Cinema in the East differs from cinema in the West. But was there ever a better film to illustrate this than Big Man Japan [Dai-Nihonjin]? Since last year, big monster have returned to the big screen. The USA gave us Cloverfield, Japan is giving us Big Man Japan. Both movies share some superficial similarities, but at the same time they couldn't be any more different.
It must be said that the Kaiju (big monster) genre in Japan never really lost its popularity. Gamera, Gojira and Ultraman are still hot in the land of the rising sun. But even in Japan they felt the need to inject the genre with some fresh juice. Cloverfield did it by adding a serious touch to the formula, Matsumoto decided there were more innovative ways.
Similar to Cloverfield, Big Man Japan starts off slow, hiding its true face behind a façade of boredom. The first 20 or so minutes are dedicated to a bored, boring, middle-aged, washed-out Japanese guy that is followed by a television crew for a documentary. Apparently he's somewhat of a star, but it's never revealed why he's anything special. Until he runs off to a power plant, turns into a big (huge) superhero and walks off to battle monsters. Yup.
Our hero is actually a monster fighter, product of a proud family of monster fighters that lost their fame after several generations. Times are different and people don't really look up to monster fighters anymore. Still, from time to time he jumps into his purple knickers, gets electrocuted through his nipples and becomes this colossal guy, fighting off a series of whacked-out monsters to get the viewer rates going.
The change of tone between the mockumentary scenes and the actual fights is enormous. The documentary is as boring as can be, but the deadpan humor remains at all times, even when long overdue, which makes the film weirder and weirder as it continues. When we finally see his cute little 8-year-old daughter with a distorted voice and a mosaic in front of her face, the film had completely won me over.
The fight sequences are incredibly silly but amazingly funny. The monsters are simply hilarious and weird, and even though the tone changes, the same amount of seriousness is still present during the action scenes. It's just plain weird to see a big guy arguing with a farting squid/flower monster because he's apparently blocking the traffic.
Visually, the film does what it needs to do. The documentary scenes are simple, a bit boring but effective. The fight sequences are technically sub par but apply all means necessary to create monsters that are as freaky as they are funny. Every monster is memorable, and while the technical side of things might not be perfect, it gives the film a distinct look that will defend it from bad aging and will keep the scenes attractive for years to come. Not only that, the visual style is just freaking hilarious too.
The film finally flips in the last fifteen minutes. And while those scenes are still pretty damn funny, I think I would've preferred it if it had kept its deadpan humor going until the end. Still, this film is filled to the brim with memorable scenes. It's been a long time since I've been this amused with a comedy. Some knowledge of the Kaiju genre is certainly a plus, as there are several spoofs you will miss otherwise, but even without it, you can grasp most of the humor at hand.
As a little bonus, it's extra fun to read or watch reactions of people who didn't quite grasp the humor in this film. The humor throughout the film requires a certain state of mind which makes it all the better. A must-see this one, if only to marvel at the insane creations and wacky surreal scenes that come from an utterly silly premise given a fully straight-faced treatment.