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Daimajin

Daimajin (or 'Great Majin' - it's known more properly in Japan as just Majin) is a movie that, like Reece's Peanut Butter Cups, consists of two great tastes that taste great together.

Daimajin In this case, the two tastes are two of the finest genres known to Japanese cult film audiences, namely samurai pictures (chambara) and monster movies (kaiju eiga). Daimajin combines these into one film, and while the result isn't 100% satisfying, it's certainly interesting enough, and the concept spawned two sequels as well.

The idea for the series reputedly came to the head of Daiei Studio's Kyoto office when he came across a photo of an old clay statue. Daiei had been looking for a new giant-monster (daikaiju) gimmick since Gamera had burst onto the scene the previous year, and this new idea seemed to fit the bill. Unlike Toho, which had an entire stable of giant creatures to choose from, Daiei only had a handful; and those, they worked until they dropped.

The plot of the first film is fairly straightforward. A well-loved local lord is overthrown by his chamberlain; the lord's two small children, a boy and a girl, escape into the mountains with the help of a loyal general. Years pass and the children grow up; the townspeople have been suffering under the rule of their new master, who squeezes every bit of revenue from the land to strengthen his armies, which enforce his iron rule. The evil lord decides to have a local statue destroyed, because it represents hope in the minds of the villagers; the statue is said to represent an evil spirit trapped by a benevolent local god. When the lord's men start trying to topple the statue, they find it resists their hammers, and begin to drive a chisel into its forehead. That's a mistake: the head starts to drip blood; thunder and earthquakes resound as the spirit within the statue awakens. The statue then goes on to the village (courtesy of a lightning bolt, it doesn't have to walk) and wipes out the evil lord and his forces.

The plot was pretty standard stuff, and the execution was pretty straightforward as well. The 'monster,' as is so often the case in older movies of this type, only makes its full appearance in the final reel, when it lets loose with the horror and destruction. For the most part, up until that point, this is a typical period film with samurais and warlords and peasants and so forth. There really isn't enough swordplay to make chambara fans happy, and there's just enough of the statue running amok to make the monster fans happy. What we are left with, then, is a rather bland film that straddles both genres.

It does have some nice moments, however, including one scene in which a kid named Take is running through the woods. He's afraid of being attacked by spirits, and in fact we see him being menaced by ghosts, a skeletal hand, and other traditional horrors - but, wait, are those really ghosts? Isn't the skeleton's hand just a branch? The cinematography first shows us how Take sees things, then shows us how his fear is coloring things. It's a really nice, effective technique, and if it had been used in a more traditional horror film - especially one dealing with Halloween - it would be absolutely brilliant. Here, it simply serves to make us wish the movie were more like that. One other small touch I liked was when the otherwise bland statue's face changed to that of a hideous traditional oni-mask demon face, with a wave of the statue's stone hand. It was a small effect, but an effective one in turning the otherwise bland statue into a vengeful god.

The character would return in two sequels, Majin Strikes Again and The Return of Majin.

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