‘Big Man Japan,’ walking tall at the Nuart

May 16, 2009 | 6:15 p.m.

Susan King, who writes about movies and DVDs for the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times, caught up with Hitoshi Matsumoto, the filmmaker behind “Big Man Japan,” which is a sort of “Zelig” for the superhero cinema. Matsumoto is a man of few words apparently, which led to a rather, uh, succinct Q&A with the writer-director.

From the country that gave the world Godzilla and Mothra comes “Big Man Japan,” a sharp-nosed, whacked-out mockumentary from popular Japanese comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto.

“Big Man Japan,” which opened Friday at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles, revolves around the sad sack named Daisato (Matsumoto), the sixth in a line of Japanese superheroes who zap themselves with electricity to surge up past 100 feet in heigth. Wielding a stick and sporting a hairstyle that makes him looks like Jack Nance in “Eraserhead,” the superhero defends the country from all sorts of baddies including an especially flatulent monster.

But life isn’t so good for Daisato. He’s separated from his wife and daughter and lives in a hovel in the Tokyo slums. His grandfather has dementia. And the public has turned their back on this superhero. In fact, his televised bouts with the monsters have moved out of primetime and now air at 2:40 in the morning. In order to make money, his agent even forces him to wear advertising on his body.

“Big Man Japan,” which played at the Cannes Film Festival two years ago, is Matsumoto’s first film as a writer/director. The 45-year-old Matsumoto is a self-proclaimed hyōi-geinin — a term he came up with that refers to entertainers who are completely different in private life than in public. Though he may be a wild and crazy guy in front of audiences, Matsumoto is allegedly much more serious in real life. And one who is not a fan of interviews if his “name, rank and serial number” approach to an e-mail interview is any indication.

SK: Why did you decide on the mockumentary format?

HM: When I thought about what would be the best way to tell this story effectively, I naturally came up with this style of storytelling.

SK:I read you frequently like to explore the destruction of superheroes in your work.  Would you discuss why this interests you?

HM: Not only superheroes, but I have also been interested in creating something that no one ever seen.

SK: You spend several years in pre-production on “Big Man Japan” and then took a year to film it.

HM: We spent one year to shoot this documentary because I just wanted to capture four seasons in this film.

SK: Since this was the first time you did a feature film, was it difficult to star in it and direct it simultaneously?

HM: Although it was challenging, when I tried to think of the best way to portray this particular

character in exactly the way that I wanted the character to be, I saw myself playing the role.

SK: The special effects were very funny and inventive. Did you also do the designs?

HM: I did the character design by myself, and explained to my art department crew how each character should move, then we worked together to visualize the characters in details.

SK: What is your next film project?

HM:  I am very confident about my new feature. I believe audiences around the globe can somehow relate themselves to this film regardless of differences in language.

– Susan King

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