Friday, August 14, 2009

Big Man Japan (2007)

We all know and probably love Japanese Kaiju flicks. Giant monster films like Godzilla, which feature men in suits stomping cardboard cities, have a special place in many a horror fan’s heart. So when I heard about Big Man Japan, a Japanese film that promised to both pay homage and spoof Kaiju films, I knew I had to see it. Surprisingly, Big Man Japan has a lot more heart than I expected, but definitely doesn’t hesitate to also include some odd-looking monsters and preposterous situations.

A camera crew follows around and interviews the seemingly ordinary Masaru Daisatô (Hitoshi Matsumoto), an unkempt man scorned by the populace who lives in a dirty bachelor pad with only his cat for company. He has his quirks, like having a penchant for both dehydrated seaweed and pocket umbrellas, but what really warrants a camera crew documenting his every move is that he is Big Man Japan, the only superhero left to fight the ginormous monsters that attack the country from time to time. When Masaru gets a call, he rushes to the nearest power plant where he is zapped with electricity and transforms into the humongous big man himself.

Even though Masaru or “Big Man” protects the country against monsters, most people hate him for all the disruption and damage he causes. He has a TV show, but his ratings are horrible and not even his agent can help boost his popularity. People make fun of him and his fights with the monsters.

Besides dealing with being unappreciated and battling strange creatures, Masaru also must deal with family issues, including his senile grandfather, who used to be one of the more famous superheroes, who periodically escapes from his nursing home to wander the streets after zapping himself into a Big Man. He also must deal with an ex-wife that hardly ever lets him see his daughter, whom he hopes to hand down the family tradition to.

No matter his problems, Masaru must protect the country and defeat the monsters that threaten his homeland.

Told in faux documentary style, Big Man Japan’s focus on Masaru’s life as a normal, yet scorned, man surprised me. That’s not to say that there weren’t many monster-fighting scenes, but I found myself enjoying the scenes with Masaru as an everyday man more. The humanity he exhibited and his perseverance to keep doing his job even when everyone hated him for it, kept my eyes glued to the screen.

The story, written by Hitoshi Matsumoto and Mitsuyoshi Takasu, is both hilarious and somber. There are many winks and nods toward Japanese Kaiju films, but the real enjoyment of the story came from seeing Masaru’s struggles in everyday life, whether they were with his deteriorating family, greedy agent or general public. The monster battles were fun and the monsters themselves inventive, but the action got repetitive pretty fast. I will probably be the only one who actually liked the documentary aspects more than the monster battles, which I found a bit too silly and out of place (even for this film). And the nonsensical finale just didn’t make a lick of sense!!

The CGI fight scenes were, for lack of a better word, colorful, with numerous zany monsters for Big Man to fight against. Among them was a zebra-striped monster with elastic arms that picked up skyscrapers, flipped them over its back and deposited them upside down before adjusting its comb-over. Other monsters included a giant Hellboy look-alike, a one-eyed monster (no joke), a stink monster in the middle of mating season, a one-legged monster and even a baby monster. The weirdest thing about the monsters was that no matter how otherworldly their bodies looked, most of them had human-like faces, making them awkwardly creepy! Plus, everytime one of them dies they get beamed up to “monster heaven”. The live-action finale, which was more faithful to traditional Kaiju as it had people dressed up in monster/superhero suits smashing up a cut-out city, was just weird and wacky.

I was expecting Big Man Japan to be just another homage to Japanese Kaiju flicks, but while it has its fun spoofing them, it also has a lot more heart than I first gave it credit for. Truth be told, though the monster battles were amusing, I wasn’t too into their style and they got repetitive pretty fast. I was much more interested in the documentary aspect of the film where we learn about the lead character more as a human being than as a superhero.

Big Man Japan certainly isn’t a film for everyone, but those with an appreciation for giant monster films will probably get a kick out of it!

Buy it on Amazon!

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