Toho Films, following the template set by Universal’s monster movies and later adopted by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, introduced monsters in standalone vehicles and then mixed them up in an ongoing, ever-mutating, ever-rebooting cycle which currently continues in the Legendary Films monsterverse titles. It’s a shame they didn’t stretch to teaming up the clutch of human monster/mutant/supervillain types who appear in a trio of lookalike pictures – Bijo to ekitau ningen (The H-Man, 1958), Gasu Ningen dai 1 Go (The Human Vapor, 1960) and Denso Ningen (Secret of the Telegian, 1960). Earlier, the studio had done a couple of ‘tomei ningen’ (invisible man) movies, and all three of these films feel like variants on the Invisible format Universal stretched to a miniseries that only fed back into its main monster rallies in the tag scene of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The maniac super-crooks of these films have unique abilities other than invisibility, but conduct the sort of demented crime sprees associated with the Griffin family.
The last of this little cycle, Secret of the Telegian, finds Jun Fukuda taking over from specialist Ishiro Honda, and indeed beginning a career as the guy who directed Godzilla & Co when Honda wasn’t available, though Eiji Tsuburaya is still handling the effects work. All three films have striking ideas but are oddly plodding police-crime-reporter dramas with monsters – only the Human Vapor, obsessed with a classical dancer and robbing banks to fund her comeback, is particularly interesting as a character, and even he’s not on a par with, say, Robert Lansing as the 4D Man, Brett Halliday as the Projected Man or any given scrambled Delambre in the Fly movies (another influence). Shinichi Sekizawa’s script is crowded with characters and gimmicks, but boils down to one of those Devil Bat revenge sprees as Sudo aka Goro Nakamoto (Tadao Nakamaru), a wronged loon, uses his powers to become ‘the bayonet murderer’ and kill off the now-prosperous group of ex-army reprobates who tried to kill him and ‘ultra-nationalist’ boffin Dr Niki (Takamaru Sasaki) on the night of the surrender in 1945. Thought dead, the pair have been using the gold the baddies wanted to steal to work on a matter transportation device – and the only thing Sudo can think of using it for is to get an unbeatable alibi while he stabs victims he’s targeted with threatening notes (and sent spare army dog-tags).
It opens with a murder in a funfair spook attraction – an illustration shows a long-necked rokoroku among the attractions and there’s a nice little gag for yokai fans as the cops are shown interrogating a carny who’s dressed up as the ghost of Yotsuya – and then brings on a science reporter (Koji Tsuruta), a girl who works for a firm that manufactures cooling equipment (Yumi Shirakawa), a cop (Yoshio Tsuchiya, ex Human Vapor), and other folk in suitss who simply clutter up the film. The victims include crooked club owner Onishi (Seizaburo Kawazu) and more sympathetic fetch-and-carry guy Taki (Sachio Sakai), and the set-pieces have them sweating under gang or police protection as the telegian (even the dub doesn’t use this name) penetrates their defences and turns up at the appointed time to execute them. The finale is especially busy – with an onscreen volcano erupting to destroy the ranch laboratory (and cut off the telegian’s retreat), a threatened typhoon on the offshore island where Onishi is holed up, a reveal that the wheelchairbound Niki doesn’t know what his assistant has been up to (Sudo then tries to kill him too), a Mystery of the Wax Museum rip-off of a false face to show the monster is scarred (whether by the cave detonation in the flashback or as a side effect of the unperfected teleporter is not revealed), and the inevitable melt-down of the villain to goo.
Nakamaru is quietly creepy as Sudo, who takes time out from his vengeance campaign to perv on the heroine and has a nicely nasty little snickery smile whenever he’s feeling especially superior. In teleported form, Sudo seems more like a solid hologram, with lines of old-school TV set distortion. Also odd is the villains’ cover operation – a WWII-themed nostalgia bar with a Goldfinger-look body-painted dancer, waiters in Japanese army uniforms (a minor theme is Sudo dressing up in uniforms from murdered cops, etc.) and hostesses in sailor suits. It’s got so many weird elements that it’s entertaining, despite a preponderance pf scenes of dull people in conservative suits having conferences about the crimes. Fukuda even stages a couple of sequences with considerable imagination – a face-off outside the ranch with a shotgun-toting Sudo in Jethro overalls on one side of the wide screen and a whole crowd of annoyed good guys on the other, and the infallibly appealing business with a room full of crackling buzzing weird equipment sending the villain off to kill again.