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Big Man Japan (2009)
16th Nov 09
A middle-aged Japanese guy transforms in to a giant and protects tokyo from monsters, sort of.
Diasato is a 40-something eccentric guy who lives in a run-down house in modern Japan. He carries a retractable umbrella everywhere (he likes how it can be big then go small again whenever he likes), has lank long hair, likes to drink at the same local karaoke bar, regularly goes to the same noodle house, has a cat, an ex-wife and a daughter he very rarely sees. He's not very popular in his local neighbourhood and regularly gets bricks thrown through his window. This is because in his day job he has a habit of causing serious damage to the local community, which doesn't make him very popular.
Actually, day job is a slightly misleading term; really Diasato is just constantly on call for government. But when he does get that call he high-tails it over to the nearest power station, climbs inside the biggest pair of purple pants you've ever seen, gets clamps on his nipples, gets blasted with enough electricity to power a small town and grows to the size of a large building. He's Big Man Japan, and he gets called upon to defend the city whenever giant Godzilla-style monsters turn up, which is reasonably often. The only problem is he's not very good at his job.
Yes, Diasato comes from a long line of big men. His dad was a big man, but he took it too far and electrocuted himself (and tried Diasato out too early too; look out for the scene where his dad hooks him up as a boy but the result is just that Diasato grows really big man boobs). This caused grandfather to come out of retirement, and the strain of those extra years sent the old guy nuts so he's now in care home. But compared to their heroics, Diasato's just a bit of a let down.
His TV show is bombing (it's on at 2am as the viewing figures are so bad) and his agent is struggling to get him sponsorship deals (although she always seems to have a lot of cash to hand, which is quite suspicious). This is probably because, as far as giant stomp Tokyo monster battlers go, Diasato's a bit rubbish. Have I mentioned that already?
Big Man Japan is one of the weirdest films you'll see all year. It's filmed for the most part as a fly on the wall documentary, and the rest as a CG monster fight (except for the ending, which I'll get to later). The mockumentary sections, following Diasato around his quite tedious life, are slow paced but mildly funny, revealing what a loser Diasato really is. The interviews with the people he talks to on a daily basis work well because every one of them looks like they don't want to be there, especially his wife (she is no way letting Diasato's daughter follow in his footsteps in to the family trade). But the real draw of the film, what brings out the little kid in all of us, are the very bizarre fight sequences.
One monster is just a big foot with a head that stomps all over the place. One is a stink monster (releases smells worse than a 1000 human faeces) but they don't end up fighting, rather Big Man helps it with the unwanted attentions of another stink monster that's trying to mate with it (and it's as bizarre as it sounds). The real fight, however, is with a Red monster that, in their first encounter, stomps on Daisato's head, to the extent that Diasato's runs away.
Will he fight Red again, even though he's categorically stated he's not going to? Or is his agent going to stitch him up? Are we going to get to see grandad pulled out of retirement one last time? Now I'm giving a little bit of the ending away, which I shouldn't because the ending is what makes this movie.
I know this is bad form, but I've got to mention where I saw Big Man Japan the first time. I watched the screener with my 15 and 16 year old nephews, whose experience of Godzilla had never gone further than Dreamcast video games. They looked mildly interested for most of the movie, but all 3 of us howled with laughter through the last five minutes or so, and they described the ending as "the funniest ending to any film ever." That's stretching it, but it's not a million miles from the truth, and anyone who has ever gone through a thinking Godzilla movies are wicked phase (like most of us at some point as kids, surely?) will love it, especially if you're familiar with Jet Jaguar or the Ultraman movies. In particular the bits where Big Man drops his shoe, or where he says "I make no difference..." are works of genius.
It's not for everyone, and I think you need to have an underlying appreciation of Japanese monster movies to get it, but Big Man Japan is such a great idea for a film, which is in turn executed with such originality and charm, that you can't help but enjoy it despite it's overly dead pan tone and sluggish pace. It's easy on the eye, genuinely shot without much pretence, and all the cast turn in suitably pitched performances (which may just be coincidence - they look bored and underwhelmed by the whole thing, which fits). But it's the ending you'll be telling your friends about in the morning, in fact I'm still chuckling to myself just thinking about it.