Released: August 14, 1955
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Released: December 1958 by Distributors Corporation of America (DCA)
Running Time: 63 Minutes
Available from Englewood Entertainment.
Even as Toho was beginning its’ series of giant monster films, they were also making smaller scale films incorporating horror and sci-fi elements. The idea was to put out genre films requiring fewer effects and hence a smaller budget. It was within these constraints that a number of films, usually featuring a man-sized monster or a man transformed by science into something more than human, were made and eventually termed Toho’s “Mutant” series.
The Mutant films are not as much a series as a number of films grouped together which could be considered “kaiju eiga without kaiju.” Within the Mutant series is a sub-genre including Tomei Ningen (The Invisible Man, 1954), Bijo to Ekitai Ningen (Beauty and the Liquid People, 1958. US title: The H-Man, 1959), Denso Ningen (The Telegraphed Man, 1960. US title: Secret of the Telegian, 196?) and Gasu Ningen Daiichigo (Human Vapor #1, 1960. US title: The Human Vapor, 1964), which combine elements of crime drama with horror/sci-fi scenarios. Also lumped in with this group are Matango (1963. US title: Attack of the Mushroom People, 1965), sometimes ESPY (1974/1986?), and Jujin Yokiotoko (Abominable Snowman). Though Toho produced a number of such budget-minded films following Gojira, they were abandoned by the early 1960’s in order to focus on the more lucrative giant monster films for which Toho is still best known today.
The first of the Mutant films is considered to be The Invisible Man (a.k.a. The Invisible Avenger, possibly a proposed export title), which was rushed into production following Gojira in order to have a genre release for Japan’s winter movie season. Since The Invisible Man never received an American release, it will not be covered in “Toho in America.” The first Mutant film to reach American shores was Ishiro Honda’s second genre movie, Jujin Yokiotoko.
Jujin Yokiotoko, or Half Human as it is known in this country, is the story of the title Snowman and offspring (hereafter referred to as the “Snowboy”) dwelling in the Japan Alps and the tragic consequences when they are encountered by modern man. That Honda was assigned this film instead of the sequel to Gojira; Gojira no Gyakushu (Godzilla’s Counterattack, 1955. US title: Gigantis, the Fire Monster, 1959. a.k.a. Godzilla Raids Again) is indicative of a period in Toho history when the rules for success were not set in stone and that experimentation was tolerated. Very little has been written about Jujin Yokiotoko on either side of the Pacific up to now, largely because over the years the film itself has become as elusive and mythical as the strange creatures that it depicts.
The main reason for this obscurity (other than the common disinterest in Honda’s non kaiju films among fans) is the result of its’ portrayal of the mountain people who worship the Snowman as a god. Xenophobic, cruel, superstitious with many displaying physical deformities, the mountain people are never referred to by name but are believed to represent a negative stereotype of the Ainu. The Ainu are an aboriginal Japanese race who have been subject to injustices in Japan comparable to that of the American Indian or the Australian Aborigines. In recent years there has been strong pressure in Japan to censor such offensive material. For this reason Jujin Yokiotoko has been rarely seen in its native country since its release, and even these screenings are limited to the Japanese equivalent of art house/ revival theaters. Ironically, Jujin Yokiotoko, or rather its’ American counterpart Half Human, has been released on video in America, where Walt Disney’s Song of the South (1946) has been banned for it’s stereotyping of African-Americans despite being on home video in – you guessed it – Japan. Further prroblems with Ainu stereotyping would similarly plague Toho and Honda’s Daikaiju Baran (The Monster Baran, 1958. US title: Varan, the Unbelievable, 1962).
Just after the successful 1957 American release of Sora no Daikaiju Radon (Radon, Monster from the Sky, 1956) as Rodan, Distributors Corporation of America (DCA, the company later responsible for unleashing Ed Wood Jr’s Plan Nine From Outer Space on an unsuspecting world) purchased the U.S. rights to Jujin Yokiotoko for release the following year under the title Half Human. Only the third Toho genre film to reach America by that time, Half Human represented the most heavily Americanized of those films and consequently the most damaging to the original version.
