Now Playing: ‘Big Man Japan’ trades zero for hero

29 Jun

 

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 Giant monsters tromping around wrecking cities sounds like alot more fun than it actually is. I’ve been listening to nearly every beleagured friend who has seen the new Transformers movie complain; ‘it’s just giant things punching each other–that’s it!’ Well, duh. In their case, though, I have the perfect remedy; Hitoshi Matsumoto’s Dai Niiponjin, or the english translation, Big Man Japan.

 BJM tells two stories at one time; the first follows Daisoto, a middle-aged, marginalized blue collar worker who lives alone, has a daughter he misses but never sees, and is completely ambivalent about his mediocre job, which he says very little about. The second story is the one the fanboys will line up for–a gargantuan Japanese warrior with hair that would make a troll doll envious battles hordes of enormous monsters that regularly attack the city and countryside without warning.  Mastumoto isn’t just the director, he is also the star of this quirky little number, and his masterstroke is that Daisoto and the Big Man warrior are both the same person.

As a child helplessly drawn in by the Toho Godzilla films, the Ultraman series, and even everyone’s favorite flying turtle, Gamera, I was obsessed with giant monsters and the heroes who did battle with them. And even from a young age, probably after watching the deliriously silly Infra-Man, I found myself wondering about those  giant warriors who spent their time throwing down with oversized dung beetles in the midst of the city; what happened at the end of the day when they went back home? Wouldn’t it be hard living life at two different molecular levels? Imagine the confusion or disorientation that would come from walking around with your head next to skyscrapers during the day and then spending the evening sunk into your recliner watching television. What was family life like? Do the kids and wife hug dad’s big toe before he goes off to work? Being so large, how do you keep the rest of it from seeming so….insignificant? Yes, I was a frustratingly inquisitive young child. But now, my queries have been vindicated because Big Man Japan asks, and answers, all those exact same questions.  

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Big Man Japan is a wierd movie, no doubt about it. The first twenty minutes are designed like a documentary, with a crew filming Daisoto and his less than stellar life. He seems easy to disregard. A mumbly loser with sad eyes and a hideous sense of fashion, Daisoto plucks around the city, answering calls from his agent and expressing regret at the state his life is in. He broods from one park bench to the next, and then eventually starts to head home. But then an urgent text comes through on this phone and Daisoto  grudgingly goes to work.

There is a giant monster attacking the city. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before,  looking like an old man cross-bred with a giraffe and then covered in bandages. The authorities want it gone; enter Daisoto as Big Man. This part of the movie was fascinating to me. It documents specifically how Daisoto grows into the giant. First, he disrobes and stands underneath what looks like a giant purple tent–it turns out to be a a gigantic pair of spandex shorts, suspended from cables. Two attendants come out of the power plant and hook jumper cables to his nipples. Then they pull the switch. In a flurry of electricity and singed hair, Daisoto emerges as the 50-stories tall Big Man, carrying with him a large stick for smashing the monster.

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That’s all there is to the movie’s structure. The camera follows around Daisoto and with each personal interaction he seems a little stranger, a little more lonely and fed-up. Being the Big Man is not a cake-walk. People are annoyed by his tendency to destroy things by stepping on them; they prefer if he leave the city completely. His agent is always getting him into dubious scenarios, including an advertising gig that requires him to wear tattoos of sponsors on his body when he grows. He becomes a walking billboard. The mockumentary portions feel real and authentic, and Daisoto is pitiable but we can relate to him. He doesn’t know his place, hates his job and struggles to get some momentum going. There is a quiet frustration in those moments, contrasted against the gonzo oddness of the monster fights–which are plentiful.

The beasties are odd and we never find out where they come from, or why,exactly, Big Man can do what he does. It’s an excepted part of the universe so we go with it; like the Gamera or Godzilla films, once one monster attacks the countryside, you stop asking questions and just sell your real estate and move away. The creatures are cartoony cgi conglomerations that feel like caricatures of real people merged with alien attributes. There’s a bizarre ostritch-like thing whose head is made up of one gigantic eye that hangs off a stalk growing from it’s crotch, and another looks like a plump matron with a squid wrapped around her head. A giant cat, a grotesque infant and a malevolent, big-headed demon round out the rest of the imaginary cast. The battles aren’t played for thrills, but laughs. Theres a teasing kind of slapstick at play and director Matsumoto has a ball with layering on human idiosyncracy on top of giant monster schlock.

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I had alot of fun with Big Man Japan, and if you can go with it, I think you will too. After creating an almost poignant meditation on the nature of insignificance, the film lets loose with an over-the-top, lovingly constructed homage to those kaiju movies of old, complete with men in monster suits. And those final five minutes of the film are a thing of off-kilter beauty; a Power Rangers-style family of heroes come down to Earth and Big Man finally finds a place where he belongs.  

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2 Responses to “Now Playing: ‘Big Man Japan’ trades zero for hero”

  1. sandraraven June 30, 2009 at 2:56 pm #

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

  2. hagiblog July 6, 2009 at 7:16 pm #

    This flick sounds right up my alley! Weird, creative and new. And at least they explain how these giant growing guys get pants now!

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