“Big Man Japan”, now available on region 2 DVD via Revolver, marks the directorial debut of noted Japanese comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto, one half of the popular duo Dauntaun. Here, as well as scripting, he also takes the central role in a mockumentary following the daily life and exploits of Masaru Daisato, a seemingly unremarkable man, who just happens to have a talent for transforming into the huge Dai-Nipponjin when zapped with electricity. In this guise of Big Man Japan, he defends the country against a variety of increasingly strange giant monsters, taking them on with his iron bar. Unfortunately his job, handed down from his father and grandfather, takes its toll on his family and life, not to mention turning the public against him for his often destructive methods.
With “Big Man Japan”, Matsumoto takes an admirably straight faced, deadpan approach, and the fake documentary style and interview format work superbly. Effectively carrying the film on his shoulders, he turns in a masterful performance, making Daisato likeable, despite his being a completely unambitious nobody. The film is very funny throughout, and not always in an obvious way, largely eschewing the kind of slapstick and buffoonery that might have been expected, sticking mainly instead to the wretched averageness of his life. Matsumoto makes the most of the public’s dislike for the Big Man, his incompetence, and his family problems, both with his ex-wife and daughter, and his senile, similarly powered grandfather, who occasionally transforms and takes to wandering the city causing trouble.
The film also benefits from a sly, satirical vein, and has a contemporary feel, with plenty of pop culture nods to help to keep it grounded and somehow believable, with Daisato having to take on sponsors who place their adverts on various parts of his body, and who become angry if they aren’t clearly visible during his brawls. Added to this are lots of nice genre savvy touches, which thankfully don’t result in the film being too self referential, such as the fact that he has to be wrapped in his giant pair of purple pants before transforming.
The film boasts a very imaginative stream of monsters, some of which really have to be seen to be believed, including a giant head on a frog like leg, a creepy giant baby and too many others to mention. Of course, some purists may have preferred the old school man in a suit approach that the genre itself is so known and beloved for, though the CGI effects are pretty good, and do allow for some wild and creative scenes.
The battle scenes themselves are exciting and hilarious, throwing up some genuinely surprising moments. Certainly, the film as a whole is a surreal affair, and even if it weren’t for its other considerable charms, would manage to engage through its sheer offbeat weirdness. The ending itself is worth the price of admission on its own, being truly bizarre, yet fitting and even quite moving in its own way.
Obviously, Kaiju fans are likely to get the very most from “Big Man Japan” and its nuances, though it should certainly be enjoyed by all viewers with a yen for Japanese cult cinema. Highly amusing and imaginative, it marks the start of a promising directorial career for Hitoshi Matsumoto, who shows himself to have a strong creative voice and winning sense of absurdity.
Hitoshi Matsumoto (director) / Hitoshi Matsumoto, Mitsuyoshi Takasu (screenplay)
CAST: Hitoshi Matsumoto … Masaru Daisatô / Dai-Nihonjin
Riki Takeuchi … Haneru-no-jû
Ua … Manager Kobori
Ryûnosuke Kamiki … Warabe-no-jû
Haruka Unabara … Shimeru-no-jû
Tomoji Hasegawa … Interviewer / Director
Itsuji Itao … Female Niou-no-jû