Friday, December 18, 2009

Daimajin (1966)

...aka: Devil Got Angry, The
...aka: Giant Majin, The
...aka: Majin
...aka: Majin, Monster of Terror
...aka: Majin, the Hideous Idol
...aka: Majin, the Stone Samurai
...aka: Vengeance of the Monster, The

Directed by:
Kimiyoshi Yasuda

When it comes to Japanese monster movies, it's hard not to have visions of horribly-dubbed extras running around in a panic as some silly-looking giant man-in-a-rubbery-monster-suit rampages through a city. We've all seen at least a couple of these things before. They're good for a few dumb good laughs, right? Not so at all in this case. Hell, it might not actually be so in many or even most cases if this is any indicator of what these things are like when presented in pristine shape with the original soundtracks. Visually speaking, this movie is beautiful. The sets and art direction are top notch, the production values and cinematography are excellent and the performances are good. It's well-written, with an intriguing central premise and decent characters. And the special effects - mostly showcased during the final fifteen minutes though the film has no problem maintaining interest without them - have held up beautifully over the years. There were many times watching this where I was in awe at how smoothly they managed to blend the model work with the live actors. It's a hell of a lot more effective than most of today's overpriced CGI effects.

Set in 17th Century feudal Japan, DAIMAJIN (initially released in the U.S. as MAJIN, MONSTER OF TERROR) centers around a small village about to be overthrown by warlord / chamberlain Samanosuke (Yutaro Gomi) and his chief henchman Gunjuro (Tatsuo Endo). They and their brood murder kind samurai lord Hanabusa and his wife, and then attempt to murder their two young children; Tadafumi and Kosawa. Thankfully, vassal Kogenta (Jun Fujimaki) manages to get the kids out of the village before its too late. Kogenta and the kids seek refuge with Aunt Shinobu, an elderly high priestess who lives at the base of Mount Okimadini. Located at the mountain right in front of a huge waterfall sits a huge stone statue of Daimajin, a God worshipped by many in the village. Ten long years later, evil Samanosuke has turned the village into a slave camp where the villagers are little more than slaves who are whipped and killed if they dissent in any way. Kogenta, the Aunt and the now-teenage Tadafumi (Yoshihiko Aoyama) and Kosawa (Miwa Takada) are still hiding out in the woods. After both men are captured and tortured, Auntie is slain and Samanosuke's troops unsuccessfully attempt to demolish the statue, Kosawa pleads to the huge statue to avenge the village. She gets her wish as Daimajin comes to life, waves its arm to reveal a green monstrous face and beings its rampage of destruction.

Even though I'm still very much a novice when it comes to Japanese monster movies, what I got here wasn't at all what I was expecting. And I mean that in the very best of ways. Not only is the film extremely well made and highly entertaining, but it's also filled with brilliantly composed and downright beautiful shots; from the waterfall pouring over the mountainside to low angles peering up at a cloudy, sometimes red sky as the revived stone statue marches toward the village. Like many other films, this has been issued on both video and DVD under many labels, so you need to be careful about which version you get. It's hard to imagine any of them stacking up to the high quality disc released by AD Vision Films, which is a gorgeous print with English subs. Judging by stills I just looked at, the version released by Image Ent./Retromedia doesn't stack up anywhere near the ADV version quality wise.

It was made by Daiei Studios and was followed by two immediate sequels; THE RETURN OF MAJIN and THE WRATH OR MAJIN. All three films were shot back-to-back in 1966. Several box sets containing all three Daimajin titles are available.


1 comment:

CavedogRob said...

Yes, the SFX are really well done. I've yet to see the two sequels. Maybe someday...

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