Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New on DVD: Hitoshi Matsumoto's "Big Man Japan"

Big Man Japan (Dai-Nipponjin). 2007. Directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto. Written by Mitsuyoshi Yakasu and Hitoshi Matsumoto. Produced by Akihiko Okamoto. Cinematography by Hideo Yamamoto. Edited by Soichi Ueno. Music by Towa Tei. Production design by Yuji Hayashida and Etsuko Aiko. Visual effects direction by Hiroyuki Seshita. Sound by Mitsugi Shiratori.

Cast: Hitoshi Matsumoto (Masaru Dai-Sato/Dai-Nipponjin), Riki Takeuchi (Haneru-no-ju), Ua (Manager Kobori), Ryunosuke Kamiki (Warabe-no-ju), Haruka Unabara (Shimeru-no-ju), Tomoji Hasegawa (Interviewer/Director), Itsuji Itao (Female Niou-no-ju), Takayuki Haranishi (Male Niou-no-ju), Hiroyuki Miyasako (Stay With Me), Daisuke Miyagawa (Super Justice), Takuya Hashimoto (Midon), Taichi Yazaki (Dai-Sato's Grandfather), Shion Machida (Dai-Sato's Ex-wife).

Hitoshi Matsumoto's wonderfully weird monster mockumentary Big Man Japan is out today on DVD. Below is what I wrote on this film when it screened at last year's New York Asian and Japan Cuts film festivals.

A hilarious and inventive kaiju eiga repurposed for the modern media landscape, Big Man Japan showcases the considerable talents of its writer-director-star Hitoshi Matsumoto. It begins as a rather odd mock-documentary about 40-ish loner misfit Dai-Sato (Matsumoto), whom a camera crew follows as he goes on ordinary, quotidian tasks. There are little hints of something stranger going on, such as the sign outside his door that reads “Office of Monster Prevention” and the obscene graffiti spray-painted on his wall directed toward Dai-Sato. A brick is thrown through his window as he is interviewed by the crew. Eventually these odd details are explained when he goes to an electrical plant, where he is juiced by massive amounts of electricity and blown up to literally monstrous proportions.

Now a towering figure dressed in purple shorts and sporting an Eraserhead-meets-Kid ‘n’ Play haircut and product-placement tattoos, he fights a series of monsters in epic televised battles, bashing them with a stick. Alas, his fights are quite unpopular; the late-night home-shopping show regularly trounces him in the ratings. His opponents are perhaps the strangest motley crew ever assembled in the annals of monster movies: the Leaping Monster (a head – that of popular actor Riki Takeuchi – and a single leg); the Stink Monster, which emits a stench equivalent to 10,000 piles of human feces; the Evil Stare Monster, with a single eye hurled as a weapon. “Dai-Nipponjin” (“Big Man Japan”), as he is known in his battles with the monsters, is victorious at first – until a mysterious unidentified foe with red skin kicks the crap out of him, causing him to run away and making him even more of an object of public ridicule. Dai-Sato’s problems don’t end there: he frequently clashes with his manager (pop star Ua) over her indifference to him as a person, and who seems to regard him as little more than a money machine to keep her in expensive cars and clothes. He is divorced and estranged from his daughter, and his grandfather (who was also a monster fighter) languishes in an assisted-living facility. In contrast to the love the public showered on his fighter forebears, Dai-Sato is treated with contempt and derision by his audience, who sees him as an irrelevant and outdated nuisance.

Big Man Japan has a remarkably controlled tone that treats its outlandish premise with a hilariously deadpan seriousness, creating a rounded character that has a level of poignancy. Matsumoto, a popular comedian in Japan, spent six years writing and directing his feature debut, and it is mostly a successful one. The film is marred only by the fact that the pace sags a bit in the midsection as the premise becomes repetitious and begins to wear a bit thin. However, it redeems itself with its deliriously absurd denouement, a last-minute rescue that is the cherry on top of the madness.

Big Man Japan can be purchased from Amazon.

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