Comedian Hiroshi Matsumoto writes, directs and stars in this slapstick take on the kaiju genre. Daisato (Matsumura) lives a simple life, alone in a small house, taking care of a stray cat he found. But when Japan calls for a hero, he is forced to transform into his alter ego “Big Man Japan” (Dainihonjin). Travelling to an electrical power station, he is zapped with energy, growing to an incredible height in order to take on various humongous monsters that Japan is inexplicably harassed by. Unfortunately, for Daisato, his efforts are far from celebrated: when they are acknowledged at all people largely complain about the state he leaves the city in, or his poor performance in fighting these monsters.
“Big Man Japan” is a film that takes the kaiju monster genre and turns it into a farce. The low-brow comedy is best exemplified with the monsters, the design of which is suggestive of sexual anatomy, and with jokes about stinky excretions, and Big Man himself running around in a pair of purple pants, it would be hard to mistake this for an intellectual film. However, the film does also provide some clever moments of satire, such as the idea of Big Man having a manager (played by Ua) who struggles to help him with corporate sponsorship. Most of the best moments are actually not the monster fights, where the shaky CG, used for Matsumoto and a string of Japanese comedians as the monsters, often distracts from the action; but the mockumentary style interviews with Daisato as he goes about his everyday life. These segments, with the off-screen journalist asking questions about his routine, his life, and his estranged family, are humorously juxtaposed with the idea of a powerful, lauded superhero, which is what you might expect. It is almost a film of two completely contrasting styles, with the subtle humour of the interviews interspersed with the outrageous slapstick of the monster battles.
Hiroshi Matsumura’s talents as a writer and performer shine through here. The poor CGI does undermine some of the actions and several broader jokes fail to land, but Matsumura’s natural charm and comedic ability carry the film through. By far the most entertaining sections are when the film has something to say, either about corporatisation, the struggles of fame and living up to the expectations set by previous generations, and even a sideswipe at religious pretentions with a mock ceremony to call forth Big Man’s powers. The subplot involving Daisato’s grandfather, the fourth Big Man, offers a glimmer of emotional resonance to the story, but for the most part it is simply a tongue-in-cheek homage to giant monster movies.