The monster movie is surely a staple of Japanese cinema, makings its glorious emergence with Godzilla. Sure, King Kong came before and Cloverfield has proved successful, but nobody makes these hybrid horror/social drama's quite like Japan, and Hitoshi Matsumoto's Big Man Japan is certainly indicative of this. Combining a mockumentary style with glorious CGI, the film becomes both a fun viewing and a contemplative film on the tragedies of aging in a society that values freshness and spontaneity. Big Man Japan is neither a high-brow art house endeavor, nor is it a low culture schlockfest. Instead, it is an earnest look at one man's struggle for meaning as he realizes the world around him is decaying and that all things he and those around him once valued have become consumed by media and its capitalist tendencies. The film is certainly unique in its composition and questions what role viewers have in a situation and to what extent a filmmaker can claim poetic license when creating a work. Having recently finished a book on Japanese cinema, it is interesting to consider that so much of the film is preoccupied with tradition, yet manages to undermine such things as frequently as possible. Big Man Japan is so bizarrely different simply because it refuses to adhere to any singular definition.
Big Man Japan, in documentary format, follows Masaru Daisato, played by the director, a man who is better known as the title character. His duty is to defend Japan from various monsters that appear at random throughout different cities. Although he is always victorious, Masaru has become disliked by citizens for his continued destruction and decaying strength. Persons in the community have gone so far as to throw rocks in his windows and vandalize his house in protest, particularly his consumption of electricity, which he uses to power up. Masaru is clearly affected by such ridicule and is shown living a hermetic and desultory lifestyle far distanced from everyone, with the exception of his manager Kobori (Ua). Kobori clearly has personal interests in mind considering that she uses Masaru's giant form as a means to advertise for various companies via tattoos, which are always colorful and counterproductive to intimidating Big Man Japan's foes. His foes throughout the film range from a clearly Freudian one-eyed giant monster to a one-legged monster that jumps around like a child. Masaru is even forced to fight two monsters that are far more concerned with intercourse than defeating him. Things are going rather lackadaisically until a red demon monster randomly attacks Masaru causing viewers to take a new interest in his bouts. Despite clearly having no interest in fighting this demon, Masaru ends up engaging in the fight and getting severely beaten. At this point in the film, a screen is displayed that states that the film will now go to real footage of the bout, which is nothing of that nature and is more in line with low-budget monster shows that would be displayed on televisions in Japan. Confused Masaru is saved by a group of costumed blonde fighters known collectively as Super Justice. After the group obliterates the demon they fly away with Masaru in tow. The film ends and the credits depict Masaru joining with Super Justice as they reflect on the fight, while ridiculing Masaru for his cowardly nature.
The film is loaded with a variety of commentaries and is ripe with possible criticisms; however, the most apparent upon this viewing was a focus on inner turmoil and a desire for redemption. Masaru, as the film notes, comes from a long line of Big Man Japan's, he being the fourth in the lineage. It is clear that he is nowhere near as loved as his grandfather and has no relationship with his father, considering that he died relatively young from electrocution. It clearly plagues Masaru, as he repeats on countless times throughout the film that he longs for a return to simpler times in Japan, times in which he would be seen as heroic as opposed to being an outdated oaf. In fact, Masaru's only friend appears to be an aging karaoke club owner, who seems only to love him out of pity. Similarly, Masaru is dealing with being employed to a job that is considered wrongful in some individual's eyes. What he does destory cities, but as he argues it is a necessity. The turmoil caused by such a dilemma is clear and only further perpetuated by the fact that Masaru is scraping by and is by no means wealthy. These things combined, help to explain the emergence of a demon within the narrative and to some extent some of the monsters he face, particularly the one that is nothing more than a small child. Masaru is unable to defeat that red demon because he is ill-equipped to fight it. Metaphorically speaking he is incapable of dealing with his own depression and thus his personal demons. The film is clever in its answer to dealing with depression in that it provides us with an absurdist answer. It is clear that Matsumoto understands that each persons turmoil must be dealt with differently and by ending the film in such a way only suggest the benefits of laughter. At the end of the film, Masaru is shown engaged with people who at the very least tolerate him, something that was a far cry from his previous lifestyle. It is clear too that the film promotes the necessity of a welcoming environment to a person and their stability.
Big Man Japan is extraordinary in every sense of the word. If you even like Japanese film or monster films in the slightest, this is a necessary film to own.