Daimajin’s tale of a warring god infuriated with a sadistic ruler is as far from Daei’s 1960s output as possible. As the studio ramped up production on their quirky Gamera franchise, they ushered in a different, genre-blending epic that defied growing audience appeal in radioactive monsters.
This a period piece, focused in on Japan’s samurai as they defend their lands, and are overtaken by rogue, power-hungry leaders. Samanosuke (Yutaro Gomi) takes his swings at current village protector Kogenta (Jun Fujimaki) during a religious ceremony meant to appease the great Majin. It’s a mistake that will take ten years to unfold, Samanosuke slaughtering families, enslaving the population, and torturing anyone who stands to overtake his rule.
Shunned from the village, Kotenga and other outliers await their chance, growing impatient with the god’s less than stellar activity level. They make their move, are captured, and Daimajin has had enough.
Daei’s style is less spectacle and more grounded with limited impact from the living statue. The human level narrative plays on basic rights and elicits sympathies. Samanosuke’s vile second in command denies a man an opportunity to visit his dying wife, even as a child pleas for mercy. It’s a set up that a walking, angered god can alleviate with a single step.
Eschewing kaiju traditions, Daimajin is large enough to tower over the historical homes, and not much else. This leaves breathing room for the miniature effects team, crafting substantial models to scale, and arguably the best human puppets of any Japanese stomping ground flick of the era. This is not sci-if, predicated by the mournful bleeding of a statue as the villains rise to take down the icon which gives people hope. Traditional dance is meant to appease the being, and ghosts roam the forests.
Daimajin’s destruction is as riveting as the human drama, the latter bringing with it a daring escape at night, deep into Samanosuke’s camp. It keeps the material lively in terms of its dramatic weight while audiences further anticipate the unleashing of walking hell. Akira Ifukube scores the piece with discordant horns and flaring drums which were slowly being removed from his lighter, Toho-based works. It’s a fit that sells size and much as it does dread, and seeing Daimajin walk though the village unabated is masterful ’60s cinema.
Mill Creek has taken criticism to heart over the Gamera trilogy, situating the Daimajin trilogy on two discs, but the first – with two films – given the added space of a BD-50. That’s more than enough breathing room for these briskly timed features (never cracking 80-minutes), and the results are in the image.
This AVC encode knows how to keep itself together, the only struggle found being just past the opening credits. Fog billows in over the set, and the grain will lightly wash up as noise, a one-off occurrence. That’s great work as the finale becomes awash with dirt and debris from crumbling structures. There are no attempts to lighten the image and reveal additional artifacts.
Source materials suffer from minor imperfections, namely specs that make a run in for a single frame and disappear. One forest shot has a traveling line that has clearly been dealt with on some level, but remains in a faded state without total clean-up. Impact on the source photography is low.
Working with a stable source means grand flourishes of fine detail, tight close-ups revealing facial detail the prior DVD editions only wish they could produce. While some wide angle shots reveal a scan lacking in the best resolution (and a lightly filtered appearance), those moments are few. Forests are clean and resolved, dusty exteriors in a dilapidated town are exquisite, and not enough can be said for close-ups. Details and patterns in costume design are striking, and facial definition is remarkable.
The hold out? Black levels. Daimajin is cast in mild color, giving the piece a worn, dramatically appropriate desaturation. That style casts night as a pale gray or blue, with few scenes gathering dimensionality. On the positive end, it’s a natural fade, not one performed to adjust the material outside of its source.
Mastered in 2.0 mono, Daimajin loses some of the scale a more modern quality uptick could have afforded it. The finale has the god stomping around with loose, treble-y footsteps that lack the heft they could have with some LFE accompaniment. From a more purist perspective, oh well.
Available in Japanese or an English dub, the latter is detrimental of Ifukube’s score, an instant turn-off that over balances dialogue and action. Mill Creek should be commended for included both as uncompressed options however, while this review dissects the Japanese mix alone.
The score will find itself struggling to hold fidelity, drums wavering at their peak and horns lacking firmness. Dialogue is aged without any pops or loss of words. It’s a natural progression for something this vintage unlike the score, too important an element to lose this much weight. It’s doubtful much can be salvaged, and none of the problems sound connected to the transfer process.
All of Daimajin’s extras are contained on a later disc, Daimajin Strikes Again. The score reflects Daimajin alone.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.