Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment
Released on: September 18, 2012.
Director: Kimiyoshi Yasuda, Kenji Misumi
Cast: Miwa Takada, Yoshihiko Aoyama, Jun Fujimaki, Kôjirô Hongô, Shiho Fujimura, Riki Hashimoto, Shinji Hori
Year: 1966 Purchase From Amazon
For the uninitiated, in 1966 Daiei Studios in Japan released a trilogy of monster movies about a giant stone golem that looked kind of like an old fashioned samurai who would periodically come to live and trash evildoers. A mix of Samurai films like Rashamon and Kaiju films like the studio’s own Gamera pictures, the Daimajin films stand as a pretty unique entry in the pantheon of giant monster movies and they hold up well even by modern standards thanks to some creative storytelling and great effects work.
Mill Creek Entertainment has released the entire trilogy in one handy Blu-ray boxed set that makes the previous DVD releases (long out of print) from ADV completely obsolete in pretty much every way you’d hope for. The three films are as follows:
In this installment, the first in the series, an evil Japanese warlord has overthrown the local rulers and enslaved the local townspeople, putting them to work (as evil warlords are prone to do sometimes). What the warlord doesn't take into account, however, is that beside the town on the side of a mountain range, there lays in waiting a giant stone statue that has the spirit of an angry warrior god locked inside it. This stone faced god is just itching to be set loose and wreak havoc across the Japanese countryside.
Fast forward ten years and the good ruler's son and daughter have been hidden away in secrecy. When the evil rulers decide to put a stop to the townsfolk’s unrest by attempting to destroy their good, the Daimajin makes his way out of the cliff he’s been sleeping in and destroys the evil warlord. What follows is a scene to total destruction that rivals anything in any of the Godzilla movies or other monster films of the same era from the East.
While the final twenty minutes of the film are stellar, there are a few parts that drag a bit during the middle of the film. However, for the most part, Daimajin is a charming and entertaining fantasy film for the first seventy minutes, and a whup-ass, pissed off, monster movie for the last twenty. The film is paced very deliberately and nicely shot showing some good production values not just in the monster effects but in the period detail used to create the village where so much of the story is based around. Director Kimiyoshi Yasuda did a few of the Sleepy Eyes Of Death films as well as a few entries in the Zatoichi line, so you know he’s got a good eye for samurai style and tone.
WRATH OF DAIMAJIN
In this second installment of the trilogy, we find the statue, who once again happens to be the local village god, blown up by yet another evil warlord who has once again decided to take over another town. With the townsfolk kept in check, his minions begin looting, terrorizing, and enslaving the townsfolk after assassinating their leaders.
When the pieces of the statue fall into the lake beside the village, everything is looking pretty grim for our unlucky villagers. Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a monster movie if that didn’t change, and it does when the vengeful stone god rises from the depths of the lake and lays waste to the evildoers who have enslaved his followers.
While not as pretty to look at as the Return of Daimajin, this second chapter still has a lot of entertainment to offer, and the destruction scenes in the final third of the film, just like the other two, is really what it's all about. This film does have the most action of the three and is probably the most entertaining because of this, and it's also the most effects heavy. It moves at a faster pace and offers more chaos, carnage and giant monster based insanity. If the art direction isn’t as impressive, the movie doesn’t really suffer for it and there’s some great use of color and music throughout the film to ensure that the visuals stay interesting. Kenji Misumi also worked on a few of the Sleep Eyes Of Death and Zatoichi films but was also responsible for four of the six original Lone Wolf & Cub movies.
RETURN OF DAIMAJIN
In the third and final film, the same statue from the first two movies is on top of a mountain rather than on the side, which definitely earns it points for being cooler looking. This time out, the fathers of some of the local children have been captured by another evil warlord and forced to work in their labor camps. When the four sons decide to go out and save their fathers, they have to cross the Maijin Mountain, where the stone god lays sleeping. Along the way they cross through a notoriously dangerous area full of treacherous terrain, evil samurais, and of course, the angry Daimajin. Luckily, the four boys are smart enough to pay their respects to the statue when they pass it, so that they don't incur the monsters wrath.
Eventually, the bad guys inevitably anger the statue which once again comes to life and destroys all those who haven't been paying respect to him. Luckily because the kids were smart enough to make sure that that was taken care of, they and their fathers are spared while the work camp is destroyed in another breathtaking 20 minutes of total destruction, rubber suit style.
Slightly better than the first chapter, this film moves at a faster pace and has got some absolutely gorgeous scenery that really adds to the film, and the monster seems just as angry, if not more so, when he's trashing the work camp as he does when he's stomping all over the towns in the first two films. Again, the pacing is decent here and the story is strong enough to keep us interested during the build up, so that the insane finale has enough pay off to make it all worthwhile. Nice costumes, a good score and some great effects work makes this one a lot of fun to watch. Kazuo Mori was responsible for a few Zatoichi films just like his fellow Daimajin directors but also directed the excellent Samurai Vendetta.
Overall, the Daimajin trilogy is an interesting series of films that any fan of monster movies is sure to get into. The highlights, of course, are the scenes involving the Daimajin himself, with his furious and angry eyes, giant stone sword, and constantly stomping feet. The monsters face, which is rumored to have been modeled after Kirk Douglas, is always frowning and locked in the same, angry expression, lending a slightly creepy quality to all three of the films.
On an interesting side note, the man who played the Daimajin in all three films, Riki Hoshimoto, is probably best known outside of the suit for playing Susuki, one of the characters who went head to head with Bruce Lee himself in Fists of Fury.
Mill Creek Entertainment presents the three films in this set (two on the first disc and the third film and extras on the second disc) in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at the proper 2.35.1 aspect ratio. The results are generally impressive and while some minor noise reduction seems to have been applied here and there overall there’s not a whole lot of room for complaint. Color reproduction is consistently very good and black levels remain pretty strong. The images are very clean and show no issues with heavy print damage at all, while texture is generally quite good as well. If detail won’t floor you like it might in a more modern film all three films offer definite and very noticeable improvements over those older DVD releases in every possible. There are no noticeable compression issues or heavy edge enhancement and by and large, Daimajin fans should be quite pleased with the image quality on this set.
Audio options are offered in English or Japanese DTS-HD 2.0 with subtitles in English only. The English dubs for the first two movies are the ones that were originally created by AIP when they distributed the film, the third film features a newly created English dub that, to this best of this writer’s knowledge, is exclusive to this set. Clarity and quality is fine here, and if things sound a little on the flat side, well, much of that probably stems to the original elements. All in all, the levels are balanced properly, the dialogue is easy to understand and there are no issues to report with any hiss or distortion.
Extras include trailers for each of the three films in the set and an interesting interview with cinematographer Fujio Morita who speaks for just a few minutes shy of a half an hour about shooting the movies, the work that went into the films’ effects and costumes, some of the more memorable action set pieces that we see in the movies and more. Menus and chapter stops are included for each film and all of the extras in the set are presented in high definition.
The Final Word:
The Daimajin films hold up well and translate to Blu-ray wonderfully in this set from Mill Creek. A couple of welcome extra features add some value but it’s the movies themselves that matter the most and they’re treated very respectfully here with great audio and video quality. Anyone with even a passing interest in these movies should consider this a must own.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!