Big Man Japan

There are various degrees and volumes of madness. Big Man Japan is calmly, quietly insane. The brainchild of comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto, who directed, co-scripted, and stars, Big Man Japan is a deadpan semi-mockumentary account of Masaru Daisatô (Matsumoto), a scruffy loner who defends Japan from giant monsters. How? Well, when needed, he drives to a remote place, where he undergoes a ritual and receives transformative electricity into his frail body. He balloons into a giant tattooed warrior with an Eraserhead hairdo and a steel club. The beasts he deals with are goofy and surreal. The filmmaking style is the exact opposite of goofy and surreal.

Like a Jim Jarmusch film, Big Man Japan is funnier the more mundane and sedate it is. Daisatô in his human form sits around his cluttered apartment or at a park and mutters about his humdrum life. Turning into the massive defender of his country offers him no joy, no escapist catharsis. As Big Man Japan, he lumbers around with the same bored expression. He didn’t choose his profession, he was born into it; his father was also a Big Man Japan, and his father’s father. They enjoyed the job more than Daisatô does; the public hates and fears Daisatô because of the damage he causes while vanquishing monsters.

Part satire of “Salaryman,” part sideswipe at America (particularly at the climax when an Ultraman-type group arrives to help Daisatô save the day), Big Man Japan maintains the same deadpan during the giant-monster sequences. At one point, Daisatô gets into a quiet debate with a Stink Monster, who endures the attentions of another horny monster. The giants stand amid the tall buildings of Japan and exchange cranky words, instead of the usual declamations of “I WILL DEFEAT YOU!” Daisatô is more threatened by his ex-wife, who only lets him see their daughter twice a year, or by his agent, who keeps talking him into getting tattooed with sponsor logos.

The movie’s shambling, matter-of-fact approach to pulpy material is funny, as is its steadfast avoidance of visual hype. Daisatô has a job to do, and he does it joylessly and grudgingly. Who knew fighting giant monsters could be so depressing? Perhaps this is one fork in the road of horror’s future: austere comedies that take the uncanny for granted.

Explore posts in the same categories: comedy, cult, fantasy, science fiction

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