Toho in America
A Critical Comparison between the Japanese and
American Versions of the Toho Fantasy Films
Denso Ningen (The Electrically-Transmitted Man)
Released: April 10, 1960
Running Time: 85 minutes
The Secret of the Telegian
Running Time: 85 minutes
Released by Herts-Lion International Corporation
Release date uncertain, possibly mid-1960’s
Formaly available from Sinister Cinema and Something Weird Video
Analysis by Robert Biondi
As the 1950’s drew to a close, Toho was still exploring different types of SPFX films, rather than concentrating solely on “giant monster” movies. Having released Uchu Daisenso (War in Space, U.S. title: Battle in Outer Space) in December 1959, Toho’s first movie for the 1960’s was from their economical, so-called “mutant” series. Denso Ningen (The Electrically-Transmitted Man) was Toho’s fourth “mutant” film, preceded by Tomei Ningen (The Invisible Man, a.k.a., The Invisible Avenger, 1954, unreleased in the U.S.), Jujin Yokiotoko (Abominable Snowman, 1955. U.S. title: Half Human, 1958, see Kaiju-Fan #5), and Bijo to Ekitai Ningen (Beauty and the Liquid People. U.S. title: The H-Man, 1959, see Kaiju-Fan #7). This was an odd decision, since none of the prior “mutant” films had met with commercial success.
The plot of Denso Ningen involves the cryotron, a fantastic teleportation device. A former Lance-Corporal of the Imperial Japanese Army named Sudo uses the cryotron to avenge himself on his treacherous comrades who tried to kill him during World War II. The intended victims are sent military I.D. tags, Sudo’s “calling card” of death. Sudo then hunts his victims down and murders them with a bayonet, the use of the cryotron giving Sudo a perfect alibi.
Denso Ningen was helmed by Jun Fukuda, working on his second film as a director, and his first SPFX film. No enthusiast of the kaiju-eiga genre, Fukuda’s real forte was in directing crime dramas. In later years, Fukuda would direct what are generally (and unfortunately) regarded as the “lesser” Godzilla films; Gojira-Ebirah-Mosura: Nankai no Daiketto (Godzilla-Ebirah-Mothra: Big Duel in the South Seas, 1966. U.S. title: Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, 1968) Kaiju-to no Kessen: Gojira no Musuko, (Monster Island Battle: Son of Godzilla, 1967. US title: Son of Godzilla, 1969), Chikyu Kogeki Meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan (Earth Destruction Directive: Godzilla vs. Gigan, 1972. US title: Godzilla vs. Gigan, 1977), Gojira tai Megaro (Godzilla vs. Megalon, 1973/1976), and Gojira tai MekaGojira (Godzilla vs. Mecha-Godzilla, 1974/1977). Although Fukuda’s directing does not compare well with Ishiro Honda’s, Fukuda’s style does have its own merits.
Denso Ningen is generally dismissed by kaiju fans, and there is no denying that the film is not one of Toho’s better efforts. Written by Shinichi Sekizawa, the plot is contrived and confusing, and suffers in comparison to Bijo to Ekitai Ningen and Toho’s next “Mutant” film, Gasu Ningen Daiichigo (Human Vapor #1, 1960. U.S. title: The Human Vapor, 1964). Eiji Tsuburaya’s SPFX are adequate, but pale as opposed to his effects in the other “mutant” movies. However, Denso Ningen is well-paced and has a film noir quality. Fukuda excels in building tension, creating false leads, and delivering shocks. Featuring interesting camera-work, backed by a rumbling score by Sei Ikeno and graced with fine performances by many of Toho’s familiar actors, Denso Ningen is an entertaining film in its own way.
It has been said that Denso Ningen is a copy of The Fly (1958), though the only similarity with that film is the cryotron. Denso Ningen is more like Bijo to Ekitai Ningen, with a “mutant” plot woven into a crime drama plot, the latter a clear reflection of Fukuda’s fondness for crime dramas. Like Bijo to Ekitai Ningen, part of the action takes place in a cabaret. The concept of erotic dancing has gone to extremes since the prior film, in the form of a gold-painted dancing girl! Several of the actors from Bijo to Ekitai Ningen appear in similar roles in Denso Ningen. Akihiko Hirata and Yoshio Tsuchiya again appear as detectives; Tsuchiya would later star in the title role in Gasu Ningen Daiichigo. The female lead is again played by Yumi Shirakawa, though here is she given little to do. Unlike Bijo to Ekitai Ningen, the relationship between the police and the civilian hero, this time a science journalist named Kirioka (Koji Tsuruta), is not antagonistic, nor are the police depicted as thick-headed buffoons.
