Another review of a movie you (probably) will never see.
Why do I do this? Everyone in the world is out waiting in line to see the last Harry Potter film (I’ve only read one of the books and seen two and a half of the films) while I’m holed up with my laptop when I should be asleep and here I am watching another WTF stranger than strange bit of Netflix Streaming. The last two movies I’ve seen (and, more important, written about) have been Quintet (a candidate for worst movie ever) and now, Big Man Japan.
I know its a cult hit – but I’ve never met anyone that admitted to actually seeing Big Man Japan. I don’t even know how I came across it – probably fell into some webpage that mentioned that it was on Netflix and I couldn’t resist.
Now, I used to see a lot of film and read a lot of movie reviews. The problem is that too many reviews, especially written ones, simply outline the plot of the film in detail and that ruins the whole thing, doesn’t it? So I quit reading reviews until after I had seen a film. My idea is to go in blind, sit there knowing nothing, my brain an empty vessel to receive the cinematic genius unfettered by previous knowledge or expectation. The only problem is that about the time I decided on this course of action I ran out of money and time and hardly ever get to see anything anymore. Anything except when I lose my mind and stay up all night to watch weird stuff like “Big Man Japan.”
Therefore, I don’t want to talk too much about plot details. It would be interesting to see this film without knowing anything at all. It would be interesting, but you’d be pissed at me because I made you waste almost two hours of you precious life on this weird shit. So I guess, as a public duty, I should provide fair warning.
You see, the first third of the movie is a documentary-type exploration of Masaru Daisato, a middle-aged long-haired Japanese loser. His wife has left him and he scrapes by in a cluttered place eating rice and dehydrated seaweed. He carries one of those little folding umbrellas everywhere. Cryptically, he says he likes the umbrella and the seaweed because, “It only gets big when you want it to.”
Everybody hates this guy, they stare, they throw garbage into his yard, and spraypaint insulting graffiti wherever he goes. His wife has left with his daughter, there is a rusting swing set peeking out from the bags of trash outside his house.
He talks about his job. He makes about 5,000 a month (five thousand what… I don’t know) and wishes he made 8,000. He says that there isn’t as much business as there used to be. Though he doesn’t work much, he can’t travel. He has to be on call all the time. He seems to have a problem with the United States for some reason.
About a half-hour in we find out what his job is. He is a hero. They clamp electrodes to his nipples and shoot thousands of volts into his body and he grows into a huge, hairy, chubby guy with a bad haircut and a piece of pipe for a club. Then he goes out and fights giant monsters.
These monsters are tearing up Japan like Godzilla, except that nobody seems to care much about it and nobody seems to get hurt. The monsters are strange, disgusting, bizzaroids with strangely human faces (one has to keep flipping his combover as he tears buildings up by their foundation). The fights are filmed, but they air on television at two in the morning and the ratings are terrible. His agent tries to find sponsors to plaster advertisements on his chest and back to bring in an extra income – but he is so incompetent, cowardly, and unattractive the sponsors are hard to find and harder to keep.
Okay, this sort of thing goes forward, getting odder and odder (I’m leaving a lot out, trust me), until the final climax occurs and then, I’m warning you about this, the whole thing really veers off into truly WTF (and I don’t mean Win The Future) land. It’s pretty stunning, really. I’ve never seen anything even remotely like this. All through the movie you can’t help but wonder how serious the movie maker is. Is this a somewhat serious exploration of Japanese Culture, Capitalism, Monster Movies, Religious Ceremony, Ramen Noodles, Asian Pop Culture, Ozu, our treatment of the Aged, Reality Television, Fame, Heroism, and many other issues… or is this simply a big joke thrown in our face.
The last part of the film leaves no doubt.
It’s sort of genius, really, in a sort of sick, ridiculous, and annoying way. The only problem is that by that point I had actually come to care about Masaru Daisato. The scene where he takes his pixelated daughter to the zoo is heartbreaking. I wanted him to find redemption. I wanted him to defeat his enemies and win the girl.
And that is what the film ultimately skewers – the viewer’s expectations.
Does watching strange stuff like this stretch the mind, or is it only a lonely excuse for killing some time when I should be sleeping, waiting in line at Harry Potter, or out drinking?
The movie answers one long-nagging question. When the hero grows to monster size, where does his clothes come from? In Big Man Japan it is answered. A trunk with a pair of giant purple nylon underwear inside follows the hero around. Before he is juiced up to giant size, the shorts are raised up by a winch onto two poles and the hero stands inside these, so when he grows, he he attired.