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Big Man Japan

Year: 2007
Production Co: RealProduct
Director: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Writer: Hitoshi Matsumoto/Mitsuyoshi Takasu
Cast: Hitoshi Matsumoto

This movie is everything that fascinates and enthralls us in the West about the juxtapositions in Japanese culture. The same way a nation of such reverent pride and traditional honour barely bats an etelid at the existence of vending machines that sell schoolgirl's panties, Big Man Japan is a similarly seamless melding of tones that seem completely antithetical.

It's hard to know whether it's because the writing and directing team of Hitoshi Matsumoto and Mitsuyoshi Takasu were incredibly skilled enmeshing them or just chucked them together and figured they'd work in the same whacky way as panty vending machines alongside thousand year old shrines and tea drinking ceremonies, and I'd be interested to know how constructed the seemingly conflicting tones were.

In this case, it's Godzilla shot through with a domestic drama. More specifically, it's a mockumentary about a man who can transform into a Godzilla-sized monster and who's tasked by the Japanese government with seeing off the various city-sized monsters and creatures menacing the country.

Daisato (writer/director Matsumoto) is a downbeat dolt who's barely got his life together. We meet him thanks to a documentary crew, living in a dumpy house in a shoddy neighbourhood, long haired, downtrodden and putting up with people throwing bricks through his windows while waiting for the next call from the Defence Department that there's a new threat.

Why are people throwing bricks through his windows? Far from the hero his forebears were in the postwar period keeping monsters out of Japan, Daisato isn't very well liked. He causes a lot of property damage and with his metal club he's only a fair monster fighter, not a very good one.

He's also losing sponsors – in an interesting and even more tonally weird aside, huge signs are painted on his body, areas of his skin on offer by his PR agent to the highest bidder. But thanks to his publicity-averse nature, Daisato isn't even very interested in the TV talk shows that are supposed to form most of his income.

But when the calls come, he's driven hurridely to a local power plant where he steps into gigantic, oversized purple underpants and they hook him up to the juice, a process that transforms him into his monstrous size and prepares him for battle against any number of weird creatures.

One is a head on a single leg that bounds joyfully around the city yelling about its love of existence. Another is a cross between a flesh-cloured mushroom and an octopus, with the face of a pissed-off old lady and which emits a stench greater than 'a hundred human faeces', and whom Daisato seems less interested in fighting than in trying to see off verbally, the pair of them arguing like prickly neighbours rather than giant supernatural creatures.

And just when you think it couldn't get any weirder, there's a final scene in which Daisato has to fight a monster more powerful than any other – one he's already run away from once. Out of the blue, he's joined by a family of giant superheroes with the kitchiest shtick you've ever seen.

Where the rest of Daisato's giant scenes are in CGI against plates of real cities, the climax depicts Matsuomto himself in a Big Man fat suit and the family of superheroes in cheap halloween costumes, all of them battling the ultimate foe in a miniature city.

Looking so much like the cheap effects shots of 50s and 60s Godzilla movies, it seems to be the strongest statement by the film that the whole thing is satirising the kaiju culture Japan had a craze for in the 50s and 60s, but there's a lot more there.

Or maybe there isn't. Maybe Matsumoto is only trying to make a weird comedy, but I couldn't help looking for more subtext. One critic called it a parody of Japan's giant monster culture that makes points about the country's unravelling cultural heritage. Roger Ebert thought it was satirising the personal documentary, monster movies and reality TV. But Whatever Matsuomto's intentions, Big Man Japan is certainly something you've never seen before.

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