“IF YOU KEEP UP THIS MADNESS, HE WILL CRUSH YOU ALL…” WRATH OF DAIMAJIN

WRATH OF DAIMAJIN

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Pros: Well-done visual and special effects; compelling story

Cons: Deliberately paced, English dubbing is iffy

NOTE: The confusing titling of the English releases of the Daimajin films makes it very difficult to distinguish between the three series entries (the second and third films in the series often have their titles switched depending on which distributor handled the films). My review of Wrath of Daimajin covers the second film in the trilogy – the only one in which Majin first appears on an island.

Second in the Daimajin trilogy of Japanese films from 1966 that dealt with a perpetually ticked-off stone statue who comes to life in order to protect villagers from tyrannical would-be dictators, Wrath of Daimajin plays almost like a remake of the first film (also from 1966 and simply entitled Daimajin) or an ever-so-slightly alternate version of the basic tale. This time around, the retelling of the Jewish folktale of the Golem deals with a group of peasants in the town of Chigusa being victimized by an arrogant samurai warlord named Mikoshiba. Mikoshiba ignores the villagers’ warnings about their vengeful god the Majin – a statue of whom resides in a nearby island shrine – and after the statue is blown to bits by the evil samurai, it appears all is lost for the townspeople. Lord Juro and Lady Sayuri, two of the Chigusa nobles, attempt to stand up for the village, believing that when all seems to be lost, Majin will appear to drive off the invaders, and when the sea begins to boil and nearby mountains start to crumble, it seems as though judgment day has arrived for Mikoshiba and his brutal regime.

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Majin is back and still permanently pissed-off.

One can probably guess how all this turns out, but what may be most surprising about this film is that the Majin doesn’t show up until very late in the going. The vast majority of this film plays very similarly to the swordplay (or chambara) films of the 1960s, even having a few fairly exciting sword fights and battle sequences, small scale though they are. Wrath of Daimajin wouldn’t stand up when placed against the classics of the genre (such as the epic films made by Kurosawa), but it’s surprisingly well-made for what it is. The direction here was handled by Kenji Misumi who would later go on to direct the outstanding (and fantastically violent) Lone Wolf and Cub movies of the early 1970s (two of which were edited into the notoriously gory cult favorite Shogun Assassin, released to American markets in 1980). Misumi’s direction is very assured: the film has a slightly ponderous pace, which seems very appropriate given the deliberate nature of Tetsuro Yoshida’s script. Photography throughout the film is excellent, with a few truly extraordinary sequences (such as a funeral scene that plays out in front of a glorious setting sun). I also really liked this film’s use of color – much of the film plays out in shades of brown and gray which effectively portray the film’s somber mood, but (much like Tarkovsky’s mind-boggling Stalker from 1979), Wrath of Daimajin is truly eye-popping when it captures the vibrant greens of the surrounding countryside during moments that seem to suggest that all is not lost for the townspeople.

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The film’s amusing/baffling ending has to be seen to be believed.

Like some other Japanese films of this time period, it’s difficult to identify cast members who played in this film – the credits sequence on the print I watched was entirely in Japanese. Still, there are a few recognizable faces for those familiar with Japanese cinema, including Kojiro Hongo (an actor best known for his appearances in the Gamera series of films dealing with a giant, jet-propelled turtle) as Lord Juro and the strikingly beautiful Shiho Fujimura (who appeared in several chambara movies of the 1960s) as Sayuri. Takashi Kanda (whose credits included everything from crime films of the ‘50s to goofy sci-fi of the late ‘60s) plays the evil Mikoshiba much as one would expect: his main activity throughout the film is to cackle in the general direction of the heroic characters – though he isn’t laughing too much when Majin finally decides to lay the smack down on him. The print of this film that I viewed was dubbed (insert collective groan here) and the voice acting featured was of the same bark and holler variety as seen in the almost innumerable Godzilla films of the day. Personally, I didn’t find this dubbing to be as obnoxiously bad as that heard in films like Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster (a film whose dubbed version provided many a chuckle due to its ridiculous voice acting), but the alternately disaffected or really gruff voice acting in the Daimajin film is probably its single worst element. The dubbing is particularly bad in crowd scenes where the illusion of a mass of people is created simply by having the supporting voice actors mumble under the main lines of dialogue.

Alternate poster showing another of the film’s cool effects scenes: an island exploding in the distance.

It seemed to me that Wrath of Daimajin may have been a little cheaper to make than the previous series entry, which perhaps is one reason why the relatively few destruction scenes in this film are confined to the final ten minutes or so. That said, I was pretty impressed by the special effects that are here, most of which look much better than one might expect from the typical Godzilla or Gamera film of this time period. Despite the fact that the Majin costume looks rather rubbery, the end of the picture features the stone giant stomping his way through a village, causing a literal wake of destruction in his path. The combination of special effects shot backgrounds with live actors scurrying around in the foreground is almost seamless during these scenes and looks a lot better than I’d typically expect from a Japanese “suitmation” film. There’s also a really nicely-executed sequence where a giant bell is pushed over the side of a cliff by Mikoshiba’s men; an elaborate effects set-up showing the bell careen down the mountainside and crack apart is pretty remarkable considering that it’s an isolated, almost unnecessary sequence. I should also point out that this film has some interesting Christian imagery (intriguing since this is essentially a Jewish legend being told in a Japanese film) including a few crucifixions and a scene where the Majin (who appears to have telekinetic-like abilities this time around) parts the sea as he travels from his island home to the nearby village. This scene in particular would almost rival the famous “parting of the Red Sea” scene from 1956’s The Ten Commandments.

Majin as Moses, parting the waters.

One can almost believe that the Daiei studio who produced and released Wrath of Daimajin was trying explicitly to compete with rival studio Toho in making this film since it’s an obvious combination of two of Toho’s most winning movie formulas: the period samurai film and the giant monster film. Daiei even brought in composer Akira Ifukube to score the Daimajin series and Ifukube’s music sounds remarkably similar to the ominous compositions he did for various Godzilla films. In the end, I’d have to call Wrath of Daimajin’s marriage of two popular Japanese film genres a success. It’s maybe not the slam-bang monster flick that some fans might want or expect, but it’s very competently made and certainly is compelling in its own way. Fans of Japanese genre cinema would undoubtedly appreciate this film the most, but it’d be a worthwhile rainy day flick for any audience who’s willing to be patient with it. Recommended.

Both the DVD box set from ADV films and Blu-ray package from Mill Creek contain all three Daimajin films (the original, as well as The Return of Daimajin and Wrath of Daimajin) in widescreen, with multiple language options. There are no extras included on either set.

3/10 : A few sword fights, some of which end poorly for the heroic participants, and a few brief glimpses of gore.

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0/10 : No profanity, though the English language dub is plenty sketchy

0/10 : Nothing going, even if the womenfolk do receive some rough treatment at times.

4/10 : Japanese monster flick meets period samurai drama, but this isn’t as much fun as the typical rubber creature feature.

“You murdered father, set up a tyranny, conquered our people, and banished my sister. Now, you blow up our god, but perhaps someday I will watch you die…”

Trailer:

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