It's even duller than Daiei's 1949 Invisible Man film. I had to take two breaks to get through it.
One oddity that's emerging is that these Japanese films don't believe in invisible baddies. Invisibility's portrayed as a curse, accepted self-sacrificingly. This film suggests that Japan's wartime government turned people invisible to use as secret agents, but no one's lifted a finger to help them since then and no one's bothered to look for a cure. The film's first scene is an invisible man's suicide.
Then, again, there's no scepticism or secrecy. The government immediately broadcasts the full facts on TV and everyone believes everything. This is wonderful and I'd love to hammer it into the skulls of Hollywood genre flicks of this era.
This is a cool start. After that, though, nothing happens throughout the film's first half.
1. We don't see the Invisible Man. (Well, technically we do, but we're unaware of the fact.)
2. There's a poor excuse for a storyline. A journalist looks for the Invisible Man, a clown wanders around benevolently for no obvious reason and a cabaret singer has problems with her boss. (She also sings musical numbers.) That's about it. You wonder when the story's going to start.
3. Oh, and there's also a blind orphan. Yeah, I know. Subtle. She's annoying whenever she speaks, since she has a voice like like a wind-up toy.
4. This half of the film's mostly interested in how society would react to Invisible Men. Criminals wrap themselves in bandages and commit crimes. "Invisible Men have been tied to crime and have become a social problem." Politicians shout self-servingly at the chief of police about protecting the public from the invisible man's knife. One bloke mentions the lascivious possibilities. Cabarets put Invisible Man tricks into their dance acts. This is interesting in an abstract way, but also boring when it's the only thing that's happening for half a film.
Then, halfway through, the film pulls a cool twist. That was nifty. It falls apart if you poke the logic, but I still liked it. At last, we have a storyline! Unfortunately, though, this becomes The Invisible Man vs. Some Gangsters. Oooooh, be still my beating heart. I know who I'd bet on in that match-up. (He makes a stupid mess of it, but that was probably necessary to keep the film going, since a halfway competent Invisible Man could have done anything he liked with them within five minutes.)
There are plot holes and questions.
(a) hadn't this Invisible Man been a secret agent for the military? Shouldn't he have been a bit better at infiltration and elimination, then?
(b) how did the journalist, Komatsu, decide to follow the clown? The film vaguely sort of explains it in his discussion of what to look for with his editor, but also really, really doesn't.
(c) the make-up idea is clever, but what about the eyes and mouth?
(d) where did the music box at the end come from? The Invisible Man can't have been carrying it, or we'd have seen it.
(e) using a taxi to follow a pedestrian? Was that really the best option? Surprise, surprise, the target notices.
Eiji Tsuburaya's special effects are again excellent, but the shot you'll remember is that singer's bad lip synching. The Invisible Man's scene with the blind girl is memorable, though, even though you know it's coming.
In terms of dramatic momentum, this film's first half is a big heap of nothing. You'd see more in it on a rewatch, but I struggle to imagine anyone deliberately inflicting this film on themselves twice. I like the ideas and themes. "This monster that was created by militarism." After that, the second half has a gentle, likeable hero who's trying to do good... but he's taking half an hour to mess up a five-minute job.
The gangsters are passable. The Invisible Man himself is charming, when we eventually get to know him. That's about it for good stuff, though.