I’ve always wondered exactly what it was that made giant monsters and their traipsing through downtown Tokyo a genre unto itself. Having watched merely a handful of examples of the genre, I can still say I really don’t ‘get it’.
But watch it I will, and having seen a handful of examples and with a cerebral understanding of what others might see in the genre, maybe I can at least get the gist of what Big Man Japan is about. And really, knowing Kaiju films isn’t a prerequisite for Big Man Japan, though no doubt you will probably get more out of it than if you didn’t even know the genre existed.
Admittedly, as a mock-umentary there are plays upon the inherent silliness of the genre, but the real focus of the film is upon the central character of Daisato, the holder of an inherited role as protector of Japan. The strength of this film lies in whether you develop any sympathy for him and his current status as a popular joke/object of hate to the citizens of Japan in contrast to his official national role as protector of Japan.
We are presented with direct interviews with Daisato, his ambivalence to his position in life and his obsession with things that ‘grow large when needed’ with the occasional interview with those around him thrown in. Some sympathy for him is generated because of that. His side of the story tells of a man who found himself trapped in a role expected from his family, somewhat proud of his family tradition but now longing for how good his ancestors had it in their day rather than being the creature of loathing he is today. The surrounding people that are interviewed, including an agent who is constantly distracted by her phone to a wife who doesn’t want their daughter to follow in the family trade, don’t really have much of a personal opinion of or investment in Daisato at all.
The only ones that seem to show any appreciation for Daisato are the support crew and military that see him as the solution to the country’s ‘Baddie’ problem, but even then either they’re so old as to be stuck in their ways or their position is so contingent upon Daisato’s continuing role that you wonder whether they really know Daisato at all.
So when Daisato does ‘get big’ you understand why the country, in general, hates him. All the monsters have very human faces on them and are so laughable and pathetic, it’s hard to justify why Daisato really needs to go in there and take them out in the first place – especially when he seems to cause more damage than the monsters do themselves. Then, as the film progresses, Daisato finds himself up against a monster actually capable of beating him down, and proves to be a coward as well as somewhat inept.
I think there are some cultural aspects of the film that fail to translate fully across. One of the things that bugged me about the translation was at one point Daisato tells us how much he earns as the country’s monster fighter and there is no reference point as to whether this is supposed to be a large amount or a small amount. Whilst Daisato lives essentially a decrepit life, he still seems to dress decently and I was never quite certain how well he was actually eating.
In all Big Man Japan is an interesting enough mock-umentary in that it provides insight into the personal aggrandisement of the subject whilst portraying him in the manner others might see him. Some sympathy is there for his circumstances just as there is some judgement made upon his personal decisions. If the film makes reference to any Kaiju films I recognise, it is not until the end and even then there is such a disconnect to the rest of film, I’m not even sure if that counts. In fact, the complete lack of resolution at the end just feels tacked on for the sake of ending a film which couldn’t have a denouement without feeling cliched.