Nothing in particular goin’ on, nothing particular in mind, so we reach again into The Cinema Coffee Can and draw… Big Man Japan! This is a super bizarro one. Little bit of back story, I’ve been a kaiju fan for as long as I can remember.
When I got home from Forest Grove Elementary School in the afternoon, my brother and I would plop down in front of the Volkswagen sized TV with its channel knob you had to turn by hand and flip on WPGH TV 53, the local UHF signal.
Why? Because Marvel Superheroes was on. Then Spider-Man. And then… Ultraman! Our daily half hour dose of Japanese coolness. I could usually find a Godzilla or Gamera movie on a Saturday afternoon as well. My point is, even though it skewers these fond monster memories (among other things), Big Man Japan spoke to my little kid heart.
First off, director Hitoshi Matsumoto lines up a mess o’ targets here. Clearly there’s the aforementioned giant monster flick. In his “normal” life he’s, well, kinda your average or slightly below average schmoe living alone (his wife has left with their daughter) in a jumbled apartment.. But when there’s a giant monster threat, he gets transformed into Big Man. This requires finding a power source, having cables clamped to his nipples, and getting jolted.
Second, the format itself is a mockumentary following the exploits of Masaru Daisatô/Big Man. It’s played totally straight which just makes everything simultaneously that much funnier and a bit sad. Big Man, it turns out, is kind of a second rate fighter of second rate kaiju. There’s a strangling monster with a combover that lifts up buildings then performs some kinda slimy egg-laying action.
There’s also a monster with one massive eyeball on a long stalk which the monster whips around like a gaucho, a smelly monster that looks quite a bit like a Stinking Corpse Lily but with a face, a jumping monster that’s basically a head on a leg, and a child monster that really doesn’t do much other than look weird. Finally there’s a huge red demon that keeps showing up.
The mockumentary also establishes that Big Man works for The Ministry Of Monster Prevention, a government agency that doesn’t really pay Daisatô very much. This forces him to supplement his income by selling advertising space on Big Man’s body in the form of tattoos. His exploits are also televised for profit, but his ratings are dropping as people become increasingly dissatisfied with the aftermath of his battles.
Admittedly, the mockumentary aspect is Big Man Japan’s main focus, and as such it’s pretty downbeat. We feel bad for Daisatô and don’t get much satisfaction from the victories over his seriously whacked out opponents. I’m sure there’s also a good amount of sociopolitical heavy-osity to be drawn from all this as well, but other folks have dealt pretty effectively with that elsewhere, namely Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic–well worth checking out.
Now, there are folks what don’t find this funny. Several reviewers and bloggers have said as much. In The San Francisco Chronicle back in 2009, G. Allen Johnson observed that “the film written, directed and starring stand-up comic Hitoshi Matsumoto has, like most superheroes, a tragic flaw: It isn’t funny.”
Maybe it’s just my admittedly warped, frequently juvenile sense of humor, but I find this movie wildly funny, from the kaiju to Big Man’s Kramer/Jack Nance Eraserhead hair. What I don’t get and have yet to find a reasonable explanation for is the end. The Ultraman-esque Super Justice family shows up to fight the red demon thing along with Big Man. What follows is a baffling transformation into ridiculous looking rubber suits in clear parody of Toho Studios.
The movie closes with the rubber-suited Big Man and Super Justice sitting around a dinner table. Da hell? Then again, the movie itself jumps pretty well off the rails from the get-go. It should therefore come as no surprise whatsoever when the wheels suddenly, inexplicably fly off as well. Hai.
BODIES- 8 onscreen
Stream- Crackle, Fubo, Kanopy, Magnolia Selects, Philo, Plex, Pluto, Prime, Roku Channel, Shudder, Sling, Tubi, Vudu, YouTube
Rent- Alamo On Demand, Apple TV, Google Play, Prime, Vudu