We first meet Masaru Daisatou (Hitoshi Matsumoto), a sullen, long-haired 40-year-old layabout as the subject of a documentary, but we're not at all sure what he's famous for. Only after several minutes of interviews can we piece it together: He's the sixth generation of a monster-fighting family who have the ability to grow to a size of about 70 feet tall when jolted with massive amounts of electricity. Once enlarged, it's his responsibility to project Japan from periodic attacks of delightfully weird monsters, or "baddies" as they're called.
The trouble is that although he takes his legacy seriously, he's not really into it, he's not especially good at it, and the glory days of baddie fighting seem to have ended with his grandfather. The TV show that chronicles his fights is suffering in the ratings, and the public is no longer impressed. Vandals spray paint his humble home with slogans like "Stop Wasting Electricity" and "Stop Scaring the Birds." We learn all this through very funny Spinal Tap-style deadpan interviews and man-on-the-street comments. Great stuff.
We finally get to see Daisatou fight "Squeezy Baddy," a Michelin Man sort of monster who uses vice-like arms to hug and destroy buildings. The giant Daisatou has a spiky hairdo, wears nothing but purple briefs, and carries a stick. His body is covered with promotional logos that his avaricious agent is always trying to reel in. After dealing with Squeezy Baddy, Jumpy Baddy, and Smelly Baddy (who emits clouds "with the smell of 10,000 human feces"), Daisatou meets his match in a new and terrifying demon of a baddie he's never seen before. He runs away, and the general public is absolutely appalled. How embarrassing for him and for Japan! Complicating matters is Daisatou's marital separation and his fragile relationship with his eight-year-old daughter. What a movie. One minute it's Godzilla Meets Mothra, the next it's Kramer vs. Kramer. Gotta love it.
A mere synopsis can't convey how delightfully weird all of this is on screen. As they say, you have to see it to believe it, especially in the film's final minutes when a major stylistic shift happens that will be baffling -- but still funny -- to viewers who know little of the long tradition of cheesy Japanese superhero TV shows.
Dai-Nipponjin is writer/director/star Matsumoto's warm-hearted love letter not only to the superhero pop culture which he obviously soaked up as a kid but also to the Japanese people and their inexplicable but passionate love of monsters of annihilation. It's not enough for them that the monsters show up. The creatures have to put on a good show for the people because in the end, it's all about entertainment, even if a few buildings get destroyed during the show.
Bite the wax tadpole.
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Director: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Producer: Akihiko Okamoto
Screenwriter: Hitoshi Matsumoto