Bigger isn’t always better for a hapless superhero in Hitoshi Matsumoto’s kaiju comedy
“That was a joke, really. l want to see a real fight.”
I’ve talked before about legendary Japanese comedian, and one half of manzai duo Downtown, Hitoshi Matsumoto. Known as the crazier boke of the two, his on-stage persona is typically that of a class clown, always doing something outrageous and silly to get the biggest laughs. But much like his senior in the comedy game, Takeshi Kitano, Matsumoto presents something of a different, more pensive side to himself when making movies and his first movie Big Man Japan feels the most introspective.
Big Man Japan stars Matsumoto as Sato, a superhero whose ability is to grow to the size of buildings, and whose mission in life is to protect Japan from various kaiju. However, he doesn’t have the same spark for the job as his father and grandfather, and public opinion of him has faltered over the years. The monsters he fights aren’t particularly threatening or dangerous, and the best he can do is beat them about with a stick until they give up and go to monster heaven. Because of this, his televised fights are moved to a late-night slot on TV and sponsorships are hard to come by. On top of that, Sato’s marriage is failing and he rarely gets to see his daughter.
For someone who’d been in the comedy game for over two decades, with different TV shows airing almost every day of the week, Matsumoto knows a thing or two about being in the spotlight. If you consider his on-stage persona as a representation of his mischievous side, Sato and Big Man Japan begin to look like his fears of how anyone in the public eye can suddenly fall into obscurity, even when they’re out there saving Japan from monsters. The performance is surprisingly subtle and meditative, which only help to sell the absurdity and silliness of the rest of the movie.
Because while this does have moments of melancholy, it’s still made by somebody who’s a comedian at heart, and Matsumoto isn’t exactly like Kitano; Beat Takeshi would normally inject bursts of comedy into slow, dramatic scenes. Matsumoto doesn’t have that kind of restraint, and so the jokes and satirical elements come pouring out of him as naturally as they can for somebody who’s worked in television for so long. It’s a film that loves to take the mickey out of corporate sponsorships, talent agents and the ups and downs of being a public figure.
But enough of that. This is, at the end of the day, a kaiju film and I’d be remiss to only mention the monsters in passing. The movie’s low budget shows during the scenes when a transformed Sato has to fight the monsters, and while the CG elements are distractingly terrible, there’s an awareness that this would be the case from the beginning. Nothing is made to be taken seriously, and the designs reflect that. More so, the monsters are largely played by fellow comedians, such as Itsuji Itao and Takayuki Haranishi (and Riki Takeuchi who doesn’t have much to do other than stare madly at everything, which he naturally excels at), so their comedic elements are ramped up enough that no one’s mistaking them for actual Godzilla enemies.
Big Man Japan – part mockumentary, part tokusatsu epic, part mumblecore comedy – is really the sort of movie you have to watch; there’s very little I can say that fully explains what kind of experience it is. With lots of sincerity, commentary and even more jokes it’s a satisfying time if you know what you’re getting yourself into. Big fans of the owarai scene in Japan will love it as it not only has many fun cameos, but also encapsulates the silliness one associates with that kind of comedy. Or maybe you just want to watch a fat CG Matsumoto with Don King hair fight a one-legged Riki Takeuchi head.
Verdict: Certainly not for everyone, Big Man Japan is an extremely ridiculous film that nonetheless has a lot of depth beneath its bizarre surface.
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Sex: Some monster pimping/10
Violence: 2/10 for slapstick nonsense
Worst visual: Young Sato’s volcano nips post-zapping
Sympathy and Delicacy: 1/10 on the Dog Name-o-metre
Best monster design: Strangling monster was wild, but the demon one was actually terrifying
Umbrellas and seaweed: It’s nice they only get big when you want them to.
Big Man Japan (2007)
Also known as: 大日本人, Dai Nipponjin
Director: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Writer: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Hitoshi Matsumoto Masaru Daisato
Tomoji Hasegawa – Interviewer
Ua – Manager
Riki Takeuchi – Leaping Monster
Haruka Unabara – Strangling Monster
Ryunosuke Kamiki – Child Monster
Itsuji Itao – Female Stink Monster
Takuya Hashimoto – Midon
Takayuki Haranishi – Male Stink Monster
Daisuke Miyagawa – Super Justice
Hiroyuki Miyasako – Super Justice’s Mother
Taichi Yazaki – Masaru’s Grandfather
Shion Machida – Masaru’s Ex-Wife
Atsuko Nakamura – Bar Proprietress Azusa
Daisuke Nagakura – Masaru’s Grandfather (young)
Motohiro Toriki – Masaru’s Father
Keidai Yano – Young Masaru
Junshiro Hayama – Shinto Priest