Diamajin DVD Cover
Return of Daimajin
Studio: Daiei Co
Producer: Masaichi Nagata
Writer: Tetsuro Toshida
So I heard about this old Japanese monster movie Daimajin at the Kaiju of Pacific Rim panel at the Rose City Comic Con. Now I have been a Godzilla fan since I can remember and I tend to enjoy giant monster movies. I like the kaiju stomping through cities and the countryside and I appreciate the relative lack of gore. I enjoy the morality stories embedded in the plots and I like the old school mad scientist vibe they have. So when one of the members of the Kaiju panel was asked what his favorite monster was that hadn’t been mentioned during the panel discussion Daimajin was his answer and I immediately took note so I could hunt it down. (Godzilla came up during the discussion. Of course he did, he’s the first Kaiju and the undisputed King of the Monsters.)
Daimajin was produced by Daiei Co in 1966, the same fine studio that gave us Gamera. While not black and white the films (there are three, all made the same year) have that feel about them and have recently been made avalable on a region 1 DVD through Mill Creek Entertainment. Although I tried to turn off the subtitles it didn’t work, which could be operator error and to be honest I enjoy reading the subtitles. In this case they were particularly entertaining as they had little to do with what the voice actors said.
****Warning MAJOR SPOILERS****
My first impression is that there was a lot, and I mean a LOT of plot getting in the way of the monster. Not that I mind a good story but I was looking for a monster movie. After thinking about it for a bit I realized that these stories seem to be patterned after, if not actual retellings of, Japanese myths, fairy tales or legends of some kind. This makes them all the more interesting if you ask me.
The first two, Daimajin and Return of Daimajin both follow a similar plot. In Daimajin an orphan taken in by a local nobel plots to attack and wipe out the nobel and his family during a holy ritual the villagers (serfs) perform each year to keep the evil spirit of the mountain trapped by the statue of a good god. Legend has it that the evil spirit was defeated by a warrior and entrapped in the mountain. An elder priestess leads the ritual and intercedes for the people with the god to keep the spirit trapped.
What follows is an ancient morality tale wherein the evil and ungrateful orphan murders the nobel and his wife while a faithful servant rescues the children, a boy and a girl. The priestess hides them on the holy mountain and for 10 years while the evil overlord’s minions hunt for them, provides them with what food and clothing they need. Meanwhile the villagers are treated brutally, forced to work without adequate food or shelter and with no concern for their health or their families.
Finally the young prince and his faithful servant are of age to free their oppressed people. First the servant is captured then the prince when he tries to rescue his friend. The priestess goes to warn the Evil Overlord that his actions are angering the god. He kills her for challenging his absolute authority and sends his minions, who betrayed their former lord for him, to destroy the statue. The climax comes when the princess is captured by the Evil Overlord’s minions and told that her brother and faithful servant are to be executed at daybreak the following day and that they are going to destroy the holy statue.
The princess tries to protect a child who came to the mountain to plead with the god to rescue his father and is taken captive by the evil minions. Once they reach the top of the mountain she tries to protect the statue but in the face of so many armed men cannot. So she falls to her knees and prays to it. All seems lost when the men begin to drive a huge spike into the statues forehead. Then the statue bleeds. Terrified the men flee only to be swallowed up by an earthquake. The girl once again falls before the statue and pleads with it to save her brother. Finally she offers to sacrificer herself to the god if only it will save her brother. She even runs to the nearby waterfall to throw herself over but is prevented by the child and then another earthquake.
The statue comes free from the mountain and marches down to the village where her brother and the faithful servant are to be executed. Since the sun is already rising Daimajin becomes a ball of lightening or magic to cross the distance in time to save the prince and his friend. He kills the evil overlord with the very spike that had been driven into his own forehead (that’s a nice touch). Then, still in a rage the giant statue god starts to head for the village where all of the poor villagers are.
The young child tries to stop it but falls right in front of it. Horrified the princess runs and throws her own body over the child to shield him. Daimajin stops, foot upraised and after a moment steps back. The princess pleads with the god to spare the people for they are innocent and as her tear strikes it’s titanic stone foot it relents, then crumbles to dust.
The Return of Daimajin is similar in that it is about a good and kindly lord verses a cruel and greedy lord who attacks the country for its riches and disrespects the people’s god. This time the statue is on an island and is destroyed by the evil invader. Once again it is a princess who has a kind and noble heart who calls the god to save her betrothed and people.
Knowing more what to expect, I found the second movie more enjoyable than the first but both are quite good. They are from 1966 so the special effects are not what we might expect from one of todays blockbusters but I saw no strings and the models were well done. I haven’t had time to watch the third one but I am looking forward to it. K.