June 17, 2009

BIG MAN JAPAN / DAI-NIPPONJIN (2007) - surreal superhero satire

Here's another review for the WildGrounds Blog-a-thon. From the land of giant monsters comes a new kind of giant superhero movie...

(2007, Japan, Dai-Nipponjin)

I love Japanese monster movies, can't get enough of them. So I'm indebted to Japan for repeatedly breathing new life into the genre, here as a mock documentary. Big Man Japan starts slowly with a series of interviews with Daisato - an average guy, slightly eccentric, complaining about his life. He's not earning enough money, he's estranged from his wife and daughter, his grandfather is a shadow of his former self... He lives alone with his cat, so why is he being interviewed?

Daisato happens to be one of Japan's last superheros. He can grow as tall as a skyscraper if enough electricity is poured through his body. The government need him to rid the country of pesky huge monsters who arrive, unpredictably, like bad weather. But he's not just a loser as a civilian, he's also a loser as a giant hero. After a series of (rather large) accidents, public opinion is fast turning against Big Man Japan...

This is a comedy. A very weird comedy that's also a monster movie, that looks like a documentary, assuredly shot with adventurous long takes. Non-Japanese like myself might not understand all the humour. It helps if you know that the writer/director/star of Big Man Japan is Hitoshi Matsumoto, a very popular comedian. His stupid-looking wig, which just looked gently eccentric to me, should have clued me in earlier. But after a few minutes, I started to get it, as the movie shifted into another dimension for his first gigantic fight...

I'm glad I've seen a lot of Ultraman episodes, because he's also a famous superhero in Japan who grows from man size to giant size. But unlike the many TV series, Big Man Japan doesn't stand around tiny models, but actual buildings cleverly composited with CGI creatures. They look humanoid, but their limbs are all out of proportion, and they retain the faces of the actors. His first adversary has a long wobbly neck, a single joined-up arm, and an unsuccessful comb-over. 'Squeezy Baddy' made my jaw drop. Hilarious, inventive, yet realistically presented.

Big Man Japan wears only big purple underpants, his only super-weapon appears to be a small stick. After the first fight, the parade of creatures is increasinly creepy, funny, and sexual in appearance. As Big Man Japan gets into deeper and deeper trouble with his family, the public and his sponsors...

The biggest stumbling block of the film is the finale, which is something of a leftfield surprise. But bearing in mind the central joke of the film, it should be easy to bear. Either it'll spoil the end, or you'll get the gag, but find out for yourself.

Impressive, unique and highly recommended, but watch a couple of Ultraman epsiodes (from any series) beforehand.

The Hong Kong DVD (pictured) is not recommended though because of the barely legible subtitles. The translation is good enough but the thin typeface and uneven black edging make it very hard to read. A second DVD is full of production diaries covering the making and launching of the film, but is completely without subtitles or any translation.

So, please look forward to the US DVD release in July, from Magnolia Home Entertainment.

For another review and more images, try this review from Comic Book Resources.

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