Friday, September 11, 2009

Big Man Japan: Grade A

Big Man Japan (2007)
Hitoshi Matsumoto. Co-writer and Director Hitoshi Matsumoto. (Japanese, subtitled)

This bizarre film can only be recommended to the adventurous. The protagonist, “Big Man Japan” (Matsumoto), is a middle aged television actor in contemporary Tokyo. His terrible, low-budget sci-fi show, on at 2am, struggles to keep sponsors. In the show, a giant (“Big Man”) as tall as the buildings of downtown Tokyo, fights evil monsters just as big. The CGI effects are purposely clunky to recall classic Japanese sci-fi of the 1950’s. The monsters are the most creative you will ever see. Forget giant ants, lizards, and moths. These monsters are direct from the id but at the same time hilarious, more so, I imagine, if you were high.

Adding complexity, the premise is that the actor is being interviewed in documentary style, so a camera crew follows him everywhere, into his crowded apartment, a restaurant (where he only eats “super-noodles”) and on a visit to his estranged wife and beloved daughter. We learn that he endures large blasts of electricity which transform him into the superhero giant. He complains that he is getting old and the electric jolts are hard to take, but he is the only one of his type left. His ageing grandfather (Big Man the Fourth) has dementia, he believes, because he took too much electricity in his youth. The realities of the actor’s life and of his superhero character are so skillfully blended that we become unsure what kind of a movie we are watching. Is he really a superhero and not an actor? Or both? What is the deal?

Then there is a third layer of meaning in which we discover that as a child the actor was abused by his father (now dead), but was saved by his grandfather. The worst monster, a sort of red devil, thus represents the actor’s inner demon, his unforgiving memory of his father. In a final scene too strange to describe, a family of justice encourages him to find peace with the past. He does overcome his demon, but in yet another twist during the credits, we discover that coming to terms with the past is not a state of bliss.

Then we start to rethink the other monsters as symbols. Are they actually complaints about life in ultra-crowded Tokyo: crushed by the sheer press of people, stepping on them and being stepped on, having no privacy from peering eyes, enduring the stink of living so close, and so on? A whole new social meaning emerges to what we have been watching. Was this story a representation of the actor’s mental state all along, the monsters actually dream symbols? What is the reality? There are also historical and cultural dimensions I have not mentioned.

While reaching to the edge of delightfully, hilariously confusing madness, the movie demonstrates how to use the medium to its maximum capacity and not waste it photographing stage plays. The colors and effects are brilliant, exciting, and extremely creative as visuals. Photography is first class. The layers of allusion are dizzying. The music is terrific. However, if you like straight Disneyesque fables, you should skip this one because it will make no sense to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment