Today’s selection: Daimajin (1966, dir. Kimiyoshi Yasuda)
Subgenre: Historical fantasy, Kaiju
Available from: Mill Creek
When this movie came up on my random movie generator, I thought: “what’s the point in talking about this? Everyone’s seen Daimajin!” Yet, that may not necessarily be the case. The movie can easily alienate audiences, as the poster and synopsis promise a monster movie (which would turn off many a jidaigeki snob) yet the movie itself is monster-free until the spectacular climax. Saying “from the studio that brought you Gamera” is by no means a good indication of what Daimajin has to offer.
The original film is more or less a samurai/feudal-era flick, with most of the picture focusing on the persecution of a small mountain town by a usurper warlord and the efforts of the rightful ruling family in refuge to regain the throne. A key feature of the lord’s general dickishness is psychological warfare involving dissing the peasants’ local deity, an act of hubris that the audience can always sense is non-conducive to his long-term governorship (Daimajin means “great evil god”, btw). There are omens that this is a bad idea (for example, an earthquake that starts as the god statue is desecrated), but things kick into high gear in the last few minutes of the movie, when a priestess offers her life to bring the giant statue to life and lay a smackdown to the unjust…and it is glorious. (I’d really like to watch this movie with someone who doesn’t know how it ends.)
Because this is set in pre-modern times, the title monster needs not be as large as the usual kaiju picture, and thus the miniature work can afford to be much more detailed, and everything feels a lot more personal. Majin is one of the only giant monsters where the actor’s eyes are clearly visible, allowing it to exude malice as it reaches out to crush every evildoer individually. On top of all that, Godzilla-maestro Akira Ifukube’s score booms to add real presence to the giant.
I can’t recommend the movie to just anyone looking for a giant monster action flick in the same way that I could, say, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, but if you have the patience for a somber, brooding period piece that’s got an edge to it, Daimajin is a masterpiece, probably your best bet short of the original Godzilla.
By the way, Mill Creek’s BD trailer for the trilogy: