Home Media & Entertainment Big In Japan: A Hilarious But Insightful Look At Fame And Celebrity In Japan [Review]

Big In Japan: A Hilarious But Insightful Look At Fame And Celebrity In Japan [Review]

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Just in terms of its concept you’d be tempted to think that the documentary Big in Japan is totally vapid and obnoxious. After all, it’s about a Westerner with no particularly marketable talents moving to Japan for no other reason than to become famous. However, Big in Japan is neither of these. At times hilarious and at times genuinely thought provoking, the documentary uses its outrageous premise as a vehicle to explore what exactly it means to be famous in today’s society and leaves you wondering if fame really is all it’s cracked up to be.

Big in Japan Official Trailer

The subject, or rather the guinea pig, of Big in Japan is a self-described “really ordinary person” named David “Dave” Elliot-Jones (ordinary right down to his nickname). Accompanied by his two friends and fellow filmmakers Lachlan Mcleod and Louis Dai, the three leave their homes in Melbourne, Australia, relocate to Japan, and take on jobs teaching English all in order to support themselves as they try to turn Dave into a star.

Dave as Onigiri Man

Dave and company begin their quest by trying to capitalize on the Japanese entertainment industry’s demand for foreign talent. They make their way to a talent agency specializing in foreigners and there Dave signs on as a freelancer without any trouble. Not long after the agency manages to get Dave an acting job and by day 45 of his time in Japan, Dave is using his horrible acting skills to unintentionally frustrate the hell out of the cast and crew of a piece set to air on Japan’s national public broadcaster, NHK.

Dave as Daikon Man, one of Dave’s many crazy YouTube characters

Despite Dave’s relatively smooth start, the Big in Japan┬águys soon start to become a bit dissatisfied with their progress. Yes, work keeps coming Dave’s way from time to time but he by no means has achieved what most people would call fame. So rather than doing the same thing and expecting different results, the guys take things to the next level and turn to the internet.

Bob “The Beast” Sapp

Taking inspiration from the legions of people that sacrifice their dignity and physical safety every single day by creating ridiculous attention-grabbing videos for YouTube, Lachlan and Louis turn Dave into a desperate YouTuber who will do absolutely anything for views. Mild-mannered Dave is not at all happy about this, but after some forceful encouragement by his mates, Dave commits for the sake of their bizarre social experiment. And so, Dave begins to do all sorts of absurd stunts, like dressing up as a character named Onigiri Man (Rice Ball Man), which requires Dave to strip down to just a fundoshi (Japanese loin cloth) and a rice ball-shaped headpiece.

Aspiring pop idol Kelsey Parnigoni

When not busy juggling his job teaching English, trying to land acting gigs, and doing stupid stunts for YouTube, Dave tries his best to dig deeper into the world of celebrity by spending time with three foreigners who have either already achieved Dave’s goal or are working hard to do so: the American football player turned kickboxer/mixed martial artist/wrestler/actor Bob “The Beast” Sapp, an aspiring pop idol from Canada named Kelsey Parnigoni, and the crossdressing professional wrestler/heavy metal vocalist from Australia Ladybeard. These three individuals really open up about their own lives and ambitions and in doing so paint a complex and sometimes concerning picture of what it is like to be someone for whom the pursuit of fame is much more than just an experiment.

The one and only Ladybeard doing a bit of cosplay

As the documentary unfolds, Dave’s journey completely sucks you in and you can’t help but sympathize with him. In the moments when he seems close to breaking and giving up on it all, you feel bad too. And when things go well for Dave, you are filled with a strange mix of both happiness and concern that fame may end up consuming Dave. Interestingly, it is Dave’s “ordinary” nature that is why Big in Japan succeeds at keeping the viewer engaged and invested. Replace Dave withe model or a star athlete and it seems like Big in Japan would lose that magic that makes it both entertaining and powerful.

The Verdict

Regardless of whether you’re into Japanese pop culture or know absolutely nothing about it, Big in Japan is totally worth watching. It’s fun, creative, thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, and perhaps most importantly, extremely relevant. Thanks to YouTube, social media and reality TV, it seems like we as a society are more obsessed with fame than ever before. And yet, so many of us never bother to ask the important questions that┬áBig in Japan┬áraises. At what point can you consider yourself famous? Why do people want to become famous? Is it worth it to pursue fame? Or is the pursuit of fame no better than a drug that destroys your life?

By the way, you’re probably wondering if by the time the credits roll Dave succeeds at becoming “big in Japan.” Although I will not say anything specific in regards to that, I will say that the ending of┬áBig in Japan┬áis enjoyable and satisfying. So go watch it and find out what happens for yourself!

Where to Watch Big in Japan

Big in Japan was released earlier this year and is available to watch via the following video streaming services: VHX, Vimeo, iTunes, Amazon Prime, and Google Play. For links visit the official Big in Japan website here.

Images: Courtesy of David Eliot-Jones


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