Last year I had a chance to see Big Man Japan at the San Francisco International Film Festival. However, I had a scheduling conflict: I was in Tokyo on the day of the showing (scouting images for Warring Clans, Flashing Blades). I was somewhat bummed, as this was the one film among that year's SFIFF offerings I most wanted to see. Now, having seen it, I realize I needn't have bothered.
The simple fact of the matter is that Big Man Japan, for all its low-key, indie quirkiness, simply doesn't work. Chief among its problems is precisely its low-key, indie quirkiness. This is ostensibly a film about kaiju, giant monsters. Mere mention of the genre immediately engenders images and expectations ranging from the kinetic to the phrenetic -- certainly not the pathetic. Big Man Japan, while well made and lovingly executed, is nevertheless so downbeat and deadpan as to sap any and all energy from a story about a sixth-generation super hero who, with the help of massive jolts of electricity, grows to gigantic proportions to fight an array of bizarre, enormous creatures who routinely plague the more built-up parts of Tokyo. There's a monster that uproots tall buildings with its big, rubber-band arms; a fella with a big ol' eyeball on a stalk growing out of his crotch; a smelly, squid-like thing whose chief talent appears to be arguing; a humongo-demon-baby; hell, there's even a big Riki Takeuchi head bouncing around on a single, muscular leg. And through it all we have Hitoshi Matsumoto, our writer/director/star, portraying the Big Man as a likable looser, a slacker who doesn't get it and does a substandard job of giant superhero-ing (he's frequently upstaged by his similarly-enormo grandad).
Matsumoto is clearly taking a cue from Watchmen -- real-life superhero, hated by the public, trying to deal with personal problems and generally having a tough time. It's a shame he opted for a dull, documentary format to explore what could have been a genuinely engaging fantasy adventure film with deconstruction, social commentary and really weird monsters into the bargain.
In four words: Great concept, crap execution.
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