Today I watched Kenji Misumi’s Return of Daimajin (1966)
The Daimajin series is pretty awesome because it blends two of the most popular and iconic Japanese film genres, and two of my favorite genres, together, blending the historical drama of Jidaigeki with the destruction of Daikaiju giant monster movies. Like many Daikaiju series, these films are totally standalone, only connected by the shared golem-like god-monster, Daimajin. In this installment Daimajin is once again in his statue form, this time situated on a holy island in the middle of a lake. On either side of the lake are the towns of Chigusa and Nagoshi, both have profited greatly off of the lake’s wealth and in their shared prosperity, the commoners live in happiness. But across the mountains lies Mikoshiba, whose lord is very cruel and whose land is barren and poor. During a shared festival, Chigusa and Nagoshi are laid low by a quick series of night raids perpetrated by the lord of Mikoshiba. These raids fail to capture a number of the local lords though but these desperate souls have no hope of reclaiming their lost territory, they must pray for Daimajin to save their lands.
As much as I love to bask in the genre mash-up that this series offers, it also trades heavily in the practice of deus Ex machina. The situation is always so hopeless and things always go down to the wire before, uh-oh, a giant stone shogun is rampaging through the villain’s castle, and then it ends. Sorry for the spoilers but you would have predicted it on your own after only a few minutes of the film, it’s not that subtle. In return the series’ use of Jidaigeki period drama does imbue the films with a bounty of character and melodrama. To be honest, the use of deus ex machina here is totally excusable, the film works by building villainous indignity upon indignity until you just need to see a giant stone shogun tear everything apart. While that element of it may be tame by today’s standards I can still get into the mindset the film asks of me.
I think a large part of that is due to the lavish art design that captures all the Jidaigeki atmosphere the film needs. This is just a great looking film in the very painterly and traditional way that the best Jidaigeki all present themselves. My final takeaway from this film is till rather mixed though, it just rushes by so quickly it was difficult to really get much of an impression. The film really could have benefited from an extra half hour of melodrama and character building in my opinion. The final product here is admittedly a great looking flick with some good drama going on, but it is one that rushes ahead too quickly instead of really expanding on what it was going for. 3/5