After watching this movie, I thought about it for some time, mainly trying to figure out how to review it. It's almost as if, in some post-apocalyptic Japan, some explorers came across a couple of film cans (or maybe hard drives) and melded them to create this film. It's either that, a budget drastically slashed at the last minute; heavy drugs and/or alcohol; or madness verging on brilliance (or vice versa.) But we'll get to that later...
Big Man Japan starts off more excruciatingly slow than almost anything since Andy Warhol's Empire, as we watch a long-haired, middle-aged man go about his very average day, answering questions about his life from an unseen film crew. Why they are filming this ordinary man is unclear, though there are bits and pieces one can assemble, including a sign above his door that says "Department of Monster Prevention." We soon learn, that, as the quote goes, our subject is "kind of a big deal," as he protects Japan from giant monsters by growing to their size and battling them, a la Ultraman, but it's far from the most rewarding life.
A "real world" look at superheroes, it's a bleak and depressing movie, as we learn from the interviews of the hero's miserable personal life, including a daughter he barely knows, his increasingly unpopular existence as a hero (with a declining abilities, disappointed sponsors and failing TV ratings) and his awful family history, as the latest in the Big Man Japan lineage (or perhaps more appropriately franchise,) but at the same time, there's a sense of humor in the sadness, as our hero crosses into sad sack territory, and dark "The Office"-style comedy emerges to cringe-worthy effect, reaching a pinnacle with a look at the ridiculous ceremony preceding his transformation.
At first it seems we're only going to see Big Man Japan's personal life, with allusions to his battles, which could have made for a very interesting (and low-budget) movie. But the first time you see Big Man Japan in the giant flesh (and giant purple underpants) it becomes an entirely different movie. The giant monster battles, reminiscent of old Godzilla films, are twisted and humorous, but are done with CG instead of the old-school big rubber suits (maintaining the "reality" of the documentary.) Though well-done and integrated into the film almost seamlessly (with the "archival" footage of BMJ's predecessors coming off just perfect) it feels somewhat unnecessary, because the story is more about the man than the Superman. When these segments came up, I was more interested in getting away from the bizarre-looking BMJ and back to reality, which was much more entertaining. (The only exception being a hilarious look at the under-reported problem of senile former superheroes who can grow to the size of a building.)
Whether you like the unusual action of the battles or the character profile in the well-shot mockumentary (the reality of which is tainted by a flashback featuring the most disturbing nipple prosthetics ever), you can't be prepared for the final 15 minutes, which is basically the film version of a fever dream. After building what seems to be a late-game political allegory about Japan, the U.S. and North Korea, and a film-long thread about the popularity of an aggressive new culture and the pressure of familial expectations, it's all thrown right out the window. Imagine if you were watching (stick with me here) the Michael Bay Transformers, and with 15 minutes left, you were suddenly watching an old episode of "Go-Bots." Imagine the emotions that you'd feel: anger, confusion, bemusement, perhaps hunger. Well, imagine no more. Just watch Big Man Japan, and you can take that ride, with an ending that goes against basically every rule in the film handbook (including running through most of the credits), abandons the story after a 90-min investment , and is just as likely to annoy you as it is to entertain you.
Other than that, it's a pretty good movie.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.