Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Such A Big Man To Feel So Small

Dai-Nipponjin (Big Man Japan) (2009) directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto

"Big Man Japan", is a mockumentary about a long haired, flowerd shirt wearing burnout, who resembles a faded rock star. He lives in a house alone, feeding stray cats, eating his favorite food "super noodles", having bricks thrown through his windows, and waiting for his cell phone to ring. For the first 10 to 15 minutes, this will be about all we see, as he interviewed casually, the first question is what he thinks of the weather, and he responds by saying how much he likes his umbrella. He carries it with him all the time, because it is very compact, and "only get's big when it needs to, and then it's very usefull". Eventually he get's a call, and then it's off to a local power plant, plastered in angry graffitti, about littering, destruction of public property, and misusing energy. The small thin man, then is taken where cameras can't follow, and then theres a power surge.
Next thing you know the man is now a 50 foot tall CGI generated giant fighting the first in a series of bizzare looking monsters, whose soul interest is to destroy buildings. They do battle in what is less Godzilla free-for-all, as the worlds worst dog catcher. In these giant sequences the film becomes what looks like a tv show instead of a documentary. Sato, our hero, is the last of Japan's Big-Men, seemingly normal humans, breed to do battle with the giant monsters that appear in Japan periodically, by transforming into giants themselves after high voltage electro shock to the nipples. Sato's father destroyed himself, trying to become "bigger than the rest", so his grandfather stepped in raising the boy and acting as the family's champion a second time, exposing himself to so much charge it rendered him senile. Sato is in the process of divorce, considered an embarassment and nuisance by the people, who causes more damage than good. He has an agent who sells advertising space on his chest and back, and his exploits are only aired on television past 2 am. Like so many Christopher Guest characters he is socially awkward and woefully pathetic. What gives "Big Man Japan" some added steam is the grotesque comical images of the large, juxtapozed to the emotionally small and stifled real life. The same way Kafka's metamorphosis, makes Gregor Sama's inner life manifest turning him into a insect, a pest in the lives of others, so does Sato's Big Man, and the monsters he faces serve as distortions of himself. Monsters like the Strangling Beast (who only wants to throw castles and buildings around, to lay his eggs, mark his turf, or otherwise ensiminate the ruins), to the Leaping Monster(who has the intellect of an 8 year old, and only wants to jump around, no matter what it breaks), to the stink monster (who appears for a public sexual encounter and is unaware that it stinks of 10,000 pounds of feces), to the Cyclops creature whose eye is attactched to a long tendril which descends from it's groin, to the "Child Monster", who is weak and sickly, and only trying to get home, appear as psychosexual demons taunting him, with their distinctly human faces.
This is the story of a thin man, quiet, somber man, who becomes his countrys biggest spectacle, wrestling all manner of horrors in only his underwear. Films like "Jean Claude Van Damage", "They Call Me Bruce", and "ZebraMan"(another Japanese film about a faded super-hero in the modern world) and to a lesser extent "The Watchmen" deal with fallen heroes, myths descended into the grim and grit of modern life and humor, and "Big Man Japan" follows suit, but manages to balance it's self-deprecating realism with the wide eyed absurdity that made such heroes so interesting in the first place.
It's largely a parody of "Ultraman" a Japanese super-hero franchise, later imitated in North America by the Power Rangers in 90's. There's also some gentle fun poked at the loss of traditional culture (the sacred growth ceremony once attended by gieshas and crowds is now performed like an old habit, by Sato and a priest in a storage room), the non conflict oriented post-war Japanese(Sato tries to talk to the stink monster into just leaving the town instead of fighting it), and the flip side of such passive agression, the obsession with violence (best illustrated in the final scene's surreal duex ex machina, which make the super-hero team up, look like a gang of bullies, degrading and humilating their chosen "bad guy" target).
In some patches it does become more dead than just dead pan, and the jokes fall flat, but the more quiet moments make the clever ones, all the brighter. The third film from the Six Shooter series; which gave us "Let The Right One In", and "TimeCrimes", has mostly succeeded here with their third genre fusion; of super-hero, mockumentary, comedy. "Dai-Nipponjin" is an entertaining and grandiose wierd tale and modern fable about bieng emotionally stunted, by family, country, duty, and cowardice. The bigger they are the harder they fall.

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