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It’s hard out there for a hero in Big Man Japan

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Marvel’s prospective summer tentpole Iron Man 3 has us thinking back on more unusual superhero movies.

Big Man Japan (2007)
The title of Japanese comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto’s feature-directing debut, Big Man Japan, refers to a sixth-generation giant-sized superhero (played by Matsumoto) who protects his country from the dwindling ranks of skyscraper-high monsters who show up every now and then to attack the populace with their useless powers like a powerful stench or elastic eyeballs. The hero job isn’t all that great: He’s idle a lot, and during his downtime he struggles to maintain any privacy or dignity, because the citizenry finds his work distasteful and regards him more as a super-powered exterminator than a champion of the people. Big Man Japan spends about 30 total minutes of screen time on the bizarre (and hilarious) bouts between the Big Man and the procession of enormous freaks. The rest of the movie follows his 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 a little one-note, and wears thin before Big Man Japan’s 113 minutes are up. But Matsumoto has a larger point to make, about the decline of heroic ritual among his increasingly petty, whiny countrymen, and he makes it with intelligence and imagination, all the way up to a pop-art final sequence that pays stirring tribute to the Ultraman aesthetic (with a dollop of William Klein’s Mr. Freedom stirred in). Both Eastern and Western filmmakers of the ’60s used giant monsters and superheroes to explore how a defense of imperialism had become inextricably woven into American popular culture. Matsumoto mainly just thinks they’re funny. And for the most part, he’s right.

Availability: DVD from Magnolia/Magnet, which is available for rental and purchase.

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