I was obsessed with kaiju flicks as a kid. I’d spend entire Saturday afternoons sitting awestruck in front of the television set alongside my good buddy, Jeff (aka; this site’s very own Big McLargehuge), marinating in the warm glow of mini-monster movie marathons. When you’re eight years old, the thought of giant reptilian beasties, robots, and humanoids laying waste to a major city is at once terrifying and…well…pretty damned cool. With the advent of Star Wars and other FX heavy films, my interest in the comparatively primitive looking kaiju movies waned. To me, a man in a foam monster suit just couldn’t compete with the whiz-bang visual effects coming out of Hollywood, but, at the same time, I rather doubt that the Japanese studios who cranked these films had any interest in competing anyway. Despite a few technical improvements over the years, there is a look and style that is decidedly kaiju, and I don’t think the fans would have it any other way. It’s this cardboard and miniatures world that the mockumentary, Big Man Japan (Dai-Nipponjin), both satirizes and pays homage to as it gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a “genuine” kaiju hero.
Sato (Hitoshi Matsumoto) doesn’t have it easy. His wife’s left him, his daughter is ashamed of him, and he barely gets by on his meager government salary. It’s a tough life made all the tougher by the fact that Sato’s job is to protect Japan from a seemingly endless onslaught of giant monsters.
He is, you see, Big Man Japan, who, with the help of ample amounts of electricity, morphs into a stick wielding, sumo-shorts wearing giant. Like his father and his father before him, Sato has dedicated his life to being the sworn protector of his country, but, unlike his predecessors, Sato’s life is tied up in legal red tape, product endorsements, and the whims of an increasingly fickle (and angry) public. If he’s not kowtowing to his sponsor’s demands, he’s dodging bricks thrown through his windows and cleaning hateful graffiti off of his house. Matters are made worse by the arrival of a mysterious monster whose strength and agility prove too much for Sato, causing him to question whether or not he still has what it takes to be Big Man Japan.
Directed by Matsumoto, a member of the popular Japanese comedy troupe, "Downtown", Big Man Japan is one of the most bizarrely funny, strangely touching…hell…I can’t even describe it. For most of the film’s running time, it’s a whip-smart mockumentary in the vein of This is Spinal Tap, with hysterically uncomfortable interview segments, interspersed with “newsreel” footage of Sato’s predecessors’ comparatively glamorous lives serving as a juxtaposition to the virtual poverty he lives in.
When Sato turns into Big Man Japan, however, the film switches gears, and becomes a laugh-out-loud kaiju satire, with our hero facing off against a host of disturbing CGI beasties (many voiced by/modeled on famous Japanese comedians). It’s all brilliantly executed, very funny stuff that would have earned five skulls had it not gone completely off the rails in the last twenty minutes or so. I won’t ruin the ending here, but its easily one of the strangest conclusions to a film that I’ve ever witnessed, and one that left me scratching my head.
Big Man Japan comes to DVD courtesy of Magnet/Magnolia, accompanied by a very thorough making-of documentary, nearly an hour’s worth of deleted scenes, and commentary by Matsumoto.
The first three quarters of Big Man Japan is an incredibly innovative, funny, and eye-popping spectacle, while the final act just plain confused the hell out of me. I’m thinking something got lost in translation, here, and my rather limited exposure to Japanese comedy may be to blame. Still, this is a film that I just can’t get out of my head, and one I wholly recommend, especially to kaiju fans.