A while back I wrote a post detailing the Top 10 Strange Japanese Films You Need to Watch and one movie that came up in the comments a lot was Big Man Japan. Unfortunately at the time of writing that post I had not seen the film even though I was very interested in it as I believe Hitoshi Matsumoto (director, writer, and star of the movie) to be one of the funniest men in Japan. Luckily for me, Netflix has picked up Big Man Japan so I was able to watch it over the weekend. Now the only question that remains is: would this film have made it on my top 10 list if I had watched it before?

So What’s This Film All About?

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Being unleashed upon the general public in 2007, Big Man Japan tells the tale of an eccentric middle aged man living alone in a decrepit home in Tokyo. He periodically transforms into a giant, washed up superhero and defends Japan by battling giant monsters that threaten the safety of its general public.

However, and unfortunately for Big Man Japan, the general public is not too pleased with his work. Many people complain and protest that he causes too much collateral damage, wastes electricity (he needs it to grow into giant form), and is just a nuisance to Japan in general.

Even though he has his own late-night spot on TV, it’s only 15 minutes long and only receives 1% or 2% viewer ratings. (You’ll remember from my last post that about anything over 15% is good, and anything less than 10% usually has something wrong with it, but anything less than 5% must be absolutely dreadful.)

Aww, he just wants a hug.

What I didn’t understand about this part is how people could be so angry and frustrated with Big Man Japan. It sounds like the general populace would be happier if Big Man Japan just stopped saving them from certain doom and destruction at the hands of various giant monsters. They have no appreciation at all for his heroic deeds.

It is mentioned that there used to be other superheros like Big Man Japan back in the heyday of his grandfather (the fourth Big Man Japan) and that they enjoyed fame and fortune among undying respect, but I don’t really understand why the safety of Japan is any less popular now than it was back then. This is one thing that the movie hinged on that I didn’t really follow along with.

And Who Is This Matsumoto You Speak Of?

Like I mentioned before, Hitoshi Mastumoto is a funny man. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t really showcase the traditional humor I’m used to. Undeniably it is a well made and decent film, but it was just not the humor I was hoping for. Matsumoto is one half of the famous comedy duo Downtown and is one of the hosts of the absolutely delightful variety show Gaki no Tsukai. Perhaps becoming so used to his persona on these shows affected my preconceived notions and expectations about this film.

If you haven’t heard of Gaki no Tsukai or seen any of their famous batsu (punishment) games, you should check them out on YouTube. They are hilarious and awesome and a good number of them come complete with subtitles for your viewing pleasure.

And the Verdict?

Falcon Kick!

As for my thoughts on the film, I have to say I was a bit disappointed. That’s not to say I did not enjoy Big Man Japan, it’s just that I was hoping for a bit more. I’d been wanting to see the movie ever since I first heard about it, so I guess I’d been playing the film up in my head for about three years and when I finally got around to seeing it, it just wasn’t what I’d been imagining. I thought it was a bit slow at times, and the giant monsters and the giant monster fighting are pretty much the only super wonky things going on in the film.

Old Man Japan just doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

Because of this, Big Man Japan would not have made it onto my list for the Top 10 Strange Japanese Films You Need to Watch. It’s just not weird enough and it’s just not entertaining enough. While still a decent film, it just failed to impress me. I still have to watch Matumoto’s Symbol (trailer below) so maybe you’ll see a post about that film sometime in the future as well. It certainly looks like it has promise.

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So, have any of you seen Big Man Japan and/or Symbol? Did they live up to your expectations? Which one did you like better? Tell me in the comments below and let me know if you think I should watch Symbol!

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  • Paul

    I saw this about a month ago on Netflix. I agree that it was a little underwhelming, but I still enjoyed it. Can’t argue with you because, hey, it’s your list, but I would have included it on mine over something like Tetsuo the Iron Man (not in terms of weirdness, but in terms of worth watching). Honestly I don’t really like a whole lot of J-movies these days…they’re often too wonky and low budget. But I’d give Big Man Japan a thumbs up.

  • JRT

    Was thinking about watching this film a few weeks ago but I now may not. Would rather spend time watching more interesting cinema than something that is just ok.

    But thanks for taking the bullet for us!

  • Jacob

    Oh my goodness Symbol is HILARIOUS. It gets a bit strange near the end and there are two story lines that have nothing to do with each other… Kinda. Point is, its definitely good and its DEFINITELY strange. Worth a watch.

  • Anonymous

    Haven’t seen Big Man Japan yet but have to say that Symbol is FANTASTIC. Saw it in a small theatre with a packed crowd and everyone thought it was amazing. Am still a bit scared to rewatch it though, seeing as the crowd might have influenced my experience a lot. Apparantly Matsumoto’s new film Saya Zamurai (out on DVD now) is pretty good too. Will be watching it soon.

    But definitely watch Symbol. One of the best comedies of the past few years IMO (including American films etc)

  • Anonymous

    Yea the Mexico storyline is a bit pointless in the end, but still funny.

