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Big Man Japan

Entry updated 22 May 2023. Tagged: Film.

Japanese film (2007). Original title Dai Nipponjin. Directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto. Written by Hitoshi Matsumoto and Mitsuyoshi Takasu. Cast includes Shion Machida, Hitoshi Matsumoto, Daisuke Miyagawa and Taichi Yazaki. 114 minutes. Colour.

A documentary crew are following Masaru Daisatou (Matsumoto), an unprepossessing middle-aged man with a fondness for folding umbrellas: "they only get big when you need them to" (a similar remark is made concerning dehydrated seaweed). His small, run down home is named the "Department of Monster Prevention". Masaru's dispirited conversation with the crew is interrupted by a work call, so he travels by moped to the Kanto Electric Transformation Plant no.2, where he is transformed into Big Man Japan, a thick-necked giant (see Great and Small) in shorts armed with a big stick, who is employed by the Ministry of Defence to fight the MonstersKaiju – that occasionally terrorize Japan. Afterwards he shrinks down of his own accord, though this takes a few days.

Masaru is married but separated: his wife (Machida) objects to his wish that his daughter should succeed him. The job runs in the family, though Masaru bemoans the decline in respect compared to his grandfather's era ("he had servants"). In those days there were more monsters and 20-30 Heroes fighting them – now it is just him. In the old days their battles were given Prime Time television slots; Masaru's are broadcast at 2:40 am. Though he has some fans, most of the population see him as a figure of fun who is past his best. We watch him fight several CGI kaiju such as the Strangling Monster, who uproots buildings and has a comb-over, and the Evil Stare Monster, who possesses an eye attached to a prehensile stalk rooted in his groin. However, after defeating the latter, Big Man Japan is attacked by a fearsome red devil monster from North Korea – and runs away. The bad publicity created by this is worsened when he accidentally kills a baby kaiju.

Later the red devil reappears and Big Man Japan hides behind some buildings: his senile grandfather (Yazaki) tries to help by going into his giant form, but – after being felled by the devil – is inadvertently killed by Masaru. When it looks like the red devil will murder him he is saved by the arrival of Super Justice (Miyagawa), accompanied by his Dad, Mom, Little Sister and The Baby – all giant American costumed Superheroes in the Ultraman style. The devil – no longer CGI generated but now a man in a costume – is initially beaten with a giant rolled up newspaper; after further humiliation the superheroes chant "Peace!" and join hands, asking Big Man Japan to add his: he reluctantly does so, whereupon a beam is emitted, killing the devil. Big Man Japan briefly removes his hand and notes it makes no difference to the power of the beam. The Super Justice team then fly off, taking Big Man Japan with them, and we are assured "they all lived happily ever after".

The downbeat life of Masaru – he is not paid much, gets little respect and treats being Big Man Japan as a mundane duty – contrasts with the Absurdist monster fights; though even here there is a sense of Thinning [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] – the monsters are usually sad or idiotic rather than hostile – and the exception is something Big Man Japan cannot handle. The Humour is largely successful and varied, from Masaru's melancholy interviews to the enormous pants he has to stand in when awaiting his transformation. The film is an affectionate Parody of the Tokusatsu genre by one of Japan's most popular comedians; but there is also some Satire of contemporary Japan. [SP]


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