Some tokusatsu films like Godzilla (1954) have forever changed the landscape through the spectacular special effects they have employed. When most people think tokusatsu they imagine the dinosaur-like monster destroying Tokyo, but tokusatsu is much more versatile.

This is why we decided to write an article about a lesser-known tokusatsu film, which doesn’t fit the mould of the traditional tokusatsu film. The movie in question is The Human Vapor (1960) and apart from being an interesting example of tokusatsu, it’s also a fascinating Japanese noir.


The Human Vapor was to be the third movie of the “Transforming Humans” series developed by Toho studios. This type of film is a subgenre of the tokusatsu movement called “kaijin”. Kaijin can be translated to “mysterious person” and as such it focuses on a person usually with superhero powers and most often than not – the villain of the story.

Long before Hollywood movies like Joker (2019) and Cruella (2021) centred their narratives around villains in a way to show how they transformed into their evil selves, Japan already had already produced dozens of such films and it even had a special category for them.

Ishiro Honda was chosen to direct the film, while Eiji Tsuburaya was to be the director of special effects. If these names sound familiar to you is because the duo also created Godzilla. They had proven themselves to be the masters of the blossoming tokusatsu film movement.

The script was written by Takeshi Kimura and it was mostly abided to by Honda with the exception of a few controversial scenes.

The Human Vapor hit the Japanese theatres on 11 December 1960. Four years later, it reached the US, but it was heavily edited in order to change the point-of-view to that of the gas man, Mizuno.


NB: Spoilers ahead.

The film begins with a car chase between the police and an alleged bank robber. Once they catch up to him, however, he has disappeared. What’s more, there are not fingerprints at the crime scene either. There’s only a mysterious dancer, Fujichiyo Kasuga, who appears to be connected to the robbery.

The film then introduces us to detective Okamoto and his journalist girlfriend Kyoko. Kyoko is taunting her boyfriend of his inability to solve the case and offers to help him to both advance in her career and to catch the criminal. The detective and his female aid are recognizable archetypes in the noir genre, but is the dancer the femme fatale?

Not long later, another bank robbery is committed, this time a member of staff had died, and the criminal disappeared in thin air. Meanwhile, Fujichiyo is preparing to put up an expensive recital, which makes Kyoko and Okamoto even more suspicious of her. Their suspicions prove to be true when Fujichiyo pays for the theatre with the stolen money.

She is apprehended, but refuses to answer any questions. This makes the criminal, librarian Mizuno, appear to the police in hopes his romantic interest is released. He asks to go with them to the bank and show them how he robbed it; an action reminiscent of American comics villains that taunt the police or the superhero.

Mizuno then turns into vapor and later suffocates two men by wrapping around their necks. It might seem like this scene used CGI, but it’s a work of tokusatsu. A rubber mannequin was made in the image of the actor, which was inflated and deflated, filming it at high speed. In addition, the mannequin was filled with dried ice and water to simulate the hazy transformation of Mizuno.

Apart from the scenes depicting Mizuno’s transformation, the suffocation of his enemies, and the fire at the end, the movie is actually quite naturalistic and doesn’t use that many special effects. This heightens the realism, but it also shows that we’re not dealing with a supernatural monster, but a human being; a statement repeated by Mizuno himself.

Honda’s movies often provide social commentary and this movie is no different. Apparently, Mizuno was cheated by a scientist who turned him into the gas man, only to become his first victim. However, Mizuno feels justified because Dr. Sano has killed many others before his experiment came to fruition.

This is a perfect way to illustrate how science can be used for non-benevolent means; Honda already explored this theme in Godzilla. Despite the fact that Mizuno is a victim of this experiment, he now appreciates his “gift” as it allowed him to help Fujichiyo. Another theme emerges, that of the superhero and the way he wields his powers.

During his conversation with Fujichiyo, it becomes apparent that he feels superior to all other humans, that he is the ultimate human. This contempt for those who don’t have superpowers shows the dark underbelly of superheroes; the legendary comics creator Alan Moore explored this motif and rejected the “goodness” of the superhero on the basis that he’s a fascist ideal.

Honda masterfully portrays this idea, long before superhero comics tried subverting their heroes. Fujichiyo appears to be supportive of her lover, but she realizes the danger he poses to humanity and chooses to sacrifice both him and herself by setting the theatre on fire, and thus ending the story of the gas man.


The Human Vapor is a brilliant film with sophisticated philosophical discussions and, of course, impressive for their time special effects. We recommend it to all our readers.