In 1966, Daiei Studios were seeing quite the success with their film slate which was chiefly made up of samurai pics and monster movies – the most famous of which was the giant, shelled, “friend to children” Gamera, a giant turtle that had debuted a year earlier.
Some bright spark wanted a way to increase their income, so in an example of logic that can only come from movie making, they reasoned “why not simply combine the two genres like we’re making a cocktail” and thus the little known samurai/Kaiju epic Daimajin was born. Proving that they weren’t fucking about, Daiei launched straight into a trilogy (Return Of Daimajin and Wrath Of Daimajin) that were filmed in rapid succession and all unleashed in cinemas within the same year in a super-confident release plan that makes the MCU modern antics seem almost timid by comparison….
The peaceful and scenic lives of the simple peasant folk of a small village are dealt a particularly brutal Uno reverse card when a series of rather violent earth tremors literally rock their world. As they go to a local shrine to pray to the demon god (aka Daimajin) to kindly knock it off, Ōdate Samanosuke, the chamberlain to the local lord Hanabusa decides that now’s the best time to stage a brutal coup d’état in which he and his supporters slice their way through any and all opposition on their way to the throne. In the chaos, Hanabusa and his wife are killed, but thanks to the heroic efforts of the samurai Kogenta, the lord’s two children Tadafumi and Kozasa are spirited away from the battle to live their lives in a secluded hideaway under a waterfall in the sight of a Daimajin idol in the care of the priestess Shinobu. Ten years pass and it’s fairly apparent that Samanosuke is still quite the prick as he has the townsfolk working as slave labour under the brutal conditions of that of your average Amazon warehouse worker and the good people are dropping like flies. Meanwhile, back at the shrine, the now eighteen year old Tadafumi is anxious to reclaim rule from the man who killed his parents while Kogenta urges him to be patient for a little time longer as the tide seems to be finally shifting in their favour but their plans are scuppered by the latter getting himself captured and tortured by Samanosuke’s brutal men and when Tadafumi’s brash rescue attempt unsurprisingly ends up with the same result all seems lost.
However, some extra hours spent praying to the Daimajin idol by Kozasa has yielded some surprising results as when her tears drop on the stone state’s feet, it comes alive to open an unholy can of whup-ass on those who have wronged it. Can this 18 Century Kaiju stomp some stoney faced justice back into a land mired by slavery and cruelty and free a people who are desperately in need of a win?
The first thing you notice about Daimajin is how unlike other Kaiju movies it really is. The 18th century setting, as far as I know, is fairly unique in the realms of towering monsters and toppling buildings (although cracking Netflix Korean TV show Kingdom has recently managed a similar trick with zombies) and it’s the differences in both plot structure and titular creature that make this initial oddity spring to life to smash it’s way into your subconscious.
Making quite a substantial nod to the Jewish legend of The Golem (no, not the Andy Serkis one – it’s spelt differently for a start), the Daimajin is a large stone being that comes to life to belatedly help it’s followers in times of trouble – I say belatedly because it take ten whole fucking years for it to haul itself out of it’s slumber but I guess it’s just making sure it’s not being woken up for more frivolous reasons, like someone needing a loan until payday, or something. However, despite being noticably smaller than your average city-leveling Kaiju, Daimajin still endures as a truly memorable monster despite only being 25 meters tall (he’s positively dwarven compared to Godzilla’s 1966 average of being a hundred foot plus) and what he lacks in size he more than makes up in the righteous smiting of asshole despots. First achieving consciousness when Samamosuke’s men are trying to shatter him with hammers, he understandably is a little peeved with the guys who have committed the rather serious party foul of hammering a metal spike into his forehead while he slept. His anger only gets even more righteous from there which is made all the more potent by the fact that he strongly resembles a green faced Oliver Reed on a particularly excessive bender. In comparison to the relatively colourfully adventures of Godzilla and Gamera during the same period, director Kimiyoshi Yasuda (helmer of a fair few of the original Zatoichi movies), keeps the monstrous rampage stark, overcast and full of awe, giving the scenes of a man in a rubber suit kicking over model buildings a stern-faced sobriety not seen since the original Godzilla in ’54 – and even though the Big G might have pulled some heinous shit back in the day but even he didn’t pin a screaming victim to a crucifix by pushing a spike through his chest…
However, those more fidgety among you may be dismayed to discover that the big stone lug doesn’t actually appear in full until the last 20 minutes, but it’s here where Daimajin plays it’s trump card by being a perfectly engrossing samurai film that manages to stand on it’s own even if it didn’t close out with a rocky behemoth squishing people under foot. The characters are crisp and the story is simple to follow and well presented and the whole thing is elevated even further by the predictably thoughtful – yet suprisingly mournful – compositions of Godzilla composer Akira Ifukube whose themes suspiciously sound simular to his score for 1992’s Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah.
Those of you who wish to expand their Kaiju experiences to something other than the established favorites could do a lot worse than to dip their toe into this lesser known trilogy that uses it’s time period and setting to give you a completely fresh monster movie experience.
While hardly a household name, Daimajin’s stone cold charms make him a rock solid entry in the Kaiju genre.