Monday, 4 January 2010

Big Man Japan

Title: Big Man Japan
Director: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Released: 2007
Staring: Hitoshi Matsumoto, Riki Takeuchi, Ua, Tomoji Hasegawa

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Plot: Sato (Matsumoto) is a 40 something divorcee, who lives alone with only his cat for company, while occasionally being called upon to save Japan from Giant Monsters, by turning himself into Big Man Japan, achieved by exposing himself to large amounts of electricity which causes him to grow to a gigantic size.

Review: It’s kind of refreshing these days, to go into a film blind as to what to expect, which isn’t no easy thing, especially when you consider how films with even the slightest bit of popularity seem to appear everywhere, no matter how much you attempt to escape the bombardment of publicity being hurled at you. So it was kind of refreshing, sitting down to watch this film with only the slightest idea of what to expect, though it is probably safe to say that with this film, I could have done with some insight as to what I should expect, especially when it refuses to be placed in a single genre, despite from the outset looking like a standard Kaiju type movie, with a big guy battling random monsters and true I got this, but at the same time it is also so much more, as it criss crosses genres randomly throughout making it at times seeing like a patchwork of ideas, only loosely held together by the thread of the main plotline.
The mockumentry style in which Matsumoto has chosen to use to tell the story is quite effective, as it continually allows for him to dissect the character of Sato, who for the first fifteen minutes of the film could be just a regular guy, as he does his daily shopping, while telling the camera crew about his love of umbrellas and his cat, while not actually saying anything about his Big Man Japan alter ego, almost as if he doesn’t know whether to trust the camera crew or not, even though they clearly know already about him and in a way reminded me of “Man Bites Dog” (1992).
The character of Sato is a deeply flawed character, seeing how he is not only divorced but also seems to have trouble connecting with anyone, including his young daughter, who feels ashamed of her father with his ex wife insisting that the film crew blur her face, when on camera, so that she doesn’t get teased at school. At the same time Sato also feels a sense of responsibility to save Japan from the monsters, a responsibility it would seem passed down his family line, adding only additional weight to his responsibilities is the legendry status left by his now senile old Grandfather, who was also Big Man Japan four and who through old movie footage is seen being treated with an almost godlike status, while also inspiring a whole range of merchandise based on his image, where as Sato as Big Man Japan six is widely hated by the Japanese public, who blame him for the frequent destruction he causes to the city while fighting the monsters and is forced to have frequent battles with his agent, who is constantly it seems trying to use him like a giant billboard to display the slogans of various companies.
As Big Man Japan, his appearance is certainly an unique one as he attends to the business of saving Japan, wearing nothing but a giant speedo, while brandishing a large stick and sporting an Eraserhead style hairdo, while The monsters which appear throughout are certainly none less wacky than anything else, that Japan has produced over the years, including one particular monster which is forced to constantly flick its comb over hairstyle back into place. At the same time these monsters are also a cause of much trouble for Sato’s public image, wether it’s being accused of being a “Monster Pimp” after failing to stop two monsters from copulating in public, or for accidently killing a baby monster which sparks a mass candlelit memorial service for the creature.
I guess one of my main gripes with the film while watching would be the use of CGI throughout for the monster attack sequences, with Sato himself becoming another CGI creation whenever he is turned into his alter ego and as flawless as they look, working seamlessly with the live action background, I guess it is a traditionalist in me that would prefer to see a bunch of guys in monster suits, fighting in a miniature scale Japan. It’s ironic really then that it is at this point that Matsumoto really pulls the rug from under your feet, by suddenly switching the film, to this style of film making with the whole finale being shot in a traditional Kaiju style which might also be the most insane thing I have seen, as he also throws in an Ultra man style family of giant robots, to help him battle his nemesis while frequently shouting the word “Justice”. Though it has to be said that this sequence lacks any form of grace, with the whole fight sequence being as subtle as a housebrick to the face, but then at the same time I have a feeling that perhaps this was Matsumoto’s intention for this sequence, though it does have a feeling that perhaps by this point Matsumoto had lost patience with the film and just wanted to end it.
The humour through the film is best described as dry which will certainly not be to every viewers tastes and did leave me on occasion, wondering whether everything I was watching was supposed to be funny or not and you can’t help but feel something for Sato, which is only emphasised by the mockumenty style of filming, as Sato is clearly trying to do the best he can, while with a public which hates him at the same time facing the truth that he is the last of his kind, with the others of his kind having disappeared for reasons which are never revelled and his father Big Man Japan Five, having killed himself several years earlier, by trying to grow even bigger, so that he could stand out from the others. Still Matsumoto prefers it would seem to keep the obvious laughs for his Kaiju sequences and leave the viewer to decide for themselves, when it comes to the scenes outside of these.

“Big Man Japan” is certainly a unique viewing experience and had it not come from Japan, with it’s history of equally random creations, I can’t help but feel that perhaps it might not have worked, for even taking this into consideration there are still a fair amount of misfire moments, causing it to drag slightly in places, but is probably worth watching atleast once if you’re a fan of the Kaiju genre while for those of us who aren’t fans of dry humour or giant monsters, you might struggle to sit all the way through this one.

1 comment:

  1. I caught this one on Netflix instant over the holiday and enjoyed it a great deal. I love the idea of the Giant Protector of Japan being just another government employee, spending most of his time bored, waiting for another monster attack. I wasn't sure at the end whether the monsters were just freak creations or were being put out there by the TV studios to boost ratings, but the main character's hangdog performance and all the weird family dynamic with his forebears and his ex-wife and child really worked for me. An oddly sweet movie with few laugh-out-loud moments, but lots of stuff to smirk at happily. Recommended!


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