The Daimajin Trilogy (Cert 15)
3 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: Arrow Video) Running Time: 84/79/88 minutes approx.
Release Date – July 26th
Here’s a treat – a classic kaiju film series receiving its first ever UK release via this Blu-ray set from Arrow Video compiling the three Daimajin films shot simultaneously, each with a different director and released in the same year, 1966!
Daimajin, directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda, sets the template for the other films – quite literally as there is almost no deviation from the basic plot or story structure across all three outings. In this case, the villagers in the remote province of Tanba are trapped under the tyranny of evil lord Ōdate Samanosuke (Ryūtarō Gomi) after he stages a coup d’état against Hanabusa Tadakiyo (Ryūzō Shimada), killing him and his wife.
Plucky samurai Kogenta (Jun Fujimaki) helps their two children Tadafumi and Kozasa escape, hiding them in the mountains with his aunt Shinobu (Otome Tsukimiya) where the statue of the mountain god Majin sits. Ten years pass and 18 year-old Tadafumi (Yoshihiko Aoyama) is caught trying to lead a rebellion against Samanosuke. Kozasa (Miwa Takada) prays to Majin to protect her brother, and when Samanosuke’s men try to destroy the statue, it awakens the angry Majin.
Return Of Daimajin, directed by Kenji Misumi is basically a retread of the first film, only this time the setting is a tiny island in Lake Yakimono between Chigusa and Nagoshi. The invasion by Lord Danjo Mikoshiba (Takashi Kanda) on the Chigusa kingdom is predicated by the statue’s face turning red. Mikoshiba blows up the statue to prove Majin is a false idol, and plans to burn Lady Sayuri Nagoshi (Shiho Fujimura) at the stake to make an example of her. You can guess what happens next.
By this point, it might feel like a case of “seen one, seen them all”, yet the scripts by Tetsurô Yoshida – who wrote all three scripts – manage to be different enough to keep us invested. That said, Wrath Of Daimajin directed by Kazuo Mori does change things up a lot by making the plucky protagonists a quartet of young boys daring to cross the Majin’s mountains to pray to the god for protection against vicious despot Lord Arakawa (Tôru Abe).
Tsurukichi (Hideki Ninomiya), Daisaku (Shinji Hori), Kinta (Masahide Iizuka), and little Sugi (Muneyuki Nagatomo) go on a Goonie’s-style boy’s adventure, crossing dangerous terrains and avoid capture by samurai scouts to pray to the statue. In another twist, Majin’s avatar is a hawk, and as a precursor to Majin’s awakening, the hawk attacks the samurai to save the boys, but is shot. As the hawk bleeds so does the statue, and you know what that means.
Whilst it could easily be sold as “Godzilla in post-feudal-era Japan” the stories are much than that, telling humanistic tales about communities torn asunder by the greed of the power hungry and their eventual fate at the hands of a mystical saviour. It may not go the whole religious route and make the faithful seem pious or the non-believers heretics, preferring to address class instead. For instance, in the final film, it is notable that the ones to awaken Majin are not nobles as before but ordinary proletariats.
Something else worth noting is the manner in which the villain meets his end, replicating the torture he inflicted upon his victims, in a nice touch of “eye for an eye” karma. In the first film, Samanosuke crucified people (his demise was a particularly brilliant moment); in the second, Mikoshiba burnt people alive, and finally Arakawa threw his dissenters in a sulphur lake. Reap what you sow indeed!
Majin is mostly manifest as a giant statue of a samurai with a blank facial expression sat either in the side of a mountain or atop it. An actual giant sized model was built for this purpose for the actors to climb up and attack with their tools, as well as full-scale limbs for when Majin was awakened. Taking its cue from the Jewish legend of the Golem, one the statue has been pierced or defiled, Majin is awakened.
Uncredited for his role, actor and baseball player Chikara Hashimoto donned the suit and grimacing face mask of the awakened Majin, denoted by him crossing his arms over his stone face, revealing a demonic, surly blue visage with piercing red eyes. In true Kaiju fashion, models of huts and bamboo towers are destroyed by his giant hands and poor folk are trampled under his feet.
A slight discrepancy about Majin’s size is exposed when one chap manages to grab his arm from a standing position which he shouldn’t be able to do, whilst those Majin picks up are much larger than you’d expect. This and some dated CSO aside, the effects are stupendous, particularly the mountain collapsing in the first film, and the snowstorm in the last one. You can see why they limited his rampages to the last ten minutes, but the result rivals and occasionally eclipse the Godzilla flicks of the period.
Filming all three movies simultaneously saved a fortune on sets as well as avoiding any wear and tear to the Majin costume, yet the viewer doesn’t notice any overt repetition in the location, internally and externally, since much of the architecture in that period of Japan was already similar. If the ominous, imposing theme music also sounds a little close to Godzilla’s that is because both were composed by Akira Ifukube.
It might feel like a low return for your investment in having to wait until the end for Majin to show up and do his thing, which is understandable since other kaiju films give you plenty of bang for your buck. However, the stories hold up their end and feature interim samurai fights and occasional gory violence, whilst the run times are brisk – not to mention the top notch HD transfers to be enjoyed.
Looking for something different for your next Kaiju fix? The Daimajin Trilogy is waiting to be set free and win over a new legion of fans!
Original Uncompressed Japanese Mono Audio
Original Uncompressed English Mono Audio
Audio Commentary by Stuart Galbraith IV
Introduction by Kim Newman
Bringing The Avenging God To Life
Audio Commentary by Tom Mes & Jasper Sharp
My Summer Holidays With Daimajin
Alternate Opening Credits
Original Theatrical Trailers
US TV Spots
Audio Commentary by Jonathon Clements
Interview with Cinematographer Fujio Morita
Original Theatrical Trailer
Original Teaser Trailer
First Pressing Only
Illustrated Collector’s Booklet
Rating – ****
Man In Black