Beware the Big Man Japan!
If you aren’t fairly familiar with modern Japanese comedy then you are probably going to miss a lot of what “Big Man Japan” has to offer. For example, “Downtown” is not a name that is going to mean much to most Americans, but they are a phenomenal comedy-duo that are incredibly influential and whose style dominates much of modern Japanese comedy. Think Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Second City Theatre, or Saturday Night Live.
“Big Man Japan” (Japanese title “Dai-Nipponjin” or “Giant Japanese Person”) is “Downtown” member Matsumoto Hitoshi’s big screen debut as both a staring actor and a director. Much of the humor is in his trademark style, and he brought along plenty of famous friends for cameos, although noticeably missing is his “Downtown” partner Masatoshi Hamada.
The film is done in a mockumentary-style, following the life of slacker Daisatou Masaru who has inherited his power to grow to an enormous size from his father and his now-senile grandfather, both who previously served as “Big Man Japan.” Masaru draws a government salary to protect Japan from the various Godzilla-like monsters that attack from time to time, but his heart isn’t really in it. The public mocks him and complains about the property damage and environmental aspects of his battles. His manager sells advertising space on his giant body. Things just aren’t going well.
Most of the first part of the film is just following Masaru around, looking in on his daily life, dingy apartment and how he looks after his senile grandfather. When duty calls, however, he swells up to battle the monster-of-the-week (many of whom are the aforementioned cameos of famous friends), sometimes managing to beat the monster away but sometimes getting it handed to him. The final sequence goes to even more left-field, as Big Man Japan gets to live his dream by joining the Ultraman squad, and all pretense of story goes out the window.
All of the monsters are CGI, and they are intentionally done in a cheesy manner. Like the bad special effects on shows like “Saturday Night Live,” much of the humor comes from how terrible and unrealistic the special effects are, and from seeing famous comedians morphed into giant versions of themselves. Other than these big flashes, the humor is done in a deadpan-style, and it isn’t a fast-paced movie until the final payoff in the end.
I really enjoyed “Big Man Japan,” but I think this is because I lived over in Japan for several years and am a huge fan of “Downtown.” Like the film Takeshis, which also was cameo-ridden, this just isn’t something that was made for the overseas market, and I think if I was seeing it cold then I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. Fans of pure absurdity will probably get a kick out of it, and people who enjoy a good man-in-suit giant monster movies like The Super Robot Red Baron and All Monsters Attack might find something good here too. Otherwise, it is probably going to be a snoozer for you.