Big Man Japan (Dai Nihonjin) (2007)
Big Man Japan is one of the weirder films I’ve seen from Japan and anyone who’s passingly familiar with Japanese cinema knows what a statement that is. Starring, written by, directed by and produced by one man comedy auteur Hitoshi Matusmoto, Big Man Japan tells the tale of Masaru Daisato also known as Big Man Japan, the giant 30 foot tall super hero that defends Japan from invading monsters in a similar vein to Ultraman and other Kaiju films.
The twist being that everything in Masaru’s life, including his monster fighting, absolutely sucks and the people of Japan hate him and think he’s terrible at his job.
That’s a brilliant high concept but it’s not really the film that Big Man Japan gives us, and partly that’s why the film is so odd. It’s not the subject matter, although stuff like a giant starfish/vagina monster that stinks is pretty oddball, but rather the tone. Big Man Japan is deadpan to the point that it seems sometimes to be actively taunting the audience with how unfunny it’s being. Long sequences of the film are taken up with Masaru eating at a noodle place, driving his scooter, talking about how he likes umbrellas and doing other mundane tasks all filmed in a documentary style with minimal camera movement and subtle acting. It’s actively boring at times but it seems to be intentional because the central gag is presenting the absurd and surreal monster battles in as deadpan and ordinary a way as the mundane aspects of Masaru’s life. The long boring segments means the eventual pay off of a giant pair of purple pants seems all the funnier. Not that the documentary segments are without humour, particularly the scene with Masaru’s daughter in her bunny hat and pixelated face, but it’s a subtler humour than the giant electric nipples or enormous cat eared baby spouting poetry. Tolerance for this level of deadpan is likely to be low though so it’s certainly not a film with wide appeal.
People have moaned about the special effects for this feature but frankly on the budget this film had, and especially considering they’re using motion capture technology I think they look great and even add to the humour since, again they mix the oddball and the deadpan. Being able to see the actor’s facial expressions is much more important than a good looking suit or smooth CGI when you’re doing this kind of subtle comedy.
One final note, the last ten minutes of this film are absolutely hysterical. Having built up the threat of this unknown red monster with Masaru running away from it and finally having to face it again at the end we’re all primed for a typical redemption story where Masaru overcomes his own incompetence and beats the big bad. I won’t spoil the ending but suffice it to say the film undercuts this expected trope in the most ludicrous and hilarious manner possible. Much as individual scenes have a slow, tedious, excruciating, agonisingly, long build up to a gag so the film as a whole is 90 minutes of deadpan and 10 minutes of utter unrestrained insanity that had me laughing like a loon.
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