Thursday, 26 November 2009

Never Mind the Elephant, There's a Highly Charged Political Monster in the Room

Unable to find a repertory cinema in Bristol to accommodate my double-bill desires, I recently programmed for myself a back to back home screening of Gojira (Godzilla, 1954) and Dai-Nihonjin (Big Man Japan, 2007).

Now Godzilla we all know and love for the political beast he/she is; constantly compared to the H-bomb, explicitly described as a weapon, and most importantly, depicted as the hideous manifestation of human nature at its most hateful and destructive. This menacing monster is an early visual imagining of a force intent upon destroying human advancement and industry as well as all modes of modern technology; automobiles, buildings (most notably office towers), bridges, planes, and so on. What's interesting though is that despite Godzilla being ascribed to a consequence of human technological advancement, he/she is also intrinsically organic, arising from the sea (water being one of the four simplest earthly elements). Furthermore, he/she is said to be "millions of years old", suggesting his/her existence pre-dates that of human existence. How then, can Godzilla come to represent the H-bomb and human destruction also? It is said in the film that Godzilla was "awakened by man", made invincible by atomic testing which satisfactorily explicates the contextual horror surrounding the potential of human effect on nature and environment. The film resolves that the only way to rid Japan of such a terrifying monster is through a form of retaliation: to destroy what they have created, they must create yet another, more, destructive force. The ethical question raised is one pertinent to both the film's contextual and indeed history's continual experience of human warfare. If we continue to create with the intention to destroy, we will have to find new, more extreme and even more horrifying ways in which to do so. And so the question remains: where will it all end?

To answer this question we have Big Man Japan. Big Man Japan is a mockumentary that follows lonely individual Masaru Daisato; his wife and kid have left him, the locals are disillusioned in his abilities, he earns a meagre living and is at the beck and call of the government (to electrocute himself, subsequently expand into 'Big Man' and take out a variety of monsters as they ail the city, no less).

Complete with many a jibe leveled towards the perils of reality television, the horror of advertising, and the effects of postmodernism that effect contemporary societies and cultures in a negative and alienating ways, Big Man suggests that "all living creates are strays", and our protagonist, very much like "really expanding seaweed, when you need it to" is exemplary as a contemporary stray whose societal meaning and human connections are so insignificant and minute that he, ironically, has to expand, like the universalising forces of globalisation, in order for anyone to truly see him. Suggesting that it is not like it was in "the good old days", and using visual montage of found- footage to support this notion, Daisato faces many petty 21st century issues, such as how to fight the monsters without obstructing the logo on his chest for one.

With the weight of "policy" quite literally upon his chest, not to mention a corrupt agent and no chance at familial reconciliation, prospects for Daisato look pretty bleak indeed. His only hope is that the ratings for his live television broadcasts will pick up, and with his failure to defeat the Red Monster, they finally do. That failure is what finally gives him some semblance of a break is not merely incidental. Clearly Big Man is advocating that the persistent decline in traditional values of dignity, integrity and most importantly, shame, lead us to a point where we are only capable of enjoying ourselves, being 'entertained', at the expense of other human beings.

Though I don't wish to talk too much about the monsters themselves, only to say that each one in form and function are strongly reiterative of my aforementioned argument, I will briefly comment on three of the simultaneously insane and outstanding creations that you can expect to see should you watch (and I strongly suggest you do) Big Man Japan; 1) The Evil Stare Monster who is akin to what we in west, thanks to George Orwell, know as Big Brother, his literal weapon being an all watching eye, 2) The Stink Monster who smells worse than 100,000 human feces, demonstrative of how our own waste is destroying our environment, and 3) The Child Monster who is like a parasite sucking all that it can from previous generations, needing and expecting in greater quantities than history has ever before tolerated.

Beyond the monsters presented in this film there is resolution as artificiality takes over and the real city disappears, in its place a mock version of itself. As with this mockumentary, if we push the limits of reality too far what we are left with is just the parody of that which we once had.

The Super Justice Family appear and in a surreal scene of intense satire they use extreme and hilarious methods to destroy an elegy of the Red Monster. Overcoming the monster and making things safe for Big Man, he finally realises that he is not a superhero, he is just a man, quietly uttering to himself, "I make no difference". Peace and humanity are utopic ethical ideals that are out of his, and any other single man's, hands. Learning this he flies off with the Super Justice Family, a happy ending impossible, thus an impossible ending plausible.

Though I have been led to believe that there is a final scene not included on the UK DVD release of Big Man Japan, the message seems clear: fifty years on, humans are still using science and technology to create more successful and penetrative forces of destruction. When compared to the H-Bomb, surveillance, pollution and future generations of parasitic beings do not appear extreme or, on the surface, nearly as harmful. But just because our self destruction is now slower and more deceptive than it once was does not mean it is any less terrifying.
Where the monster was once a product of human action the monster is now human.


  1. Just saw the movie. Wow, you read all this into it. Now that you mention it, I guess I can draw the connection. I would love to know what you think of the super justice scene

  2. I think more than environmentalism, there are geo-political allegories at play here to.