"Big in Japan" is a borderline experimental chronicle of an American band in Tokyo. Middle-aged friends Sean, David and Phil are in Tennis Pro, a Seattle-based rock band that never gained any traction of the years of playing in bars. After a chance meeting with a bizarre traveler, the band decides to try their luck in Tokyo to see if they can make a name for themselves before quitting for good. The three musicians leave behind their jobs and families for one last shot at being a successful rock trio.
That's about the extent of the film's plot. The rest of "Big in Japan" comprises of loosely connected sequences of the trio's experiences in Tokyo. Hijinks and life lessons abound, all set amid a series of concerts that grow larger and larger with each gig.
Unfortunately, despite director John Jeffcoat's devotion to creating an authentic feel of the Tokyo music scene, “Big in Japan" fails in the fundamentals. The dialogue is as simple as can be, with most interactions between characters serving to inform the audience of exactly what is happening or what someone is feeling rather than functioning as actual human conversations. Expounding this are the three main actors, who are never able to sell the idea that this is a group of life-long friends. The end result is an interesting plot that’s hard to care about because of the lack of connection with the main characters.
"Big in Japan" is listed as a loosely based on true events, and actors David Durry, Philip Peterson and Sean Lowry all play themselves as the members of Tennis Pro. Whether Jeffcoat could have made a better experience by either casting experienced actors and making the film a fiction narrative or gone full documentary is unknown, but the mesh of both styles the "Big in Japan" adopted to tell its story results in a fragmented story that quickly proves to be unworthy of its premise.