Weaned on Godzilla romps, I spent the bulk of my youth under the impression that it was nearly impossible to create a kaiju flick with depth. I don’t mean to disparage everyone’s favorite atomic lizard. After all, I wouldn’t be a horror zealot today if it weren’t for Gojira’s numerous trudges through Tokyo. But Toho had a certain audience in mind, an audience that wouldn’t resign itself to exigent levels of mood and subtlety.
As fun as they can be, Godzilla films suffer from acute monotony whenever the star beasties take a backseat to dreary human characters. The same can’t be said for 1966’s Daimajin, a poignant creature feature that holds your interest for well over an hour before the titular brute awakens to level various miniatures. Substance takes center stage, and we’re cosseted with an engrossing storyline, sympathetic leads, and opulent visuals.
The genre perimeters aren’t strict. This is kaiju material before anything else, but Daimajin also serves up samurai action, potent drama, and faint elements of the supernatural. At times, it feels like an overcast fairy tale, an ideal outlet for escapism. Steeped in foreign culture, the film drapes your senses in exotic imagery. It begins with a village yielding to Lord Odate, a despotic, oppressive ruler. Odate attempts to extinguish the royal heirs, but they escape to a secluded mountainous region. It is there that they pray to Majin, a colossal statue rumored to house the spirit of a warrior god, to end Odate’s vindictive reign. Majin’s unremitting wrath is laughed off as superstition, but there isn’t a hint of laughter to be found when the stone giant is incited to demolish all that is wicked in his warpath.
The violence is sparse, but when it hits, it seriously hits! The fierce finale is a force to be reckoned with, and I’ll expound on it later, but the devastatingly grim action sequences aren’t Daimajin‘s sole charms. The characters are well-developed and surprisingly, well-acted. I might just be saying that since my copy isn’t plagued with inept dubbing, but the performances seemed genuine. I dug Miwa Takada as Kozasa, a distraught beauty desperate to seek Majin’s assistance. She doesn’t become a prominent player until about the halfway mark, but the film definitely benefited from her delicate splendor. Yoshihiko Aoyama and Jun Fujimaki are solid as Tadafumi, Kozasa’s resolute brother, and Kogenta, the voice of reason and maturity, respectively. We care for everyone’s fate and are caught up in their involving plight.
The exposition is enchanting, but once the action finally stirs, you won’t want it to come to a close. The special effects are astonishing. Majin looks like what an animated statue would look like and his obstinate fury is conveyed through convincing model sets and adequate blue screen effects. The tornadic climax compliments the leisurely build-up perfectly. My only gripe in this department is that the film ends on a contrived note. It’s too sappy for such a gloomy affair. Do I have any other complaints? I must admit, the first hour drags in spots. If you didn’t know beforehand that the creature carnage doesn’t set in for quite some time, it would be awfully tempting to throw in the towel. But as they say, patience is a virtue. In this instance, it most certainly pays off.
This flick spawned two sequels, which were filmed simultaneously, and I hear that a remake is in the planning stages. I don’t know if this tale would translate well to modern times, but perhaps it would be kept as a period piece. Either way, I say bring it on! The only downside to viewing Daimajin is that it will make other kaiju favorites seem feeble in comparison. I feel like I’ve betrayed Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan. My humble apologies to those Toho titans. Hopefully, they’ll accept this act of contrition if I’m ever eager to take in a monster movie that’s a little easier on the brain.