Borrowing ideas from Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (inserting new footage with western actors) and their own Rodan (heavy narration to save on dubbing costs), DCA’s Half Human has been so altered that very little of Honda’s original film is left to evaluate. Only about half of the films’ original running time remains which is supplemented by approximately 20 minutes of American footage. To top it off the entire Japanese soundtrack, save for maybe a few sound effects, has been completely removed.
As a thorough examination of changes made to the original film would be too lengthy to describe in the space of this article, the following comparison will only address significant differences between the two versions of the film. Differences found in the Japanese version will be denoted by bold type.
The American credits play out against a painting of the Japan Alps just as in the Japanese version, though the Toho logo has been removed and replaced with DCA’s logo. The title Half Human appears and fades, followed by The Story of the Abominable Snowman. The title music has been replaced with library music, as has all of Masaru Sato’s score. Much of the same music can be heard in Rodan.
The Japanese version is told in flashbacks framed by scenes of a reporter questioning the expedition after they have returned from their harrowing ordeal in the mountains. The American version borrows the flashback concept but substitutes new footage of anthropologist Dr. John Rayburn (John Carradine) relaying the story to two associates played by Russell Thorsen and Robert Karnes. It seems Dr. Rayburn has recently returned to the States after spending time at Tokyo University as part of an exchange program. Characters from the Japanese version are said to be Rayburn’s assistants. In between segments of Honda’s film, which are narrated by Carradine in lieu of dubbing the film, the scene switches back to Rayburn and company (via those blurry dream sequence dissolves that are parodied in Wayne’s World) sitting in an office and talking. These scenes serve to deliver expository dialogue and fill in the gaps left by the elimination of Japanese footage and dialog. At one point the trio goes to another room where a doctor (Morris Ankrum) is conducting an autopsy on the Snowboy, allegedly the actual costume which Toho shipped over for use in the new footage.
Trapped at an inn by a blizzard, three skiers try to contact friends who made it to their cabin before the storm began. One of them, Machiko Takeno (Momoko Kochi, referred to only as “the girl” in the American version), looks out the window and sees a hairy human shape (the American version substitutes an earlier scene of an avalanche to cover this deletion and explain what Machiko sees). She screams and looks again to see a woman (Akemi Negishi) wearing furs approaching the inn. This turns out to be Chika, the “Mountain Girl” who debuts later in the American version. Chika comes in to get warm but quietly leaves after the others receive a phone call which turns out to be their friends screaming in terror (the American version adds the sounds of animal cries and breaking objects).
The investigation of the cabin reveals one of the skier’s friends dead and the other comatose, with a third skier missing entirely. The American cut simplifies matters by explaining that both skiers found at the cabin are dead. The missing third skier is not mentioned, altering the film’s reason for the upcoming expedition from a survivor search to a monster hunt.
After waiting for the snow to thaw, the skiers return as part of an expedition to find their missing friend. As they prepare at the inn they draw the attention of an exploiter, Oba (Yoshio Kosugi). Learning from his aide Matsui (Akira Tani) that the expedition expects to possibly encounter a strange creature on their journey, the two set out to follow in the hopes it will lead them to something they can profit from.
The expedition’s journey has been shortened considerably in the American version, combining several camping scenes into one and deleting scenes of Oba spying on their camp. In another deleted scene an expedition member fires a gun into some bushes. A dead animal is found in the bushes but an examination reveals that it wasn’t the gunshot that killed it.
After the Snowman wanders into camp and startles Machiko, Takeshi Ijima (Akira Takarada, “the boy” in the American version) tries to track down the creature. In the dark he falls over the side of a small cliff. Disoriented, he accidentally comes across Oba’s camp where he is discovered. Oba’s henchmen attack Takeshi and drop him over another cliff, believing him to be dead. The American version deletes this scene making it appear that the fall incapacitates “the boy”.
