Review: Return of Daimajin (1966)

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The second Daimajin film, Return of Daimajin, doesn’t appear to be a direct sequel.  Instead, it’s more of an alternate take on the Daimajin story presented in the first film (reviewed HERE).  This time around, there are two villages that exist on opposite sides of a lake.  In the center of the lake is an island that contains a massive cave.  Within the cave is a Shinto shrine that houses the giant haniwa statue that represents the Kami of the island, AKA Daimajin.  All is well until a warlord named Danjo sets his greedy sights on the prosperous lake communities and takes them down.  When the locals claim that their Kami will protect them, Danjo has the statue blown into a thousand pieces.  The general consensus in the villages is that Daimajin won’t take to that very well, and the villagers are right.  The 20′ tall statue returns with a vengeance and takes very satisfying revenge on Danjo and company.

If you think this sounds very much like the plot of the first film, you’re right.  All three films were written by Tetsuro Yoshida who also wrote several Zatoichi scripts, but the first two are almost painfully similar.  This one reads like an early draft of the first Daimajin screenplay.  Most of the elements are the same but it lacks the complexity of the first script.  That doesn’t keep this from being a very entertaining movie, though.  Far from it.  Veteran director Kazuo Mori and master cinematographer Fujiro Morita wring the most they can from this material.  If anything is an improvement over the first feature, it’s the increased pace.  I prefer the overall aesthetic of the first movie better, but I can see why some might prefer this one.  It certainly has more action and is thereby snappier, but to me it lacks the resonance and empathy of the first film.  In this one, Daimajin is entirely on the side of the good guys.  In the first one, he’s  an unleashed force of nature.  I think the original take is closer to the Shinto idea of what the Kami would be like.

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Speaking of which, the subtitles of the Mill Creek blu ray I viewed continually translate “Kami” as “God”.  While that’s technically correct, it creates an unfortunate inference for Western audiences who are used to monotheistic religions.  The Daimajin is more of a local guardian spirit who is a manifestation of the natural forces of the lake.  The large haniwa statue isn’t the Kami, but is the representation of the Kami on the island.  We see that more clearly in the first film when Daimajin becomes a comet-like ball of fire that flies about before materializing as the living statue.  That said, these films are a mish mash of ancient Japanese beliefs in the same way that the Mummy pictures present a whimsical perspective of Egyptian beliefs.  It’s more for fun that for accuracy.

The cast is made up of an excellent ensemble of scenery-eaters, not the least of which is Shiho Fujimura as Sayuri, the beautiful woman who coaxes Daimajin out of his shell this time around.  Just like her turns in the Shinobi No Mono and Sleepy Eyes of Death series, here she’s a lot of fun to watch even though her role doesn’t have a lot of range.  All of the roles here are equally shallow, but the actors dig in and give it their all.  There’s something to be said for such resolute performances in what basically amounts to a kaiju film.

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Composer Akira Ifukube seems to have recycled most of this score from the first film.  That’s fine, as it works just as well here and the repeated themes serve to call back viewings of the first feature.  His work is top notch but I suspect it was made to work by a great sound editor in this case.

The version of the film I watched for this review came courtesy of the new Mill Creek blu ray.  I can’t say enough good things about this set.  The transfer for Return of Daimajin, in particular, is amazingly good.  Highly recommended.

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