Hitoshi Matsumoto

Alternate name(s): Matchan

Date of birth: September 8, 1963

Nationality: Japanese

Nationality: Japanese

Big Man Japan (Dai-Nipponjin) - 2007

Other Information:
Forms the 'owarai' duo 'Downtown' alongside Masatoshi Hamada


Commonly known as Matchan, Hitoshi Matsumoto is most recognised as one half of the Japanese comedic sensation ‘Downtown’ alongside Masatoshi Hamada. First emerging as a phenomenal pop-culture sensation during the 1980’s, the pair have sustained a successful partnership. Downtown still commands a huge and loyal following, appearing often on prime time Japanese television. Matsumoto is the ‘funny man’ (or ‘boke’) to Hamada’s ‘straight’ routine, with both utilizing their Kansai dialect to conjure images of the old school yakuza, now generally associated with Japanese comedy.

Matsumoto credits his success to his relative poverty during his early life, which he claims taught him to develop his imagination and sense of humour. The ‘Downtown’ pair met at Ushio Elementary School, the setting for Matsumoto’s discovery of Manga. Unlike Hamada, Matsumoto demonstrated skilled artistry from early childhood, and expressed hopes of one day becoming a ‘mangaka’, or cartoonist, himself.

Graduating from Amagaski Technical High School in 1982, Matsumoto planned to accept a job in a printing office. It was Hamada however, who persuaded Matsumoto to join him at Yoshimoto Kogyo, a highly influential Japanese entertainment conglomerate. ‘Downtown’ have since become the company's most famous entertainers.

Matumoto’s personality is divided between his on and off-screen personas. On screen, Matsumoto is extroverted, if slightly ridiculous and Youtube is full of ‘Downtown’s’ outlandish sketches and stunts. Off-screen on the other hand, Matsumoto leads a private - yet equally strange – life. A notorious bachelor, Matsumoto’s single life was ended suddenly after his managing organization faxed several media outlets to reveal Matsumoto had secretly married his pregnant partner, Ihara Rin. Famously anti-romantic, Matsumoto had once publicly admitted his distaste for both marriage and children. He believed activities such as bed-sharing were inconvenient and generally preferred the company of dogs to children or partners.

Matsumoto’s attitude towards relationships is perhaps mirrored in his day-to-day philosophy. He is believed to have coined the term ‘hyoi-geinin’ to describe his personality type. This is someone who takes on a completely different persona during performance, often reluctant to reveal their true character, habitually hiding behind an outrageous persona. Matsumoto’s off-stage persona then, is said to be of high contrast to the slightly ridiculous TV personality he projects in public.

In 2007, Matsumoto directed, produced and starred in his first full-length film, Dainipponjin, literally translated as "giant Japanese", released in the US as Big Man Japan. Shown at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival in the Directors' Fortnight section, the film also received commercial and critical success at the box office. The film explored a concept that Matsumoto has always been interested in: the deconstruction of the ‘super hero’. ‘Downtown’ TV sketches often parodied and poked fun at the seemingly untouchable personalities that so dominated Japanese popular culture. They gave us the everyday yet absurd peeks into the lives of figures such as the ‘5 Rangers’, a parody of the once popular Power Rangers. With Big Man Japan, Matsumoto has shifted the emphasis from this level of goofy comedy, to something much more significant about the status of celebrity in the media.

Author: Johanna Pittam