Friday, May 9, 2008

Big Man Japan

My viewing of Big Man Japan--screened as part of the 51st San Francisco International Film Festival--took place at the end of a very Tokusatsu-filled month. What with my bet-you-can't-watch-just-one binging on the wonderful new Super Robot Red Baron box set and my review of Hanuman and the 7 Ultramen and its various offshoots over at Teleport City, I feared that Big Man would be the one wafer-thin morsel that would prove I'd gorged myself on too much of a good thing. Just the opposite proved to be true, however, and Big Man Japan instead served as a lovely digestif, a perfect cap-off to my feast of colorful Japanese monster-mashing nonsense.

Big Man Japan is a giant Japanese superhero who has long outlived his country's enthusiasm for his kind. The noise, the damage to property and the drain on resources that come along with having a skyscraper-sized professional monster-wrestler on hand have become too much for the public to bear, and what was once affection on the part of the populace has turned to indifference at best and outright enmity at worst. Further signaling BMJ's redundancy is the fact that those few monsters that are left to protect Japan from are a pretty strange and sorry lot, in many cases little more than over-sized nuisances. As such, over the course of the film, Big Man comes to exercise his duties with all the enthusiasm of an over-the-hill cop waiting to clock out on his retirement, wearily hectoring the monsters to just move along like so many loitering teenagers. Meanwhile, his personal life is in shambles, and he ekes out a squalid existence on a meager government wage, all the while bearing the constant derision and heckling of his less-than-adoring public. Then, as might be expected, a new threat arises that offers the Big Man an opportunity to step up to his former glory. But will he take it?

Much of Big Man Japan is made up of the type of tryingly worthy talking-head documentary footage you've seen hundreds of times on HBO or The Sundance Channel. These sections show the Big Man in his disheveled civilian guise, looking like a deer in the headlights as he dutifully answers questions posed by an off-screen interviewer who dispassionately goads him to further levels of humiliating self-exposure. The rest of the film is made up of our hero's battles with an increasingly bizarre array of giant monsters. As over-the-top as that may sound, the beauty of the film--written and directed by its star, Hitoshi Matsumato, formerly half of the Japanese comedy phenomenon Downtown--is that its humor, rather than being broadly satirical, is absolutely as deadpan as can be throughout. Even the monsters have a hilariously muted, sad-sack air about them.

For kaiju fans I should point out that most of the monster battle sequences in Big Man Japan are accomplished with CGI, until-- well, I don't want to spoil it for you. You really should just seek this movie out and see it for yourself. I will say, though, that, while I think it's possible to enjoy Big Man Japan without being familiar with the Tokusatsu genre, an at least glancing familiarity with shows like Ultraman and Space Giants will render certain of its scenes--that would otherwise be either perplexing or simply amusing--utterly piss-in-your-pants hilarious.

Big Man Japan, aka Dai-Nippon Jin, will be screening as part of Subway Cinema's New York Asian Film Festival, which runs from June 20th through July 6th.

No comments: