Big Man Japan

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Posted May 14, 2009 in Film

Japanese comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto’s subversive twist on his country’s bent for blowing up monsters and siccing them on Tokyo stars himself as Masaru, aka Dai Nipponjin (literally, “Big Man Japan”), a 40-something slacker who supports himself by protecting the city from giant beasts. Masaru’s DNA is configured so that a blast of electricity makes him as tall as a skyscraper—a mutation that’s kept his family employed by the government for generations. His father and grandfather were popular Big Men—their fights were prime time must-sees, and their victories heralded with massive parties. But Masaru lacks their bravery and commitment— he’s lazy, unmotivated and repellent. His battles get such low ratings, his agent (Ua) can barely find sponsors to slap their company name across his massive lower back. Matsumoto’s trick is to frame his film as a documentary about the Big Man and the rabble who teepee his house and treat him (with cause) as contemptuously as Kato Kaelin. It takes us a while to clue in to the interviewer’s (Tomoji Hasegawa) loathing of his interviewee—by the time we’re aware of his relentless passive-aggression, the film’s glumness is suffocating. Deflation—not delight—is the rule, and the key to enjoying the B-movie fights is to accept that even when Masaru wins, we’re not meant to feel triumph. The monsters—or “Baddies” as the film calls them—are inventive pests with comb overs or wild eyes or the rotten fertility of a prowling barfly. When Masaru is confronted by a new monster with demonic fists, his only impulse is to run. Tokyo wants him to fight back, but there’s not an ounce of heroism in his 80-ton body. This is a monster film that makes you sigh, not cheer, but its thorough disemboweling of genre convention makes you smile through the pain.

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