Touted as “The Spinal Tap of Kaiju films”, Big Man Japan follows the life of Daisato, who is currently having a documentary made about him. He’s quite the interesting subject as well; when needed, he’s electrocuted, causing him to grow to gigantic proportions and defend Tokyo against invading monsters, which his family has carried on for generations (he’s the sixth “Big Man Japan”). The safety of the city isn’t the only motivation for Daisato, as his battles are also filmed for a late-night TV show. Unfortunately, public interest is on the downturn, ratings are down, and some are even turning on him completely, believing he does more harm then good. His personal life isn’t a source for happiness either, as he’s separated from his wife, he kids himself about his child actually wanting to see him and carry on the Big Man Japan tradition, and he has an agent that robs him blind. Making matters worse, there’s a new monster on the scene that’s stronger than any before, and Daisato has doubts about whether he can successfully stand up to him or not.
A mish-mash of Kaiju and Superhero films, tongue-in-cheek comedy, and surprisingly a bit of heartfelt commentary on the alienation of being rejected and different, Big Man Japan is certainly a fresh and original film. It's also different enough that it may alienate a number of people. Its narrative structure is like a rollercoaster, and the downtime between the monster fights, where Daisato goes about his daily business and is interviewed for the mockumentary is all over the place and definitely hit or miss. At times, it’ll feel like a scene is going on forever, with Daisato speaking about things that are extremely mundane and have little impact on the story as a whole. Turn around twice though, and you’ll be treated to a scene in this vein that’s an absolute hoot, like his daughter with her face blurred out so she isn’t teased at school and her voice disguised to sound like Barry White after sucking down a few helium balloons. In fact, the entire flick is rather uneven and has a disjointed feel overall. Fortunately, the good mostly outweighs the bad.
And the best comes during the monster fights. This would probably be a given going in, but when you actually see the type of monsters he’s facing, it gets even better than you could imagine. Surreal and quirky are only a couple of words you could use to describe the absurdity and drunken brainstorming sessions that clearly went into these beasts. One is wackier than the next, including a horny beast that’s pretty much in the shape of a penis, a squid-like giant that stinks up the city, and my personal favorite, a headless monstrosity that has one eye…that extends out of its crotch and can be tossed around like a ball-and-chain. It's also interesting to see that most of the creatures have faces of Japanese actors, including Riki Takeuchi as a giant, one-legged hopping head, complete with his signature sneer. You can absolutely see that a lot of creativity and fun was put into dreaming these adversaries up.
All of the monster effects are done in CGI, which, if taken seriously, aren’t completely believable. But for a comedy such as this, they work just fine. The monsters are wonderfully animated, and faces are expressive and lifelike. Hitoshi Matsumoto does a great job as Daisato, conveying a nice air of melancholy towards the burden in which he carries around. As good as he is, I can’t help to think he may have spread himself a bit thin, acting as director, writer, producer and star. Like I said, the film does feel a bit at odds with itself at times, but you still have to respect what a labor of love this must have been for Mr. Matsumoto.
Lastly, I couldn’t with good conscience finish this review without commenting on the ending. If you’re looking for a legendary WTF moment, look no further than the ending of Big Man Japan. It hits like a right hook from Tyson in the early 90s and is utterly hilarious. Fans of Ultraman will undoubtedly get a kick out of it, and if you sit back and actually think, there are a couple of explanations that keep it from being totally random. If you’re a Kaiju fan, or just enjoy subtle (and at times not-so-subtle) comedy that’s a bit left of center, Big Man Japan comes recommended. Did I mention it has Daigen from Miike’s Fudoh as a giant leaping head?
Magnolia Pictures finishes up their Six Shooter Film Series with the final of the six films, Big Man Japan. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the film looks quite nice. Colors look well represented, albeit a little washed-out (could have been intentional), and there’s no print damage to speak of. Too bad they didn’t release this one on Blu-Ray, as I have a feeling it could have looked great. The original Japanese audio is available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. I viewed the film with the 5.1 track, which is a little unbalanced. During the interview segments, the volume is quite low and I had to adjust the volume, only to have to turn around and turn it down when the monster battles came on. The bass is quite good, and the monster stomps sound suitably loud and rumbly, but the actual surround isn’t very immersive. The optional English subtitles only have a few grammatical errors that I noticed.
While the release only features two extras, they’re both pretty massive. The first is a making of that runs over an hour in length. This is almost a straight-up documentary, as you see everything from pre-production, monster design, the actual shooting of the film, all of the snags and problems that had to be dealt with, the film's wrap, and all of the post-production. It’s even treated like a separate feature, as it comes with commentary! Quite impressive, and it’s very interesting if you’re into seeing just how much work goes into completing a film. There’s also nearly an hour of deleted scenes, some of which are dry and were obvious choices to leave on the cutting room floor, while some are pretty damn amusing. The disc is rounded out with trailers for this and the other films in the Six Shooter Film Series.
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