July 31, 2013

Daimajin (1966)

In the 1960s there were two incredibly popular film genres in Japan. The first was the 'daikaiju eiga', the giant monster movie. Spearheaded by Toho's Godzilla in the 1950s it was a massively popular style of disaster film in which enormous fantastical monsters trashed entire cities on screen. The second was the 'chambara eiga', essentially the samurai film, which had been and remains today an overwhelmingly popular form of historical drama.

So what did the Daiei studio do? Combine the two. It's such an obvious yet ridiculous move and it resulted in a unique movie trilogy in 1966: Daimajin, three stories of dishonourable nobles whose castles and towns are broken to pieces by a 25 foot tall stone warrior god. In this first film, directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda, a noble is overthrown and murdered by one of his retainers. Ten years later the noble's son returns to reclaim his lands. When he is captured and scheduled for execution, his younger sister begs with the spirit of Daimajin to save him.

This is a short film - only 77 minutes in total - and its split pretty evenly into two halves. The first is, by and large, a by-the-numbers chambara picture with a few hints of the supernatural. The second is a Godzilla-style rampage through a medieval village, achieved with a charming combination of props, models, blue screen and a guy in a stone warrior suit. This second half is particularly entertaining; it's hard not to love a giant stone demon samurai trashing a model Japanese village and castle.

The acting is all rather stiff and formal, but that's pretty much par for the course for a 1960s Japanese drama. I was particularly impressed with Jin Fujimaki as Kogenta, the loyal samurai who assists the son and daughter of the murdered noble throughout the film. The film looks outstanding: thanks to a digital restoration for bluray it is bright, crisp and colourful. The visual effects are pretty solid for something shot almost 50 years ago.

All three Daimajin movies are currently available as a two-disc bluray set from the USA. It's Region A, however, so you'll need something that can play that region disc if you're not in the USA or Asia.

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