Review: ‘Dai Nipponjin’

"Dai Nipponjin" has to be, hands down, the strangest picture in Cannes this year.

Dai Nipponjin” has to be, hands down, the strangest picture in Cannes this year. Decidedly odd, even by Japanese standards, this mockumentary about an electrically charged, skyscraper-high superhero saddled with misfortune, bad press and even worse TV ratings is tears-down-the-face funny and a genuine, jaw-dropping oddity. A must for midnight madness slots as well as Asia and fantasy-themed fests, pic will astound auds of all stripes. A long and healthy life as an ancillary cult item awaits.

Film begins with a long and only mildly amusing burn, with shaggy-haired, weirdly dressed regular-Joe, Dai Sato (Hitosi Matumoto), being interviewed by an unseen TV crew in and around his abusively graffiti-strewn suburban house. People in the street stare at the docu subject, but other than his interest in small umbrellas and dehydrated seaweed, there seems nothing remarkable about him. Sato complains he is never able to take a holiday or spend time with his young daughter when he receives a call from the Defense Dept. that he has to go to work.

Riding his motorbike to a Tokyo electricity power station, Sato passes several personally addressed signs indicating his widespread unpopularity with Japanese citizens. Going off-camera for security reasons, Sato enters the plant and, with a burst of electricity and a deafening roar that resembles a sonic boom, he grows, courtesy of lush computer animation, into an “Incredible Hulk”-like humongous tattooed man in purple underpants and an “Eraserhead” hairstyle.

The CGI Sato goes into battle against a leviathan resembling a slimmed down Michelin man with a comb-over and a penchant for picking up skyscrapers with its stretchy looped arms.

Rest of the pic both repeats and develops this battleground premise with each subsequent monster opponent more audacious than the last. Each clash is separated by more of Sato’s regular life, including his visits to the Alzheimer-affected fourth Dai Nipponjin (translating directly as Big Japanese Person) who is Sato’s retirement-home-residing elderly grandfather.

What should have been a one-note joke is explored and pushed and pulled in endless directions and, miraculously, never looses its freshness.

Finale is a bizarre parody of U.S.-Japan-North Korea international relations as enacted by superbeings from each country. Credits crawl is accompanied by a gut-bustingly funny portrayal of the Stateside superheroes acting like a dysfunctional family while Sato is an embarrassed dinner guest.

Creation by Hitosi Matumoto — who acts as director, co-writer and thesp — seems to have sprung directly and perfectly from his subconscious. Helming is an efficient rendition of the mockumentary style. At the opposite end of the realism spectrum, CGI sequences are well handled.

Deadpan perfs are hilarious. Sound quality is resoundingly good, and stylishly underlines the monster battle scenes.

A popular standup comedian in Japan, Matumoto is a notorious prankster. In this spirit, his name both onscreen, in press materials and in Queinzaine catalog is a deliberate misspelling of his actual name, Hitoshi Matsumoto.

Dai Nipponjin



A Yoshimoto Kogyo production, in association with Real Products. (International sales: Yoshimoto Kogyo Co., Tokyo.) Produced by Akihiko Okamoto. Executive producers, Hisaya Shiraiwa, Isao Yoshino, Hiroshi Osaki. Directed by Hitosi Matumoto. Screenplay, Mitsuyoshi Yakasu, Matumoto.


Camera (color), Hideo Yamamoto; editor, Soichi Ueno; music, Towa Tei; production designer, Yuji Hayashida, Etsuko Aiko; VFX director, Hiroyuki Seshita; sound, Mitsugi Shiratori. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 20, 2007. Running time: 113 MIN.


Dai Sato - Hitosi Matumoto Jumpy Baddie - Riki Takeuchi Sato's manager - Ua Baby Baddy - Ryunosuke Kamiki Smelly Baddy - Itsuji Itao

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