Daimajin (Majin) (1966)
This review will be for the Japanese version of the film.On Mount Okamdani, the giant God of the mountain is becoming restless. People from the village below organize a ceremony to appease the God, in hopes of keeping him asleep. The superintendent of the village below, Lord Hanabusa, orders his chamberlain Samanosuke to go to the ceremony in his place, as it will give the people comfort to see his representation. However, Samanosuke is plotting to take over the castle, and with all the villagers gone, now is the perfect time. He attacks, killing the kind Lord, leaving only his children, Kozasa and Tadafumi alive. One of the Lord’s most trusted vassals, Kogenta, escapes with the two children toward Majin’s mountain, hiding in Shinobu, the Majin’s priestess’s home. Due to Samanosuke’s men constantly searching, Kogenta and the children must follow Shinobu up Majin’s mountain to be safe.
Ten years pass. Samanosuke becomes a brutal lord, treating all the villagers as slaves, even the old and sick. Kogenta decides to go back to the village and rally Samanosuke’s enemies when he is caught. A young boy comes to the mountain to pray and tells Shinobu of Kogenta’s capture. Tadafumi, overhearing this, immediately leaves to save Kogenta. He is captured, and Shinobu comes to Samanosuke to warn him of the God’s wrath. She is killed, and the order is given for Samanosuke’s men to destroy the statue. Pounding it with hammers proved to be ineffective, so they get out a large chisel. As the chisel is pounded into the statues forehead, the men are suddenly surprised when the statue starts to bleed. Then, the earth shakes and the ground opens up, swallowing up all of the men. Kozasa prays to the God to awaken and save her brother and Kogenta, offering her life in exchange. She is ready to fling herself over a waterfall when suddenly the ground begins to shake again. The rocks around the Majin crumble and fall away. The statue raises its hand across its face, revealing his true appearance. The Majin had awakened.
At the village, Kogenta and Tadafumi await their execution, after a failed attempt of redemption by the late Lord’s supporters. Suddenly, the sky clouds over. Samanosuke and his men look up to see a fireball flying around the clouds. The fireball strikes the ground and reveals the Daimajin. The Majin begins lumbering toward the village, where he begins crushing the evil supporters. Finally, he manages to grab Samanosuke, and holding him against a wall, the Majin removes the chisel from his forehead and drives it through Samanosuke’s body. The evil lord was punished for his evil deeds. But now, the Majin turns his attention on the villagers. Tadafumi pleads with him that his people had done nothing wrong, but is flung to the side by the Majin’s large hands. The small boy is about to be crushed when Kozasa dives onto him, and only then did the Majin halt. She knelt in front of him, asking him to appease his anger by crushing her; then return to his mountain. A single teardrop falls on his large foot, and he backed away, once again waving his hand over his face, becoming stone again. His body crumbles, and the giant fireball is again seen, flying toward the heavens.
The first in a trilogy of splendid films, Daimajin is a suspenseful and enjoyable film for fans. For fans of period dramas: you’re in for a treat, because that is largely what this film is. The setting is feudal Japan, with samurais and swords; all the works. Throw in some giant monster action and you’ve got instant coolness. The plot is somewhat simple; a treacherous and brutal warlord enslaves the townspeople to do his bidding, the previous Lord’s heir escapes along with his sister into hiding, and they re-emerge ten years later to restore his name and save his people from oppression. The Majin is somewhat of an afterthought through much of the film, however. The majority of the film focuses on Samanosuke’s rise to power, and Tadafumi and Kogenta’s quest to restore the Hanabusa name. Towards the later parts of the film, however, the Majin is brought more into focus, as our main characters run into troubles of their own and are unable to complete their tasks. As a last resort, they call upon the mountain God for help. The story does not seem to drag down much throughout the film. There is plenty going on during its course, and the audience’s focus shouldn’t be obscured.
The characters in the film do a respectable job with what they’re given. Lord Samanosuke Odate (Ryutaro Gomi) is a good villain, despite not being seen much throughout the film. His despicable treason against the kind Lord Hanabusa was pulled off as well as could be expected, and he makes the audience want to root against him. His right hand man Gunjuro (Tatsuo Endo), is a good compliment to Samanosuke. He is just as spiteful and evil as Samanosuke. Otome Tsukimiya gives a powerful performance as the Majin’s priestess Shinobu. Her fearless attitude towards all that defy her God is truly memorable. Hanabusa’s children, Tadafumi (Yoshihiko Aoyama), and Kozasa (Miwa Takada) are not very memorable, though they are developed well enough. Kozasa’s breakout performance doesn’t come until late in the film, however, as she delivers a speech to the faceless stone statue begging him to come and save her people, gladly offering her life if he were to do so. And at the end, she delivers another fine performance as she tries to persuade the Majin to return to his mountain. Tadafumi is a standard hero; he wants to exact revenge on his parents’ murderer and restore his family’s name. Lord Hanabusa’s vassel and the children’s guardian Kogenta (Jun Fujimaki), gives a good performance as he helps the children escape into the mountains for safety, and pulls off the “noble hero” role nicely.
The special effects in this film are good, although there aren’t a whole lot to speak of. While it is still a movie about a giant monster, it is also largely a period-drama. What little amount of special effects work exists is done well. The miniature work is respectable, but the leg-view shots of Majin as he tramples through the town are accomplished through the use of a model, of course, but it looks much smaller than it should, and the arms can be seen hanging much lower than they should. Majin’s hand, which is seen grabbing many a hapless samurai, is used quite well. The killing scenes leave a bit to be desired. Shinobu’s death, as she is being struck by the sword, shows no blood whatsoever, which is odd given the amount of times she was hit.
The monster, Majin, who lays dormant for a large portion of the film, is portrayed nicely. A giant stone statue dressed in samurai armor looks quite imposing, and if that wasn’t enough, then the God’s green face with its angry scowl should be. His march on the town, with camera shots from a low angle showing him towering over the village huts gives the monster a sense of mass and power.
We now come to the music, which is an important aspect of any film. Fans of Toho monster films like Godzilla may be surprised and happy to know that the score for this film was composed by none other than Akira Ifukube. Although the score used is nearly identical to that of Frankenstein vs. Baragon, released the previous year, the fact stands that it is a good score, and it fits the mood of the film rather well. Not a huge hit, but definitely one of the good points of the film.
The Daimajin films may be the Daiei Motion Picture Company’s best giant-monster films. Although they are overshadowed by the success of their Gamera series, this film, along with its two successors, should never be overlooked. The quality of the stories is amazing, and is sure to entertain many fans of this genre.
– The Real McCoy