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An eccentric man aged about 40 lives alone in a decrepit house in Tokyo. He periodically transforms into a giant, about 30 meters tall, and defends Japan by battling similarly sized monsters that turn up and destroy buildings. The giant and the monsters are computer-generated.Written by
Being a fan of director/star Hitoshi Matsumoto's Symbol (2009) didn't truly prepare me for Big Man Japan. Watching any of his films is sure to give any casual viewer a case of cultural whiplash yet Big Man Japan is an entirely different beast. It's a film that in many ways is much more grounded in its themes, telling a very human tale of frustrated potential and quiet desperation. Yet visually Big Man Japan is so f***ing bizarre; uncomfortably mixing the monster destroys tiny models, Power Rangers (1993-1996) aesthetic, while using computer generated kaijus that can only be described as Giger- esque.
Matsumoto plays Masaru Daisato, a lonely Japanese man in his early forties living in a decrepit house in Tokyo. Most days he stays at home avoiding the public, venturing out only when he's in the mood for his favorite super noodle shop. He has reason to be nonplussed, his ex- wife (Machida) has custody of his young daughter, the government gives him a measly pension to live on, and his agent (Ua) is finding increasingly contrived ways to get rich off of Masaru's good name. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, when the country is threatened by a city-sized kaiju, Masaru must run to the nearest power station, is electrocuted and is turned into Big Man Japan, Japan's twenty- stories tall protector. He's the latest in a long line of protectors and since the "glory days" of his grandfather(Yazaki), his presence is seen with a mix of ambivalence and hostility.
Thematically, Big Man Japan acts as a counter-piece to the justifiably maligned Hancock (2008). The concept is pretty much the same but instead of a misanthropic Will Smith we get a quietly depressed giant and instead of an earnest against-type Jason Bateman we get Japanese popstar Ua constantly clacking away at her Nokia flip-phone. Yet here the overly complicated mythology sorta kind of works. Much of the history of the monsters are given via flashlight illuminated dossier which can be annoying, yet much of the inner logic of the film is left unexplained and inferred visually. This can either be seen as one of Big Man Japan's greatest assets or one of it's most jarring byproducts.
Additionally other than the battle sequences between Big Man and the monsters, most of the story is told in a faux cinema verite style. This fly-on-the-wall objectivity let's Matsumoto to truly encapsulate the character in all his underplayed absurdity while giving most things emotional weight and resonance. Stories involving Masaru's overly ambitious father (Toriki) and his now senile grandfather fondly remembered as "The Fourth" prove especially disquieting.
If only the battle sequences had the same effect. Despite being prominently featured in promotional materials, they almost appear to be lifted out of another movie entirely, functioning with different pacing and different instincts when it comes to humor. The modelling for downtown Tokyo and Nagoya prove chintzy and the monsters design make them resemble the Macarena baby put through Dr. Frankenstein experiments. Maybe with a bigger budget or a more efficient division of resources, these sequences could have been the nightmare-fuel Matsumoto intend them to be. As it stands, they're just kind of dull.
Big Man Japan has all the makings of a cult film. Seeded with a very good high-concept, the flick is mindbogglingly bizarre, sporadically funny and a little more complex than most would give it credit for. Yet it's also repulsively alien in form and presentation guaranteeing that only the least discerning of American audiences will find something worth watching. Otherwise, apart from a hallucinogenic ending that channels the runaway ridiculousness of South Park (1997-Present), I'd just skip it and see something else.
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