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Sunday, July 19, 2009

BIG MAN JAPAN -- DVD review by porfle

Well, here's something for those with a really big taste for the unusual. Part mockumentary, part giant-Japanese-monsters spoof, BIG MAN JAPAN (2007) is one seriously weird movie. And watching it is like discovering a chest full of really cool toys that were designed by crazy elves on acid.

The mockumentary part follows a reserved, unassuming man named Daisato (director and co-writer Hitoshi Matsumoto) around as he makes his way through a seemingly ordinary life. He lives in a dumpy home with a stray cat and makes pointless conversation about how he likes things (folding umbrellas, dehydrated seaweed) that are small until you need for them to get big.

Sometimes he wistfully talks about his 8-year-old daughter, whom his ex-wife will only let him visit twice a year because that's as often as she can stand to be around him.

Rocks crash through the windows as he speaks. His house is adorned with strewn garbage and graffiti such as "Die!" and "We don't need you!" Why? Because Daisato is Big-Sato, or "Big Man Japan", a widely-reviled superhero who is also small until the government needs for him to get big and fight the giant monsters that constantly invade Japan, and it's no longer the glamour job that it was for his predecessors. In fact, his reality TV show is currently getting lower ratings than the weather channel.

The interview segments, while very funny, are also dry and sometimes seemingly interminable. I couldn't wait for Daisato to get the next call to action from the government, because then, things really get fun. He travels by moped (passing more graffiti such as "You're annoying" and "Fall off a cliff!") to the nearest electrical station to "power up", standing inside his gigantic purple shorts and getting zapped with millions of volts until he grows to colossal proportions.

With his long hair standing straight up and his pudgy body adorned with tattoos and advertising (his avaricious agent sells ad space to various sponsors and pockets most of the profits herself), Big Man Japan is ready to stomp into action again.

Each monster that he encounters is a wonderful and fascinating creation. The first one we see is The Strangling Monster, whose arms form a loop of elastic steel cables that he wraps around skyscrapers before hoisting them up and gleefully piledriving them into the ground. The Leaping Monster is another extremely happy creature with very expressive features--the facial CGI motion-capture on these things is really good.

This is especially true for The Stink Monster, a female monstrosity who engages our hero in a heated verbal exchange filled with withering putdowns while leaning against a building and petulantly nudging automobiles with her foot.

Most of the monsters have some kind of disturbing sexual component that adds an extra layer of strangeness to their activities. Strangling Monster extrudes a pointed metallic shaft from his posterior that deposits slimy eggs into the gaping holes left from uprooted buildings. Evil Stare Monster's telescoping eye-stalk, which he uses as a swinging mace-like weapon, originates from his groin.

Not to be outdone, Stink Monster is actually in heat, which attracts the frantic attentions of yet another grotesque monster who's beside himself with hilariously hyperkinetic lust. "What the hell!?" Daisato cries in horror as she turns around and "presents." What happens next results in tabloid press headlines decrying Big Man Japan as a "Monster Pimp."

Each of these segments is a feast of weirdness for us to gorge ourselves on--irresistible confections of stylized photo-realistic CGI, mind-bending monsters, and cartoonishly surreal situations. When Daisato's senile old grandfather, once the highly-popular Big Man Japan the Fourth, zaps himself with electricity and gets back into the act, he goes on a wonderfully irrational rampage in which he takes on Tokyo Tower and shuts down the local airport by playing with the planes, while headlines scream "Big Man Japan Destroys Japan!!" and "Big Man Japan Salutes the Sun?!"

Even the somewhat melancholy mockumentary sequences start to get more outrageous as Daisato deals with all the various controversies and public outcries while trying to keep his personal life together.

Hitoshi Matsumoto does a good job directing the film while giving a nicely subdued performance as the put-upon Daisato. His supporting players, including several non-professionals, are natural and funny. The more mundane segments look as though they might have been shot for some PBS series, while the monster scenes are so lush and colorful that they're quite visually sumptuous. Adding to the film's appeal is a score by Towa Tei that is often beautiful.

A 68-minute bonus featurette (with commentary), "Making of Big Man Japan", shows the years-long collaborative process in which the story and its characters were developed, and follows the cast and crew to Cannes for the film's successful premiere. Also included on the DVD are several deleted scenes plus trailers for this and the other films in Magnolia/Magnet's "6-Shooter Film Series" (five of which we've reviewed right here at HKCFN, counting this one). The 1.85:1 widescreen image and Dolby Digital sound are good. Soundtrack is in Japanese with English and Spanish subtitles.

With the appearance of a redskinned, seemingly invincible demon-monster that may mean the end of our hero, BIG MAN JAPAN has a final surprise in store for viewers which will either delight or confuse, or both. (At any rate, it should get you to thinking about what the heck it all means, including possible political implications, blah, blah, etc.) Like the rest of the film, it's unexpected and totally off-the-wall. And if you're like me, you may find it hard to believe that somebody actually made a movie that's this much pure, silly, unadulterated fun.

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