  • TheManorexic

    I saw it at Blockbuster a few times before years and years ago, but never got it. One day my friend and I were browsing Netflix and came across it (turns out he had scene it around movie shops as well) so we decided to watch it, not knowing at all what would happen. When it was over we were in that state of shock and awe after your first weird Japanese film. I love it because it was my first, plus the ending makes my head just explode in error.

  • アントン

    I totally agree! I laughed my ass off!!! ww

  • John

    Awesome. Looks like I will definitely be checking this one out then.

  • John

    Cool! I look forward to watching it.

  • John

    Yeah I really liked the ending but I thought the rest of it was just okay. But then again I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff so that probably influenced my feelings towards the film, lol.

  • John

    Yeah, to this day I’m still not sure if I enjoyed Tetsuo or not – it just really left an impression on me.

  • John Yarra

    I saw this film in 2007 and liked it. In answer to your puzzle about why people in the film would be so harsh towards a hero that is always saving them, I think I remember one of the interviewees commenting along the lines that “surely the air force could do a better job”. Or perhaps I was just thinking it at the time…

  • Kaley

    I feel like what happened to you with this movie, happened to me with Napoleon Dynamite. For months (maybe even a year) I heard friends rant and rave about how awesome and hilarious it was… so my expectations were pretty high. When I watched it… it just sort of fell short. Perhaps if I had seen it in theaters my views would of changed. That is the downfall with hyping a movie in your head!

    It definitely looks interesting, and the plot is intriguing.

  • kuyaChristian

    Big Man Japan’s hair looks like this guy!
    Big Man also has big hair like Miguelitoh Big Hair!
    I just thought it was sooo interesting. Gotta check it on Netflix tonight!

  • Steve

    What an absolutely brilliant Tofugu post!! Youve introduced me to a whole new world of weird. Instead of working i’ve just spent the whole afternoon watching Gaki no Tsukai and.. well..its great! Was a bit weirded out by the kids rubbing their bums on those guys faces (!!) in the 24 hour endurance tag (!!) but…THANKS!!

  • William R

     Talking about Matsumoto. I’m looking for one of his videos, the video was called Japanese inn on youtube, he is some kind of bell boy, and receives (very bad) a couple, throwing their luggage and beating the guest’s wife.
     Does anyone know how to find it? Please?

  • John

    Hahahaha, I am so very happy to have been the one to introduce you to the greatness that is Gaki no Tsukai. Enjoy!

  • Anonymous

    Big Man Japan is full of political commentary on the global
    role Japan plays in the modern world… but executed in a rad way with nods to
    Kaiju monster films and Ultraman. The way I see the movie (spoilers ahead):
    Where the old Big Man Japan was once a super-power in the ~1920s (much like the
    country) he is now consumed by capitalism (his body is tattooed in commercials)
    and is now non-threatening/a joke. All the monsters BMJ faces throughout the
    film are from different areas of Japan, except the scary red monster who was
    from an “unknown location”. This ‘red menace’ was from communist
    North Korea, who is a serious threat to Japan in both reality (being
    geographically close/claiming to have nuclear weapons etc) and in the monster
    aspect of the film. When the red monster has to face the red/white/blue, Uncle
    Sam-tophat-wearing Justice Team (The U.S) the monster is exposed as being weak
    and not as strong as they claim to be. In fact the monster’s terrifying exterior
    (North Korea’s political posturing) appears to be held up by a hollow interior
    made of cardboard (The reality of North Korea’s poverty and weakness).
    Meanwhile (big man) Japan is caught up in the middle and forced to side with
    the forceful U.S even though they don’t care for their arrogance and forcefulness
    (Earlier in the film BMJ says “I’m not anti-US. But…”). What choice does
    poor Japan have?

    TLDR version: BMJ = Japan. Red monster = North Korea. The Justice Team = The US. North Korea are scary assholes and the US are forceful
    assholes. Japan is stuck in the middle.

    Symbol is outrageously clever and hilarious. Its subject matter is very 2001
    Space Odyssey and just as inventive/refreshing. Scabbard Samurai is a lot
    of fun too. Matsumoto ruuuuuuuulz.

  • John

    Wow, thanks for this! I didn’t even think about that when watching the film. Thank you so much for commenting :D

  • Anonymous

    No worries! It was a bit of a long-winded comment haha sorry about that. I read this site all the time but have never posted so thought i’d chime in. I recommend giving his other movies a chance :) But yeah… great site/articles! (Y)

  • John

    Thanks! We appreciate it. And I’ll definitely be sure to check out Symbol.

  • Dolphinwing55

    It was alright for the first half then it just kept getting stupider instead of weirder and I didn’t feel sorry for the main character because he was acting more and more like a douche as the movie went on. I didn’t feel bad for his character at all. I was pretty disappointed with it, especially the very end with the superhero guys, that was funny at first but then it dragged on too long and it seemed like they just put it in there cuz they didn’t know how to end the movie..

  • John

    Yeah it was definitely kind of a let down for me :(