Elevate Difference

Big Man Japan

The experience of watching Big Man Japan, directed by and also starring Hitoshi Matsumoto, is akin to the pleasure of watching a five-year-old running on a child-size hamster wheel in the park. One alternates between confusion, amusement, and boredom as the aesthetic combines and alternates between the humor of a Hollywood slapstick, the visual dynamic of a video game, and the tone of a documentary. This rhythm kept my mind clear to wonder: why is it that movies seeking to illustrate male impotence give the man longer than is generally considered socially acceptable hair and female friends—if any friends at all?

In Big Man Japan, Matsumoto tells the story of the current Big Man; part soldier, part icon, it is the job of the Big Man to protect Japan from monsters. Living in his regular size, of an average height, when on call, the Big Man is zapped into enormity when needed. However, the superhero’s identity is not a secret, and as his popularity wanes, his fence is scrawled with graffiti, and his lawn is covered with trash. Rocks are thrown through his window, to which the Big Man responds by meekly covering the broken panes with cardboard and going about his day. The central character of this film, although a larger-than-life male, is meant to be perceived as a woman as opposed to a big man—weak, sentimental, and incompetent.

Standing in stark contrast is the other character in the movie, a woman. Perpetually trying to make money, the Big Man’s agent—a harpy in either high heels or pimping tracksuit, complete with a pair of larger-than-life dogs and too-cool-for-school stance—objectifies him by placing endorsements across his chest. At a potential turning point in the film, he declares to his disinterested agent, “No matter what, I will never surrender my hips” completing the image of impotence the viewer has already formed of him. The battle is won, the endorsement is placed on his back, but he is thoroughly emasculated.

While there are mounting covert and overt sexual and political references throughout the film, all of them are magnified by the documentary tone set by the filmmakers. The film runs as snippets placed together to create a narrative around this hero who is anything but.

Written by: Elisheva Zakheim, May 15th 2009