Don’t you just love Japanese cinema? If you like your movies left of centre then look no further; Big Man Japan isn’t even on the same page. Popular manzai comedian Matsumoto Hitoshi directs and stars in this bizarre mockumentary about an average Joe who is actually a superhero. When electrocuted, Dai Saito transforms into the gigantic, purple boxer-wearing Dai Nipponjin (Big Man Japan), doing battle against super-sized monsters like Jumpy Baddie, Baby Baddie and of course, Smelly Baddie.
Saving Japan over and over again is all well and good but our lonely hero doesn't get much in return. His ex-wife and daughter can only bear to see him twice a year, so he lives a meaningless existence in a rundown house with a stray cat, waiting for the Department of Defence to call him into action (the pay isn’t too hot either). His battles are broadcast on television but because the public couldn't care less, his heroic exploits barely make it to late night cable. The neighbours hate him too, but we wont dwell on that for the time being. The glory days of being a superhero are long gone. In fact, even the monsters stay away these days.
Best described as a cross between The Office, Hancock and Godzilla, this monster-mash is certainly a rare beast, and even though I use the word quirky way too often, Big Man Japan could never be described as anything but. It’s also deliriously entertaining if you’re in the right frame of mind. A wonderfully dry, deadpan humour runs through the heart of the movie and comical touches tickle the funny bone on a regular basis. One battle finds our hero letting a monster escape in order to fulfil his advertising commitments (the advert is written all over his chest).
Seeing Big Man Japan grow into his giant purple pants is a sight to behold, something that goes without saying, and the less said about his grandfather (the fourth Big Man Japan) the better, suffice to say he steals pretty much every scene he’s in. The film takes a documentary approach, interviewing everyone he comes into contact with on a dreary, day-to-day basis. It only ever feels like a real movie when the action kicks in, dazzling scenes made up of short, comical bouts between our oversized hero and the few demonic oddities that can be bothered to show up. The effects are hardly awe-inspiring but they certainly do their job, giving the movie a fresh and cheesy vibe that suits the tone of the film perfectly.
Be warned though, this is very much a hit and miss affair. You will know very early on if this is your cup of tea or not. Big Man Japan clocks in at just under two hours and some of the scenes – early ones in particular – do seem to drag on. The big man might test your patience if you’re not in the right frame of mind. Having said that, most of these early stutters do have their comedic payoffs later on, but you’ll have to put the hours in if you’re going to appreciate them all. The battles themselves are under whelming too; so don’t go into this expecting Godzilla sized face-offs because you’ll come away bitterly disappointed. Matsumoto Hitoshi is far more interested in sending the genre up then bowing down to fan boy pressure.
It’s hardly surprising that Big Man Japan has struggled to find an audience across the globe, but it’s nice to know it’s been given a second chance in the UK. Big Man Japan is a bizarre mix of satire, social commentary, dry humour and amusing special effects. The performances are excellent, underplayed but very effective. The opening act could do with some trimming but if you give it a chance you’ll learn to love it just like I did, because once Big Man Japan finds his feet it’s electrifying.
Which leads us to the denouement. The ending is nuts, there’s no other way of putting it. Maybe the producers ran out of money, perhaps it was their intention all along. Whatever the reason, one thing’s for sure; you won't forget this cinematic oddity in a while. Utterly hilarious and irresistibly unique, Big Man Japan is what Japanese cinema is all about. It’s time to let the monster out in all of us. AW