If there was a flaw in the inpenetrable stone armour of the vengeful Golem Kaiju known as Daimajin, it’s that his vastly underrated first two outings were suspiciously similar. Both told stories of peaceful villages being conquered or overrun by warlords or greedy lords who enslave the humble population until the stone guardian figures he’s had all he can stands and he can’t stands no more and springs to life (usually after most of the damage is already dome) to trash the villians and save the virtuous. The differences were minor and usually purely aesthetic in (the sequel prominently featured a lake, the previous movie did not), but the beautiful cinematography and simple lines of these two tales still gave us a vastly underrated but highly original slice of Kaiju action… just not original from each other. However, with 1966’s third Daimajin release (yep, you read that right), things were about to become a little different.
A small Japanese village is in crisis. A noticable selection of adult males have been abducted and carted off by the minions of the standard type of evil lord that frequents this whole trilogy and have been forced to work in a labour camp until they collapse and die of exhaustion (what, no dental?). The four young sons of the enslaved men make a pact that they will head out into the wilderness to save their fathers, but to do so means they have to travel past the aptly named Daimajin Mountain, an area of land that’s notoriously dangerous due to it’s influx of evil samurai, precarious terrain and a bloody great statute of a god with serious anger related impulse control problems. Nevertheless, the four boys; Tsuruchiki, Kinta, Daisaku and the former’s younger brother Sugitatsu forge on, hoping that they can get to their fathers before their sadistic captor desires to chuck them into one of his sulfur springs he’s using them to make gunpowder from.
As the kids risk their lives with the roaring rapids they have to cross and a sudden snowstorm that descends on them like a frigid net, they notice that an eagle following their progress and remember that it’s said that the birds are messengers of the demon god Daimajin whose land they are currently tramping through.
Will stopping by Daimajin’s statue to pay their respects going to have any effect on the success on their foolhardy mission, or will the hefty deity finally manage to get off his rocky, round duff in order to make everything right in the final reel by excessively stamping on things? Past experience tells us the latter, but whatever happens, not everyone is going to make it to the end credits and even the happiest endings of a Daimajin movie is usually bittersweet…
I mentioned earlier that this third and final installment of the Daimajin trilogy was noticeably different than the two that preceded it but you’d be forgiven for calling bullshit on that considering that my synopsis contains pretty much everything that past movie’s featured. But the overly familiar plot line of imprisoned townsfolk and an evil lord with no comprehension of even the basic laws of human rights (dunking someone in sulphur isn’t exactly a sign of having a good H.R. department), is nicely flipped on it’s head by the choice of Daiei to take a leave from Gamera – the studio’s other giant, rampaging star – and have the leads of the movie be predominantly children. However, instead of making the adventure a candy coloured romp filled with jaunty theme songs and yelling brats, Wrath Of Daimajin ends up being more in tone with Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me if the kids involved were on their way to see a gargantuan stone demon god instead of a dead body and they had to tangle with samurai instead of Keifer Sutherland.
It’s a subtle change, but it makes the world of difference as pitting the innocence of a quartet of pre-pubescents against a harsh, unforgiving journey gives the well worn plot a refreshing coat of paint. It’s also refreshing that this Kaiju version of a boys-own adventure doesn’t pull any punches either with not all of the kids or their fathers actually guaranteed to survive the typically shitty odds a Daimajin movie places on survival.
Another slight change is that instead of the titular god rising up to help good nobility persevere against bad nobility, this time Daimajin actively helps the impoverished, making this more of a political statement about class as the rich pay dearly for abusing the poor…
The production is gorgeous (Daimajin movies have a much more refined, classic look than the frenzied, retina-frying pop art style of the Gamera flicks of the 70’s) and the addition of snow to the trilogy’s pallett (with the dirty greys of the original and the cool, watery blues of the sequel) give the visuals an overhaul to go along with the shift in focus.
That just leaves old Daimajin himself and he’s the only thing here that hasn’t had a once over in tone; but while this means that his typical act of turning up twenty minutes from the end and trashing everything in sight like a kid with ADD at the world sandcastle building championships is still as atmospheric as ever, it’s by default the least innovative thing about the movie. Still, in his last feature film appearance to date, he still shows off that he’s got the moves and lays some typically brutal smackdowns while scowling at the world like a gurning Les Dawson. Whether finally unsheathing his giant sword and stabbing a victim with it’s surfboard sized blade (overkill, surely) to grinding some poor bastard underfoot like he’s a lit cigarette, Daimajin struts his stuff like the pro he is and it’s genuinely surprising that he didn’t resurface again until 2010 in the TV series Daimajin Kanon.
The Daimajin trilogy hasn’t managed to become anywhere near as famous as those other giant, Japanese rampaging repeat offenders who have also enjoyed their own franchises like Godzilla, Gamera and Mothra, and that’s a damn shame because both aesthetically and emotionally, the avenging demon God is actually superior to some of the output of his more revered peers.
Despite being all but forgotten, this rocky revenge artist is a stone cold classic.