I have another busy evening tonight, so I’m recycling another old review from 2011…I don’t call out King Kong connections, but you can figure ’em out:
There are two types of “lost” movies. In the first case, the studio doesn’t have the materials anymore, such as London After Midnight, or the spider pit sequence from King Kong. In the event that they’re discovered (like lost footage from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis recently was), they’re usually made available ASAP. The other type of lost movies are the ones that the studio has under self-imposed ban, due to outcry or social changes, and these tend to officially stay buried (think Song of the South). The Japanese movie juggernaut Toho has two such titles in their banned scifi movie vault: Toshio Masuda’s Prophecies of Nostradamus (AKA The Last Days of Planet Earth), and Ishiro Honda’s Snowman.
That’s right, one of the movies that they keep under lockdown is Ishiro Honda’s second monster movie, between Godzilla and Rodan. It gets worse. The monster costume is stellar, and “God of Special Effects” Eiji Tsuburaya’s turns in great work. It also stars Akira Takarada. Feel like Toho is slugging you in the gut yet? The golden creative triumvirate is only broken in that Akira Ifukube didn’t compose the score; but Akira Kurosawa’s favorite composer, Masaru Sato, is no slouch either.
There’s an American localization of Snowman called Half Human, splicing in new footage of John Carradine (such reversions were the hot thing back in the day: see the US editions of Godzilla, Varan, or Gammera), but still turning out half an hour shorter. That had a VHS release, so I’d gotten to see it, but the original Japanese version has proven elusive in any country; it’s been banned since the 1960’s (well, there was a 10-minute digest released in 1984). Toho’s concern is about the negative portrayal of indigenous mountain-dwelling Japanese in the film. It’s true that the people are depicted as savages, but I don’t think it’s any worse than how King Kong vs. Godzilla represents Pacific islanders. (Is it because they’re Japanese citizens? The logic seems analogous to banning Texas Chainsaw Massacre for its depiction of rednecks.) Anyway, some kind, rebellious soul has apparently seen fit to leak the movie to the gray-market masses, and that just makes my day.
The film is about an expedition into the Japanese alps, one part investigation, one part rescue mission, after a man is abducted from his cabin during a snowstorm by something that leaves monstrous bigfootprints. Actually, there’s more than one expedition, one whose aim is study, and one whose goal is capture for profit; the profiteers run afoul the monster’s kin and pay dearly for it (preceding the scenario explored in Mothra, Gorgo, and Gappa). Monster and son are the last of their kind due to some poisonous mushrooms growing on the mountain (not Matango, sadly), so the yeti attempts to take one of the human women in the party for a mate. It dies for this, but it wasn’t really such a bad creature after all: it had kidnapped the first guy just to nurse him back to health after an avalanche.
When you’ve watched as many Honda scifi movies as many times as I have, there are a few patterns that emerge, and there are two that I noticed here. First, he loves to show forward shots of lines of people trekking up a mountain, and this is perhaps the most ubiquitous example of that. The other trope involves the controversial evil mountain people; a young girl in their tribe falls in love with the main character and betrays her family to help him…like Emiko in Godzilla, Miss Namikawa in Monster Zero, and Katsura in Terror of Mechagodzilla (and bleakly, of the four, only Emiko survives).
It’s a shame that the movie isn’t more seen; I would love to own a pristine copy given a respectful home video release. Again, the monster looks great, and the only factor I imagine keeping this underground is that it’s not a giant monster. (Varan was also banned for a while, but the creature’s appearance as a part of Godzilla canon likely led to the movie’s resurrection.) In the mean time, the leaked print serves to plug a hole in my Toho-related science fiction archive. Soon there might not be any holy grails left!