Blu-ray Review: The Daimajin Trilogy (1966)

August 22, 2021

Written by DanXIII

Daniel XIII; the result of an arcane ritual involving a King Diamond album, a box of Count Chocula, and a copy of Swank magazine, is a screenwriter, actor, artist, and reviewer of fright flicks…Who hates ya baby?

A giant samurai statue goes a-rompin’ and a-stompin’ in The Daimajin Trilogy, a new box-set release covering Daiei’s classic kaiju creation courtesy of the sexy devils over at Arrow Video (along with MVD Entertainment)!
First up comes 1966’s Daimajin:
In medieval Japan, peasants cower in fear as the Earth trembles. These rustic folk believe that this is the result of a giant imprisoned within a nearby mountain attempting to make a jailbreak somewhere in this town (they are right btw)…
As that is going on, the samurai lord of the village falls victim to samurai treachery, which causes his children to flee deep into the wicked woods that surround the village. They soon find themselves at the shrine of that aforementioned giant, the god Daimajin (played to perfection by Chikara “Riki” Hashimoto who would essay the role for the entire series); a huge-ass solid stone samurai that proves that in this particular village a hard man is indeed good to find.
Speaking of Daimajin, the villagers soon prey for his ass to arise and rid them of the new samurai regime, which seems to be staffed entirely by assholes. Mayhem ensues.
A deft mix of chambara and kaiju genres, Daimajin is a fine creature feature replete with lavish period costumes, impressive miniature work, and most importantly; a kick-ass, unique giant that truly stands out among his more reptilian peers of the era (and kudos for keeping his height low to make those miniature sets really sing with detail, and for giving the creation human eyes… it adds a ton of personality and menace).
Speaking of standing out; the medieval setting of the picture also sets it apart from the kaiju crowd as most films of that beloved genre were set in  the “modern” day (minus Tetsuya Yamanochi’s The Magic Serpent from competitor Toei studios from the same year).
As the focus here is more on the human characters (Daimajin makes the scene in the third act in a near apocalyptic maelstrom that is well worth the wait), the melodrama is in full effect… but ultimately these are characters that are easy to care about (or hate depending on the character) and it doesn’t feel like an endless slog of chit-chat while we wait patiently for what we paid for.
It all makes for a rather unique, fantasy-tinged creature feature sprinkled with solid human drama that is as memorable as it is entertaining.
As for special features we get an absolutely stellar audio commentary courtesy of Japanese cinema expert Stuart Galbraith IV that provides detailed analysis of the film’s production, the careers of those involved, as well as it’s place in the culture of the time… all presented in a relaxing tone that makes learnin’ come real easy like (wtf is my problem… ), followed by: a fantastic introduction to the film courtesy of author Kim Newman (who makes a Frankenstein’s monster-style observation in regards to the statue’s name, but that’s a whole confusing mess), a video essay about the special effects of the Daimajin films courtesy of Japanese film historian Ed Godziszewski (I seriously loved this piece… fascinating stuff), an alternate U.S. opening sequence (featuring the title Majin, Monster of Terror), a collection of trailers (both theatrical and double feature varieties) and U.S. TV spots, and an image gallery.
Next comes Return of Daimajin, also from 1966:
Daimajin has returned.
As for special features…
Hahaha, fuckin’ classic Dan, baby!
Anyway, two peaceful villages, Chigusa and Nagoshi, exist near an island that is now home to the Majin statue.
Things go swimmingly for these communes until an evil warlord from a third village begins absolutely fuckin’ up our heroes day six ways to Sunday, causing them to flee to the statues island where that wicked warlord destroys the edifice with an ass-load of gunpowder… which does little to deter Daimajin from going apeshit and handing out his supernatural vengeance!
Continuing the chambara/kaiju mash-up (as will the next film in the series), Return of Daimajin certainly doesn’t re-invent the wheel; you have your villagers in need of rescue, evil samurai warlords, and of course giant statue action (again happening in the third act… and more on that in a bit).
While the first film had the mountains as a backdrop, this film’s island setting provides a near fetishistic obsession with water which comes to head with the resurrection of our fav grim god, as he rises from the water and splits the damn lake like a monster Moses (further Christian reference is provided by the crucifixion odf the film’s female lead… though the first film had no shortage of that imagery as well).
This sequence is by far the highlight of the film, and tops the rampage sequence of the first picture by a country mile and when you add in legendary Godzilla composer Akira Ifukube (who provides the score for all three entries) you have kaiju flick fried gold!
Speaking of “gold”, Arrows earns another gold star with their bonus material on this disc which includes: an audio commentary by Japanese film experts Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp (who’s conversation leans towards the history of Daiei and the actors involved rather than the ins and outs of the film’s production, and is another excellent listen), an interview with Professor Yoneo Ota, director of the Toy Film Museum at the Kyoto Film Art Culture Research Institute, about the production of the Daimajin films at Daiei’s Kyoto studio, an alternate U.S. opening sequence (featuring the title Return of Giant Majin), the film’s original theatrical trailer, a U.S. TV spot, a comparison of storyboards to the finished film (as well as a small collection of storyboards), and an image gallery.
Last comes Wrath of Daimajin from… get this… 1966… like workin’ hard enough Daiei, for fuck’s sake…
An evil warlord has forced the men of a nearby village to toil away in his labor camp, which results in four boys setting out to get help to rescue their fathers. Along the way they pay their respects to the snow covered shrine of Daimajin so you just know he’s going to be up and about to help our young heroes complete their quest… in Act 3 as is tradition.
Much more in line with Daiei’s other kaiju series starring the giant flying turtle Gamera, this iteration of the massive statue’s adventures is chock full of children, to which he serves as protector. This is a change of pace for sure, but your mileage may vary depending on how you feel about kids running around in your monster movie.
On the plus side, the effects and miniature work (along with the set design) is absolutely outstanding once again, with the climax taking place on a blizzard ravaged mountain top as our titular hero stomps forth through blowing snow under slate grey skies as he’s pelted with canon fire.
This go-around the bonus material includes: an audio commentary by Asian historian Jonathan Clements (which puts the historical accuracy of the series under the microscope, among discussing the film’s production and legacy), an interview with the film’s cinematographer, Fujio Morita, The film’s original trailer and teaser, and an image gallery.
Also included are an absolutely gorgeous 100 page illustrated collectors book featuring new essays by a host of Japanese genre film experts, postcards featuring the original Japanese artwork for all three films, and a series of reversible sleeves featuring amazing-as-all-fuck artwork courtesy of  Matt Frank!
Some of the most original kaiju films of the time, the Daimajin pictures are slow burn perfection with jaw-dropping, special effects artistry awaiting those that take the journey!
 


 
 
 

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