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The Giant Japanese: Midnight Madness meets DAINIPPONJIN

Oddly enough, DAINIPPONJIN is probably the best overall film screened at Midnight Madness this year - but that doesn't make it the best Midnight Madness film. Every year, the programme will screen a movie that is in fact above its station (last year it was Princess). Midnight films live and die on over-the-top antics and their geek-cool cred, but rarely can they be mistaken for "real" movies.

With DAINIPPONJIN, I'm not so sure. The flick is a subtle and sharp-minded comedy along the lines of Beat Takeshi's work (Takeshi is in the main body of the festival this year with Glory to the Filmmaker). DAINIPPONJIN is hilarious, a story of a low-key shlubb whose "job" is to serve Japan as a local superhero. Daisato (Hitoshi Matsumoto, who also directed) is having a documentary made about him, in which he describes his seemingly menial existence, while occasionally making detours to power plants to be "powered up" into a gigantic, Hulk-style monster-slayer in purple underwear.

It's a zesty piece of filmmaking, I'm just not sure it's right for this programme.

The humour in DAINIPPONJIN, when its hero isn't beating the holy snot out of a gigantic rubber band man (all of the superhero's enemies take traditional Japanese monster movie form, i.e. they are city-stomping giant monsters), is so subtle as to be almost subliminal. Matsumoto gives a wonderfully sparse, unaffected performance as a guy who is just as freakin' bored with his job as the rest of us are... except that his job happens to be superheroic; the rest of the time, he's really just sort of underwhelmed.

The result, however, is a film where the occasional monster fight is merely a momentary diversion in what is otherwise long tracts of extremely low-energy, high-payoff-if-you're-paying-attention comedy. And after 9 days of festival films (including 5 prior to this one today), my brain just wasn't in it. The sold-out house at the Ryerson seemed to agree with me - the laughs began to die off as the movie progressed and its comic shock value wore down.

Still, a situation like this is just a good example of why Midnight-style content can and should have a place in the mainstream festival. If you feel like trying your hand at DAINIPPONJIN in a state of relative awakeness, it's re-screening today (Saturday) at 12:30 at the Scotiabank.


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