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Friday, June 13, 2014

Daimajin




Daimajin
1966
Kimiyoshi Yasuda

The vast majority of kaiju movies take place within the last sixty years or so. This makes sense with the whole genre being an atomic era phenomenon. The Daimajin films are different in that they take place in a historical setting. Devoid of the commentary about civilization's evils visited on nature, it instead focuses on human evils against fellow humans in a way that makes it feel almost like a fable.

Set in Sengoku era Japan, a small village sits in the shadow of a mountain. A series of tremors shake the area, leading the locals to believe that a spirit in the mountain is trying to get free. An aide  to the local warlord, Samanosuke  (Ryutaro Gomi), takes the focus on the mountain as opportunity to kill his boss and take over. The warlord’s son, Tadafumi (Yoshihiko Aoyama), and daughter Kozasa (Miwa Takada) escape into the woods.  The kids grow up in a hidden shrine near a huge statue that has been partially revealed by the earthquakes. As adults they decide it’s time to retake the village. Things go wrong and before long, Samanosuke has captured the siblings and sends a crew up to the hidden shrine to destroy the statue. He’s probably going to regret that.

Daimajin is a straight-up revenge story; I was surprised to see that it had more in common with something like I Spit on Your Grave (1978) than say the original Godzilla (1954). Atrocities and set-backs are piled on the protagonists for a good solid hour before Majin gets off his butt and starts wrecking everyone’s day. The film never really turns to outright cruelty against its protagonists, but by the 45 minute mark, the shear amount of misfortune they’ve had to face starts to feel very melodramatic.  Once Daimajin finally rises to strike down everyone who’s been cruel and evil, it’s very satisfying albeit short lived.

The look of film is bright and colorful yet at the same time washed in cool blues and greens. The miniatures and composite effects are magnificent; there is obvious care and craftsmanship on display and some of the best looking giant monster effects I've seen from the 60's era of kaiju film. Majin himself is a bit stiff and stern. He is more of a spirit of vengeance than anything else and lacks the spark of personality that makes Godzilla and company so enjoyable to watch.

Daimajin is a good, almost great kaiju film. The lead up to Daimajin becoming an active participant in the story is far too long. Daimajin himself is impressive if a little two-dimensional as a character. Once he does arrive, watching him tear his way through some truly awful villains is an exciting experience that is exceptionally well realized on the screen. It is a classic kaiju film that is often passed over for some of its more quick paced brethren.

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