Yamato Japanese, being a culture situated more or less between East Asian civilization and that of Inuits.
By the 19th century, the Yamatos, who had always maintained a trading presence and some settlements in Hokkaido, finally decided to take direct control over the island as a defensive measure against the expansion of Imperial Russia. (The conquest of Hokkaido, followed by the Ryukyuan islands began a long history of Japanese expansion that ended spectacularly with the explosion of nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.) As you would expect, the Ainus haven't had an easy time living in a largely Yamato nation, and today they're a tiny minority. So much like a movie that depicts American Indians as mindless inbred savages, "Half Human" is considered very offensive today.