As Lance-Corporal Sudo, Tadao Nakamaru does not act very well, performing too much like a cartoony villain. However, this is probably the fault of the script and Fukuda’s own interpretation, rather than Nakamaru’s acting ability. Nakamaru already had a small role as a detective in Bijo to Ekitai Ningen, and would continue to work with Fukuda in crime dramas; he also appeared as the Interpol Chief in MekaGojira no Gyakushu (MechaGodzilla’s Counterattack, 1975. US title: Terror of MechaGodzilla, 1978).
It has been said that Denso Ningen had initial input from Ishiro Honda, but that he left the project early. Yet Denso Ningen features a factor of a story that he always wished to film; the idea of dead a Japanese soldier from World War II returning to Japan. Honda would never make a feature-length movie based on this idea. However, this concept comprises “The Tunnel” sequence in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990), one of several films in which Honda worked closely with Japan’s most renowned director.
Until this point in our study of Toho in America, the studio’s genre films had received stateside theatrical releases (Tomei Ningen being an exception) with Americanization that ranged from judicious to inept. However, The Secret of the Telegian (probably Toho’s international title for Denso Ningen) is an anomaly; the film was neither released theatrically nor Americanized in the true sense of the word. Indeed, the history of The Secret of the Telegian is shrouded in more mystery than the events in the film itself.
The Secret of the Telegian was purchased by Herts-Lion International Corporation, an obscure company best known for the release of the macabre Carnival of Souls (1962). Apparently strapped for funds, Herts-Lion could not afford to release The Secret of the Telegian theatrically, so the film went straight to television, though supposedly to only certain regions of the U.S. (Reportedly, the film was trade-screened in Los Angeles in July of 1961, probably at the Toho LeBrea Theater). The Secret of the Telegian thus became the first Toho science-fiction movie that skipped a stateside theatrical release and went straight to television. Exactly when The Secret of the Telegian was issued to television is uncertain; a fair guess would be the mid-1960’s, but the answer may never be known. Additionally, it appears that Herts-Lion had contemplated changing the title, since the film was announced as The Telegians and as Secret File of the Telegian.
For export, Toho would usually strike English-dubbed prints of their SPFX films. These international versions were often titled differently from the Japanese versions (such as Ebirah, Horror of the Deep for Big Duel in the South Seas), though these prints were complete, and featured English credits. The dubbing was often done in Hong Kong, but with disappointing results; the dubbing actors usually spoke with Australian accents and delivered their lines in a flat, matter-of-fact manner. This often necessitated redubbing when these films were obtained by American distributors.
The Secret of the Telegian was available on home video by Sinister Cinema and Something Weird Video. Based on these videos, it is almost certain that Herts-Lion’s The Secret of the Telegian is from a Toho international print. The familiar Toho logo appears at the beginning, blazoned with “Toho Scope” which appeared in Toho’s widescreen films up to the early 1960’s. The film concludes with “The End” appearing over “1963 Toho International Incorporated.” This is followed by a title card with a large “W” and the words, “A Presentation of Westhampton Film Corporation” (Herts-Lion’s connection with this company is not clear). Because of their financial difficulties, it was probably more cost-effective for Herts-Lion to release The Secret of the Telegian in its original English-dubbed form, rather than re-dub the film in English. If so, The Secret of the Telegian is the first known example of an American company releasing a Toho international print virtually unaltered.
All known U.S. prints of The Secret of the Telegian are cropped and in black-and-white, even though the Japanese version is widescreen and in color. The cropping in itself is regrettable, since the film shows imaginative wide-screen composition. Reportedly, Herts-Lion was so hard up for cash that they could not afford to release The Secret of the Telegian in color. However, Brian Culver points out that it was common for movie distributors to release black-and-white prints of color films for television broadcasts. Brian also reports that black-and-white versions of The H-Man, Battle in Outer Space, and Mothra, were broadcast in some parts of the U.S. as late as the 1970’s! Therefore, Herts-Lion’s release of The Secret of the Telegian in black-and-white might have been due to standard practice as well as financial problems.
