The title of Big Man Japan, the directorial debut of Japanese comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto, refers to a sixth-generation giant-sized hero who protects his country from the dwindling ranks of skyscraper-high monsters. The job isn’t all it should be; the hero is idle a lot, and during his downtime, he finds it hard to maintain any privacy among a populace that finds his work distasteful. Matsumoto’s mockumentary approach isn’t all it should be either; he starts with a winning premise and a handful of great scenes, then almost squanders them with fitful pacing and a varying sense of depth.
The biggest problem with Big Man Japan is that Matsumoto only spends about 30 total minutes of screen time on the amusing bouts between our man and the procession of surreal freaks who attack him with useless powers like a powerful stench, or elastic eyeballs. The rest of the movie follows the hero’s normal-sized daily life, which largely consists of him moping around a dingy house, complaining about how his ex-wife never lets him see his daughter, and how his salary’s too low. The joke’s kind of one-note, and wears thin well before Big Man Japan’s 100 minutes are up.
That said, Matsumoto is trying to make a point here, about the decline of heroic ritual among his increasingly petty, whiny countrymen. A tighter film would’ve made that theme stronger and clearer, though Big Man Japan still gets points for intelligence and imagination, and for a pop-art final sequence that pays tribute to the Ultraman aesthetic, with a dollop of William Klein’s Mr. Freedom stirred in. Klein used giant superheroes to express how a defense of imperialism is woven into much of American popular culture. Matsumoto just thinks they’re funny. For the most part, he’s right.
Key features: A comprehensive behind-the-scenes documentary with commentary by Matsumoto, and an hour of sluggish deleted scenes.