Jû jin yuki otoko / Abominable Snowman (1955) Reviewed
Jû jin yuki otoko (transl. “Abominable Snowman”, 1955) was director Ishirō Honda’s seventh film and his second monster genre movie after Gojira (1954). Many of the same people who worked on Gojira also worked on “Snowman”, including Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, writers Takeo Murata and Shigeru Kayama, and technical effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya. The creature makeup/suit was designed by Toshinori Oohasi. Jû jin yuki otoko is best known today as an unavailable film and a very early entry into the abominable snowman filmography. It is listed by wikipedia as being banned in Japan. The original film is excruciatingly difficult to find and I suspect Toho’s lawyers do an adept job at keeping it off the convention and bootleggers circuit. I managed to view the film on loan as a 94 minute, Time Coded Recording from a Japanese Toho Video (tape) source. The Americanized film Half Human can be found on-line. (See also Monsterminions Half Human (1958) review). This Americanized version included clips of John Carradine interwoven with segments of the original Japanese production. It’s worth taking a peak. As usual, the original uncut film is far superior.
The opening title sequence immediately grabs your attention with exquisite matte paintings of Nihon Arupusu and a brassy score composed by Masaru Satō. The main title sounds a bit western with a harmonica piece, like something American composer Elmer Bernstein might have scored. There’s a dash of Bernard Hermann in there too (think The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad). The title sequence ends focusing on a single dominant mountain peak. Presumably this is where the Abominable Snowman lives.
The film cuts to a rainy sequence at a train station. A journalist inquires if the mountain expedition crew has returned. Seven bushed men and a woman sit around a table. One man has a bandaged head. One of the team members reluctantly tells the horrific story of their encounter. The film dissolves to a flash-back sequence with skiers enjoying a vacation in the Japanese Alps. Some of this footage is seen in Half Human. The cinematography was composed by DOP Tadashi Iimura and is unlike anything you would see in an American film from the same period. The on-location photography is distinctly different from the well-illuminated sets, with Kaiju and tanks that Toho technicians would pioneer later in the decade.
The skiers include familiar actors who also appeared in Gojira, including Akira Takarada as Takashi and the beautiful Momoko Kochi as Michiko. They return to the ski lodge and are informed about an impending storm. Two members of the ski party seek refuge in a nearby, but detached and remote cabin. Later, one of the missing skiers is found dead in the cabin. Large footprints are found in the snow. Clumps of animal hair are retrieved above a doorway and on the side of a rough wooden panel. The search party is called off for the other missing skier.
Later, during warmer weather, another expedition, led by Dr. Koizumi (Nobuo Nakamura, The War of the Gargantuas (1968) and star of several Kurosawa film) returns to the mountain side (valley?) in search of the lost skier and presumably, the Snowman. This is the expedition crew seen in the opening moments of the film. The on-location photography is technically savvy during this stretch of the movie, using several tracking shots and a splendid crane composition that pulls back to show the hiking team against a mountain backdrop and flowing canes of bamboo and other vegetation.
On a moonlit evening the snowman enters camp and in a scene reminiscent of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), very lightly touches the pretty face of Michiko.
Another expedition team also camps nearby. They are a circus crew -there with the evil intentions of capturing the Abominable Snowman. They eventually capture a juvenile snowman, which they use as bait for luring in the adult snowman. All hell breaks lose soon after that sequence (I won’t spoil the fun if you’re lucky enough to see the film).
Along with Hammer’s The Abominable Snowman [of the Himalayas] (1957), Honda’s Abominable Snowman is perhaps the finest film about the title creature ever made. Honda’s film is the nearly perfect monster movie -it offers an interesting story, scenic locations, suspense (the early sequences film like a crime mystery), interesting characters and solid stock actors, some unusual camera angles and cinematography, and a sympathetic monster. I can’t help draw up comparisons to King Kong (1933). There are several, including:
- Both films feature a monster in an isolated setting
- The monsters are ape or ape-like
- The monsters both live in caves and are mountain-dwellers
- The monsters are both remnants and the last of their kind
- Both films feature men and monsters falling to their deaths
- A woman is kidnapped by the monster
- The monster is attracted to the woman
- Giant monster footprints are found
- A primitive tribe worships the monster
- The monster is caught but escapes
- The monster is shot at
- The monster gets really mad
- The monster pulls on a rope or vine to retrieve someone below, and
- The monster has anthropomorphic qualities
Jû jin yuki otoko is one of Ishirō Honda’s finest films. I’d rank it a notch below Gojira, but on par with many of his Kaiju and sci-fi classics, including Mothra, The Mysterians, and Rodan (I’m also a sucker for Matango!). Jû jin yuki otoko is different though -perhaps it feels different to me because it hasn’t been in circulation or due to the taboo nature of seeing a banned film. I liken it’s mystique a bit to Disney’s mistreated and misunderstood Song of the South (1946), which Disney has vaulted away forever due to the film’s perceived racist portrayals. (*Frankly I never understood that view as Uncle Remus is the damned hero of the story. To me, Song of the South is no more racist than a Charlie Chan film).
Collectors seek what they don’t have and Song of the South is available if you look hard enough. There’s a mystique about that film. Likewise, Jû jin yuki otoko is allegedly banned (and not released by Toho) due to its portrayal of the indigenous Ainu people. In watching the film it reminds me of the cliché tribe in King Kong, with Noble Johnson as the chief offering up Ann Darrow as Kong meat. Years later, when Peter Jackson ineptly remade the film, he feared the worst (or at least the lawyers and studio did) and portrayed the Skull Islanders as elderly Caucasian women and kids. Spare me.
Jû jin yuki otoko is rare genre filmmaking and really a noteworthy gem in Honda’s canon of wonderful fantasy films. Hopefully we will eventually see a restored release of the film.
Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishirō Honda, Peter H. Brothers, 2009, AuthorHouse. Pages 74-81 are dedicated to Snowman.
See also Wikipedia Article.
ps. Thank you for opportunity to finally screen this film.