Among my many failings is apparently a lack of appreciation for a type of Japanese comedy that has been breaking out like a small rash over the past couple of years. These totally absurd dead pan parodies are so straight-faced that even Buster Keaton might not realize he is being nudged in the funny bone. Set in the real world they present ludicrous and inherently comical situations with complete seriousness and just expect the audience to get it. A few other films of this ilk are Ski Jumping Pairs, Executive Koala Bear and Calamari Wrestler and I have to admit to not liking any of them (though all of them do have moments of utter hilarity). But that is almost beside the point because all of these films have a loyal fan base and Dai Nipponjin generally received rave reviews when it snuck in under the tent at prestigious festivals like Cannes, Toronto and Pusan. But they are not my cup of soup and I don’t plan on going into rehab to correct that any time soon. So it is almost unfair of me to review this – it would be like me reviewing a vegetarian restaurant where my first line would be “The vegetables would have been so much better next to a big chicken breast”. So I will just give the basics here.
Being a super hero isn’t what it used to be in Japan as this mockumentary points out. Once idolized in the country, they are now considered nuisances with signs around the neighborhood telling them to stop breaking things, to quiet down and to move out – and the occasional rock is thrown through their windows. Even their TV ratings have withered and their battles against the bad guys are shown on the late late show after the Shopping Show. Dai Sato (played by the director who is a famous manzai comic on TV) initially first appears as a poor middle aged schmuck with not much of a social life and it is a mystery as to why a journalist is doing a documentary about him and is following him wherever he goes. He tells the reporter that he makes about $5,000 a month and that he is separated from his wife and misses his little daughter. This goes on for about 10-15 minutes to test the audience’s patience before Dai Sato gets a phone call from the Defense Ministry and tells the reporter that it is time for him to go to work.
Work being a super hero when he is called in to save the country from disaster at the hands and feet of various bizarre gigantic baddies that trod the country and destroy property like Godzilla on a sleepy day. But to battle them he needs to become Dai Nipponjin – a giant in blue underwear with hair that stands straight up and who uses a club to beat down the bad guys. Using electricity to increase his size he goes forth like a bored salaryman to make a paycheck and do battle against bad mannered baddies with various characteristics such as the comb over to hide their bald heads, that smell badly, that have giant heads like Jay Leno and one that throws his eyeball like a lasso. Japan seemingly has an endless supply of baddies. Dai has an agent as well who seems to be living much better than he does and who does her best to get him corporate sponsorship in the forms of their logo’s on his body when he fights. The best part of the film are certainly these many battles set usually among wonderful detailed city landscapes in which model buildings get knocked over – but even these began to tire me after a while. Between these silly fights were endless wry and dry interviews and conversations – much of this just felt like a skit that didn’t know how to die – sort of like Dai Nipponjin.
My rating for this film: 5.5