The running times for the video versions of The Secret of the Telegian and Toho’s laserdisc of Denso Ningen are nearly identical. However, the ending is slightly different. The camera pans on the erupting volcano for about one second longer, containing footage not seen in the Japanese version.
There are also minor differences between the Japanese version and the international version (the term “American version” is not applicable, since this film was not truly Americanized). These are:
Also worth noting is the scene when Kirioka and Akiko approach the farm where Sudo is hiding. Kirioka and Akiko are shown walking and speaking, then there is a brief sound dropout; this is because Sudo is observing his “visitors” through binoculars. The cropping in the international version is so tight that the “binocular effect” is obscured.
The dubbing voices include the familiar voice of the (unidentified) actor who dubbed Secretary Kubota in Godzilla vs. Gigan; he voices several characters, including Akihiko Hirata’s Detective Kobayashi. This same dubbing actor can be heard in numerous Kung-Fu movies, and several of the Gamera films that Sandy Frank released on home video in the late 1980’s. However, the voices in The Secret of the Telegian are badly cast; in particular Professor Niki (Takamaru Sasaki) sounds like he is speaking with a stereotypically false German accent! Furthermore, the dialogue is unflattering, such as, “Listen, wise-guy, he’s science, not city desk!” and “Hey, you! Pop!”
It is interesting that Herts-Lion’s release of The Secret of the Telegian anticipated (somewhat), the method that Cinema Shares used in the late 1970’s; to release a Toho international print virtually intact. In The Secret of the Telegian, the Japanese language signs and newspapers were left intact; these would usually be deleted or replaced in an Americanized kaiju film. The profanity also remained in intact, with “damn” popping up at least three times throughout the film. The racy scenes also remained, such as the gyrating golden dancer, and a scene of a thug (Eisei Amamoto) using a nude pin-up for target practice with a dart gun! (Herts-Lion may have left it to the discretion of television station managers to edit these scenes. Reportedly, prints exist of The Secret of the Telegian that run 75 minutes, a length that would fit the standard 90-minute time-slot used for movies in this era).
Yet there can be no praise for Herts-Lion’s handling of The Secret of the Telegian. Denied a theatrical release, the film was considered “lost” for years, much like Warner Bros.’ Gigantis the Fire-Monster (Gojira no Gyakushu, see Kaiju-Fan #6). Nor is there any pleasure in watching a black-and-white and cropped version of a color and wide-screen movie! Granted, this ignominy was caused by Herts-Lion’s fiscal insolvency rather than deliberate mistreatment, but the results have become a part of the often unfortunate history of Toho in America.
About five years after the release of Denso Ningen, Fukuda co-wrote a sequel called The Transparent Man vs. the Flame Man. Since Denso Ningen was not a success, the sequel was never made. Yet only eight months after the release of Denso Ningen, Toho would make a fifth attempt at the “mutant” series with what is arguably the most unique entry; Gasu Ningen Daiichigo.
1. To quote Guy Tucker from Age of the Gods, (page 119); “The always insightful Horacio Higuchi, in . . . Monster International (#2), translates the Japanese kuraiotron as “cryotron” rather than the once-preferred English reading clariotron, rightly suggesting that “cryotron” more closely evokes the refrigeration-based (i.e. cryogenic) system which Sudo uses.” It is not clear, however, if the “cryotron” refers to only a sub-unit of the technology, or to the teleportation device as a whole.
2. The best known instances of this type of release are Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla; both were released directly to television by Walter-Reade Sterling.
3. In the early 1990’s, an unlicensed, color, cropped version of The Secret of the Telegian had surfaced. However, it appears that this version was reconstructed from color visual material with the English-dubbed soundtrack added on.
– Galbraith, Stuart IV. Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1994.
– Milner, David. “Jun Fukuda Interview.” Cult Movies #13 (1995), and “Kimi Honda Interview” Cult Movies #16 (1995)
– Tucker, Guy Mariner. Age of the Gods: A History of the Japanese Fantasy Film. NY: Daikaiju Publishing, 1996.
Article ©1998, 2004 Robert Biondi/Daikaiju Publishing.