There are shots in Ishiro Honda's "Half Human" suggesting he shared his friend Akira Kurosawa's fascination with the western movies of John Ford. The movie is set in the rugged mountains of Japan-'which ones, I cannot say, as there were no English subtitles accompanying the print I saw-'and the widescreen landscape shots are gorgeous. There is one eerily akin to a similar shot in Ford's 1939 "Stagecoach," where we see the vast wilderness and the characters, visible as little black figures, inch along the very bottom edge of the screen. Filmed in black-and-white, the snow-coated Japanese mountains could not look any more gorgeous. Mr. Honda placed his characters in this wilderness, which, according to his film, are inhabited by the last few inhabitants of a nearly-extinct race of humanoids and a village of distrustful people.
The film is unique in regards to the inhabitants of this mountain. Mr. Honda made it in 1955 for Toho Co., Ltd: the studio that would soon become rich on the success of monsters like Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan. This was made shortly after Godzilla's first two movies and long before the big chain of successes, so the monster of "Half Human" is a shrimp compared to the 50-meter tall giants that would later decimate half of Honshu film-after-film. The creature only stands about nine feet tall, and the effects are pretty good. The creature looks bulky enough for us to believe it is muscular and there are some mechanisms in the face to convince us that it is alive, but at the same time, not so humanlike that we can always read what it's thinking or feeling. And then there are the mountain-inhabitants, the very reason why this film has been shelved from public viewing for decades.
I can understand the reasoning of the Japanese censors for being concerned. Not being as forgiving of prejudice put on film as we are, the representations of the mountain villagers, supposedly similar Japan's Ainu population, is disturbing. The village consists of a group of disturbingly untrusting, physically atrocious oddballs short on brains (they find it very hard to figure out that approaching a man with a gun means they will soon be shot, even after their leader gets a chest-full of buckshot right in front of them), prone to attacking each other. The village leader, on two occasions, cruelly beats his daughter-'who, of course, is the only normal-looking person around him-'while his comrades stand behind him. But at the same time, this treatment is no worse than the oddball villagers in Mr. Honda's later "Great Monster Varan." That is unless there is something more critical in the dialogue, which again, I could not decipher. In the immortal words of Raymond Burr: I'm afraid my Japanese is a little rusty.
"Half Human" is not so much lost as it is forbidden to be seen. Prints of it can be found. Please do not write me, asking where I saw it, for the YouTube censors had eradicated it from their website the afternoon after I saw it there. My only regret is announcing that this long-sought-after movie is worth seeing only on a curious look. It's not one of Ishiro Honda's great films or modest ones. By contrast, it is a lopsided picture, one that begins much stronger than it ends. The movie builds up some potentially strong human relationships, it wants us to care about them, it wants to be character-driven, and yet this only sustains for the first forty-some minutes. The characters, a group of young people vacationing in the mountains, dominate the setup and parts of the rising action, then mysteriously disconnect from the story until the very end. By the time they reunite with the audience, they have very nearly been forgotten. Funny considering how much we followed them for so much of the beginning. Good as they are-'the movie reunites Akira Takarada and Momoko Kochi as on-camera lovers, and both shell out very solid, interesting and competent performances-'there is not a whole lot to care about. And by the end of the picture, in an anti-climactic drone-out set in a cave that goes on for much, much too long, they are instructed to show so much more emotion for a person who died in the first reel than somebody who could very well die in the next few minutes.
I liked the representation of the abominable snowman, being shown more as a curious animal than a bloodthirsty mongrel. That is, of course, until it gets provoked into becoming a bloodthirsty mongrel. It's not that it's a bad idea, it's just that it becomes very limply handled. It was much more captivating when it saves Mr. Takarada from death on a cliff than it was when it throws a bad guy into a ravine. Mostly because the sped-up camera effects and the subsequent human dummy thrown into what is too obviously a miniature is too laugh-inducing. And the creature's motivation for going in an attacking a village in the third act left me scratching my head. I understand it was provoked and angry, but it had gotten its revenge already. What was the purpose other than to show more carnage?
I would have liked "Half Human" a whole lot more had the screenplay allowed its main characters to stick through the whole ordeal. They're just a few people trapped on a mountaintop, so why pull away from them for so long? Why not let them take the journey with us? As it is, the movie is hardly bad. In fact, it's not bad at all. And it starts so excellently. But by the time we get to that climax in the cave-'which, again, takes much too long to finish-'my ability to care had waned out.
Review by TheUnknown837-1 from the Internet Movie Database.