Like Wagner's Complete Ring Cycle, one truly needs to view The Complete Daimajin to gain a full appreciation of the work. Here, the epic saga is together in a fabulous Blu-ray set, and finally restored to its original aspect ratio.
Daimajin (which means Great Majin, if that is any help. You could translate Majin as monster if you like, but that is a bit of a stretch.) is a classic genre mash-up. Japan makes awesome monster flicks. Japan also makes awesome samurai flicks. Somewhere along the lines someone at Daiei studios realized that a samurai/monster flick would essentially double the awesome. And they were right.
In what is now a more common practice, all three Daimajin movies—Daimajin, Return of Daimajin (Daimajin Ikaru or Daimajin Gets Mad), and Wrath of Daimajin (Daimajin Gyakushu or Daimajin’s Counterattack)—were made at the same time with different directors but released a few months apart. The three stories are not related, other than featuring the mighty Daimajin itself. Always on the side of right, always waiting till the last minute to awaken and seek revenge, Daimajin brings giant stony justice on those who would wrong the innocent.
The series is heavily influenced by Japan’s native Shinto religion. Almost every village worth its soy sauce has a nearby mountain occupied by a mighty protector spirit. Not all of them have massive stone statues standing guard—very few do, actually, as Japanese kami almost never have physical form. But I have seen a few with centuries old statues of warrior gods. All of these have local legends about how, in times of strife, these gods will rise up and protect their chosen village. Staring at those ancient statues, you can’t help but think how cool it would be if the legends were true. Obviously, someone at Daiei was thinking the same thing.
The Great Grey God himself wears armor from the Kofun period of Japan, which is instantly recognizable by Japanese audiences and shows the great age of the statue. Like most kami, Daimajin is neither good nor evil. He just is. Awakening him, asking his favor, can lead to your own destruction. It is equivalent to begging help from an earthquake or typhoon to smite your enemies, even when you happen to be standing right next to them. A weapon of last resort.
The three films are:
Daimajin (1966) D. Yasuda Kimiyoshi – The first film in the trilogy sets the tone and theme. The chamberlain Samanosuke uses the legend of the Daimajin as an excuse to murder his boss, the kind and just Lord Hanabasa, and set himself up as tyrant. Hanabasa’s children escape, and are raised by a priestess in the shadow of the ancient stone statue. The kids get big and want revenge, but they lack the power they need. Perhaps an ancient spirit of vengeance can help? Be careful what you unleash.
Return of Daimajin (1966) D. Misumi Kenji–The Daimajin is now in an island in a lake between too peaceful villages, Chigusa and Nagoshi. A near-by evil overlord looks down on this idyllic scene and decides that it can’t last. And he thinks the yearly festival of the Daimajin is the perfect time to swarm in with his armies and conquer. He also wants to show all of the ignorant villagers how worthless their protector spirit is by blowing up the statue with gunpowder. Bad idea.
Wrath of Daimajin (1966) D. Mori Kazuo– The third and final film, and my favorite of the series. Daimajin is back up on a mountain again, in evil overlord territory. The bad guy has captured some village men for his forced labor camps, and it is up to their sons to free them. But, the sons have to cross Majin Mountain, the forbidden realm of the dark Majin god. They are good boys, and show proper respect to the stone statue (something appreciated by every dark Majin god). In come the overlord's men, who mock the superstitions of the peasants and once again try to prove their superiority by demolishing the ancient statue. When will they ever learn? Sword fights in the snow add an extra bit of samurai goodness to this one.
The Daimajin series is a gem of the kaiju giant monster genre. Aside from the first Godzilla, kaiju flicks aren’t known for their deep storylines. They are the professional wrestling of the movie world—everyone knows they are cheesy and fake, but everyone is in on the joke so they all have a good time. Daimajin takes things into more somber territory, combining the depth and story of the samurai genre along with a giant man in a rubber suit destroying things. The special effects are impressive, amongst the best of the ‘60s kaiju films. There are some great monster scenes, and Daimajin’s transformation is always fun to watch.
Actually, everything about this series is quite good. Fans of Japanese Samurai films or monster films cannot go wrong with Daimajin.
This Mill Creek Entertainment Blu-ray is an excellent release of these films, with all three films on two disks. There are some pretty cool bonus features—a Behind the Scenes featurette and an interview with cinematographer Morita Fujio. There are some new English dubs, if you are into that sort of thing. The picture looks fantastic, and—after years of being chopped up—the Complete Daimajin is back in its original aspect ratio. This is one to get.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.