Daimajin (1966)

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Released during the Japanese kaiju movie boom of the 1960’s, “Daimajin” sets itself apart from the rest by being set in feudal Japan rather than the present day.  The Daimajin is a large, stone idol possessed by an angry spirit which will awaken when it feels it has been wronged or dishonored.  The movie is the first of a trilogy.  Each movie features a fairly rigid formula that consist of a group of peaceful villagers being attacked by a superior force, with the Daimajin only appearing in the last fifteen minutes or so.  Most of the movies are period dramas, similar to samurai movies of the time.

The movie opens on a small Japanese mountain village.  A sudden series of earthquakes lead the villagers to begin a prayer ritual to appease the Daimajin, an angry god that lives in a stone idol on the side of the mountain.  Lord Hanabasa, the feudal boss of the village, sends his retainer, Samanosuke, to observe the ritual.  However, Samanosuke has been scheming to take over the village, and uses the distraction caused by the ritual to stage a coup.  A fight breaks out, and Lord Hanabasa is killed in the struggle.  However, his loyal servant Kogenta steals away the Lord’s son, Tadafumi, and daughter, Kozasa.  The children are taken up the side of the Daimajin’s mountain, where they can be kept safe.

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Ten years pass.  Samanosuke’s rule is predictably terrible, with the villagers beaten into slave labor to build up a new fortress.  Tadafumi, now 18, is eager to free his people, and devises a plan with Kogenta to infiltrate the fortress.  Before the plan can be carried out, Kogenta is ambushed and captured by Samanosuke’s men.  Meanwhile, a boy from the village named Take takes it upon himself to climb Daimajin’s mountain to ask the idol for help.  He runs into Kozasa and reveals that Kogenta is being hanged upside down at the entrance of the village.  Tadafumi goes to save him, but this turns out to be a trap and he is captured.  After this, a priestess of Daimajin goes to Samanosuke to warn him of the god’s wrath, but her warnings fall on deaf ears and she is killed.

Samanosuke decides that the statue is the symbol of unity between the villagers and the Hanabasa clan, and if it is gone the ties will disappear.  He sends a group of men to destroy the statue.  Along the way they find Kozasa and Take, and force them to lead them to the statue.  Once they arrive, Samanosuke’s men attempt to destroy the statue with hammers, but are unable to.  They decide to drive a large nail into the statue’s head, but are shocked to find the statue begins to bleed.  This act proves to be the last straw for the god, as lightning strikes and fissures open in the ground to kill all of Samanosuke’s men.  As the sun rises, Kozasa asks the god to save her brother and Kogenta, as they are to be executed at dawn.  Her prayers are heard, and the statue comes to life.

A revolt breaks out at the village as Hanabasa faithful clash with Samanosuke’s men.  Suddenly, the skies darken and the Daimajin appears at the village.  The giant effortlessly tramples Samanosuke’s men and destroys the wall the villagers were forced to build.  Samanosuke is ultimately impaled on the broken wall by Daimajin.  However, the giant continues his path of destruction on the village, destroying everything in sight, apathetic to the pleas of Tadafumi.  The rampage only ends when Kozasa implores the giant to stop his attack as she cries on its feet.  Moved by this, the spirit leaves the statue, and it crumbles to dust.

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“Daimajin” is very much a good exercise in “less is more”.  The titular creature doesn’t appear in full until the last act of the movie, although its presence is felt all throughout.  While the destructive parts of the movie are well done, the main allure comes from the human drama, which is unusual for a kaiju movie.  The story of the deposed lords take center stage, with Daimajin serving as a literal deus ex machina.  The Daimajin itself is an frightening creature, dangerous to friend and foe alike.  The mask worn by the suit actor has eyeholes cut in, which allow for the actor’s actual eyes to be seen.  This small detail adds so much to the unsettling nature of the giant, allowing the actor to convey just a bit of emotion with his eyes.  “Daimajin” was followed up by only two sequels.  This small amount of movies helped keep the formula from getting too stale, and kept the creature from falling into a pattern of less than impressive sequels.


All three “Daimajin” films were made at the same time and were all released in 1966, months apart from each other.

In 2010, a modern take on the stone idol was presented in the TV series “Daimajin Kanon”.  The show featured a young singer building her courage to sing the song that would wake the giant, and she battled evil forces with her spirit sidekicks along the way.

Akira Ifukube, the legendary Godzilla composer, composed the music for this movie.  Parts of the soundtrack almost seem to reference the Godzilla theme.

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~ by Chris on April 11, 2014.

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