Chika is first introduced in the American version when Takeshi awakens in her village where she is caring for him. Her grandfather (Kokuten Kodo), the village elder, sends her to take food to the Snowman’s cave. When she returns to the village she discovers that in her absence her people have tied Takeshi over a cliff to die and be eaten by buzzards. Chika protests to her grandfather who proceeds to strike her several times. Later Oba and Matsui find her sulking. They try to tempt her into revealing the Snowman’s whereabouts by offering her a ring. She eventually relents, indicating the location of the Snowman’s cave by throwing a stone in the general direction.
Oba and his men do not appear in the American version until they arrive at the cave, the explanation being that the expedition’s map was copied and sold to them. Footage of the Snowman returning to the cave is placed earlier in the American version, making it appear that it is in the cave while the Snowboy is being captured. The American version inserts a chain like sound to the net used to ambush the Snowman, helping to explain it’s stiff appearance.
Chika’s grandfather discovers the ring and learns of her leading Oba to the cave. He strikes her and assembles the villagers to try and stop Oba from taking the Snowman. Oba severely wounds the old man with a gunshot and scares off the villagers. Later when the Snowman attacks the village, the grandfather presumably dies when Snowman topples a hut that he’s in. The American version deletes footage placing him inside the hut, leaving the grandfather’s precise fate unclear.
Both creatures escape from the cage (on the back of the Oba’s truck) in which they are imprisoned. Attempting self-defense, Oba shoots and accidentally kills the Snowboy. The enraged Snowman pushes the truck over the side of a cliff and heads for Oba. The Snowman grabs Oba and tosses him aside. The Snowman then picks Oba up and throws him over the cliff where he falls to his death. This scene is accomplished via a very unsuccessful optical where a struggling Oba pretending to be lifted and thrown has been matted into a shot of the Snowman pretending to lift and throw him. The American version makes it appear that Oba falls off the cliff as a result of the first shot of him being tossed aside. The scene of the Snowman destroying the truck doesn’t occur until after Oba’s death in the American version.
As Takeshi leads the expedition to find the Snowman, they are stopped by a rockslide, which is actually from an earlier point in the Japanese version. John Carradine’s narration explains that several expedition members saw the Snowman start the rockslide.
Chika leads the expedition to the Snowman’s cave in the hopes of rescuing Machiko. Searching the cave they find the remains of the missing skier they’ve been searching for and a note containing his last written words. A further deleted scene features a shot of the dead man superimposed over an image of the note as it is heard being read in his voice.
The Japanese version ends by returning from the flashback to the reporter questioning the expedition. As the rain outside stops everyone leaves the room they’ve been waiting in to go home. Following some closing comments by Dr. Rayburn, the American version ends with the following onscreen message:
This message, which incredibly understates Toho’s involvement, is followed by partial Japanese credits that misspell several names.
While Half Human arguably remains faithful to the basic story of Jujin Yokiotoko (not to mention making a nice highlight reel of most of the best scenes) it ultimately fails to improve upon or equal Honda’s original. This is mainly because only the skeleton of the original production remains. Though the added scenes are shorter than the excised Japanese footage, the pace is ultimately slowed and unengaging. This is because so much of the story is being told to the audience by observers who have little connection to the film’s events, instead of allowing the events to be experienced through the characters as they happen. The decision to narrate the Japanese footage in a documentary fashion adds to the problem and robs the film of its’ performances. It also conveys a cheesy quality reminiscent of similar narration found in low budget films (a common practice to eliminate the expense of live sound recording) such as The Creeping Terror (1964). The Americanized additions to Godzilla, King of the Monsters! and Rodan succeeded in adding something dramatically satisfying to fill at least some of the void left by what was deleted. At this, Half Human fails miserably.
By the 1980’s DCA had folded and Half Human had become an orphan film. In 1985 the copyright was renewed by Wade Williams (a kind of “patron saint” of lesser 1950’s sci fi, if you will) though some have questioned the legitimacy of his claim. Williams sold the video rights first to the Media/Nostalgia Merchant Label and later to Rhino Video in 1990. Several public domain companies like Sinister Cinema also carried the film, but it has been slowly disappearing from these venues as if the public domain status has changed or is being challenged.
Analyzed by Brian R. Culver