Direction: Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Screenplay: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music: Akira Ifubuke
Special Effects: Daiei Special Effects Department
Producer: Masaichi Nagata
Forgive me if I still think of Daimajin as Majin, the Monster of Terror. This was the movie's American TV title for years, and I was fortunate enough to catch this offbeat Japanese monster item on television three times during the seventies and eighties. I also have an admitted soft spot for the AIP-TV dub job, and I regret that it is no longer officially available.
But I digress.
Daimajin attempts to combine two popular Japanese film genres -- feudal melodrama and monster movie -- and pretty much pulls it off. Part samurai swashbuckler, part historical adventure, part kaiju eiga, the movie tells its story in confident if occasionally leisurely arcs.
An evil warlord kills the benevolent feudal ruler of a Japanese village, and he and his barbarous minions subsequently subject the villagers to cruelty and hardship. The prince and princess, rightful rulers of the village, escape. They grow to adulthood in a cave near the village; also nearby is the stone statue of Majin, said to be the village's protector and local deity. Majin is repeatedly beseeched to take vengeance against the evil warlord, but the statue appears to have literal ears of stone.
The prince and his loyal servant attempt to overthrow the warlord themselves, but they are captured and condemned to death. In addition, the warlord orders a troop of his men to destroy Majin's statue.
When the soldiers pound a chisel into Majin's forehead, blood trickles forth. A resultant earthquake swallows up the soldiers whole. The princess beseeches Majin to intervene to save her brother the prince from execution, even offering her own life to the seemingly distant deity.
Then, the giant Majin awakens in grand style. As you might expect, he waylays the warlord's fort, decimates the warlord's men, and kills the warlord himself in an appropriately grisly manner. His rage unappeased, Majin continues his pillage, but he ceases his violence when the princess runs before him and sheds a tear on his stone foot. At this point, the spirit of Majin leaves the stone statue, which subsequently crumbles into a pile of inert stones.
For the first two-thirds, Daimajin is basically a historical melodrama cut in broad strokes of good and evil. While the "human plot" is handled well enough, one keeps waiting for Majin to show up. Nevertheless, Majin's spirit seems to cast its shadow across the entire movie.
Akira Ifubuke's excellent score reinforces Majin's omnipresence. The maestro's music gives the film a distant, even exotic feel, as though this is a Japanese fairy tale that happened long ago and is being retold once again around a glowing campfire. When Majin comes to life, Ifubuke's themes lend the outstanding visuals power and magnitude.
Of course, Majin's rampage is handled with such panache, it would be worth sitting through Monster A Go-Go to behold. Perhaps thirty feet tall or so, Majin is big enough to inspire awe, but not so big he becomes fantastical. The image of a samurai warrior, the monster-god's illusion is aided and abetted by real human eyes that stare out balefully from the kaiju's angry countenance. Consistently low camera angles add to the living statue's fierce grandeur.
The destruction of the fort proves more spectacular and convincing than the special effects found in almost any kaiju eiga of the 1960s. Excellent editing also blends monster and human scenes almost seamlessly. In addition, the first-rate art direction during Majin's rampage gives the proceedings a weird, otherworldly feel.
So superb is Daimajin's finale that the rest of the movie seems almost minor in comparison. Pity. But there are a couple of nicely evocative pre-Majin sequences. In one of them, a fearful young boy, running through the forest, begins to imagine all kinds of things -- a tree branch becoming a clutching skeleton hand, a cluster of ghosts sailing overhead, eyes spying at him from nowhere. Anyone who has ever let their imagination run away with them will appreciate the boy's fanciful imaginings.
Another effective pre-Majin sequence involves the slaying of the priestess. As tension quietly builds between the evil warlord and the priestess, the warlord decides he has had enough, and three times strikes her with his sword. Her back to us, she recoils from the final slash, slowly sinking to the floor in the poetry of a terrible grace.
However, the entire film is directed and acted with dignity. Treated neither as a joke nor as just another monster film, Daimajin is a kaiju eiga of a different color, one that no Japanese fantasy fan should miss.
(Two sequels followed -- The Wrath of Daimajn and Return of Daimajin, both available on ADV DVD.)