Thursday, 27 July 2017

Return of Daimajin



Statue Of Limit Asians

Return of Daimajin
Japan 1966 Directed by Kenji Misumi
Daiei Studios/Mill Creek Entertainment Blu Ray Zone A


Warning: Spoiler on the denouement although, honestly, you pretty know how these kinds of films are going to turn out from the start anyway, don't you?

Okay, so the second of the three Daimajin films made back to back in 1966, Return Of Daimajin, is both almost a rerun of the first while being completely different at the same time. Completely different in that it’s by a different director to the first, Kenji Misumi, who brings a much more refined and stylised visual design to the way the movie is put together... even if the story is roughly covering the same ground. He did a number of films in the Zatoichi, Lone Wolf and Cub and even the Sleepy Eyes of Death series and the flair with which he directs this certainly shows itself on screen as a giant step away from the look and feel of the first Daimajin movie (reviewed by me here).

So the set up of this one is of a poor village run by an oppressive lord and of a neighbouring village who are in much better shape and who are full of ‘happy villagers’. The latter being something of a rarity in itself in these kinds of films, methinks. However, it isn’t long before this overall sense of well being stops as the happy villagers, who worship the Daimajin (who now definitively seems to be their God as opposed to a guardian of a God, as he was named to be in the first picture) are given an offering of rice rolled up in carpets by the neighbouring village during a festival. However, once the festivities have died down and the rice brought into the castle, three samurai who have been hidden in the carpets let the horde of soldiers from the other village in and the evil lord takes over the once happy community, slaying his opposition and looking aggressively for any other members of the ‘royal’ family who have fled in the fighting.

Like the previous Daimajin movie, the giant stone samurai doesn’t do much until the last quarter of an hour of the film, as the writers build up enough outrage and sympathy in the audience to warrant the unleashing of the mighty stone behemoth to get its revenge against the forces of evil and corruption. The statue seems to have been somehow relocated to an island for no apparent reason and his face does turn red for a little while early on as a kind of omen or prophecy of doom to some of the villagers that something bad is about to happen but, other than that and some off screen shenanigans as he wrecks a couple of boatloads of bad guys, it’s all building towards the final showdown, as previously.

Like the first film, there is a scene where the evil guy’s men try to take out the statue and, surprisingly, they succeed a heck of a lot more than the last lot in the first film did. They actually dynamite it and it blows into a gazillions pieces but, as it happens, the head is in one piece and lands in the sea (which is how he’s able to wreck a few boats with his control of the weather and sea in his vicinity). Then, towards the end of the film when various heroic men, women and a small child are about to be executed by being tied to a cross and then burnt alive (hey... two kinds of execution for the price of one... bargain), Daimajin appears to reassemble himself and rises out of the depths of the sea, parting it on either side of him like a giant, stone, oriental version of Charlton Heston, only without brandishing any commandments or good feelings.

This time, instead of having a nail knocked through his nogging which he can pull out and use to pin the bad guy to a cross like in the first movie, he seems to have the power of shooting fire from his feet. And it must be some good magical waterproof fire because he sends it along the surface of the water to the boat carrying the escaping bad guys. Because of the inclement weather brought along by Daimajin, the main bad geezah goes to check the rigging and somehow manages to accidentally crucify himself against the mast so, when Daimajin’s fiery torpedo hits the boat, he is stricken with the same fate he had ordered for the main protagonists a mere 10 minutes before.

Like I said, the film is pretty much a rerun of the first in many ways and I can kinda understand that to a certain extent. After all, once you bring Daimajin to life, there’s really not anything that could stand up to him in Ancient Japanese terms so you'll probably always want to hold him back until the end of the movie. With Godzilla, which had a contemporary setting, you could at least send out tanks, jet fighters and missiles against him but, here, that option isn’t on the table.

However, the cinematography in this one is so interesting and beautiful that it kinda towers above the mediocre content in terms of visual opulence. The director likes to section things off and he uses this quite a lot here. For example, there’s a shot of a bell being struck on the island and the diagonally left area of the screen is taken up with just the black tone of the island with the guy ringing the bell seen in sharp silhouette against the sky in the top right quadrant. He’ll also do this with the backs of the heads of people taking up well over half of the screen while the focus of the person talking to them takes up a tiny portion, leading you eye into exactly the area of the shot he wants you to focus on and even, in one instance, uses a burial mound being piled high in front of the camera to refocus your attention to the corner of the screen where he wants it. This is all good stuff and a pleasure to watch.

He also does some nice things with colour in this, using some bright colour palettes that I tend to associate more with Italian cinema of the time... such as pitching bright red lacquered surfaces against the bright green trees of a shot, for example. He’ll even use some cool silhouetting effects in some vignettes which give the film the look, almost, of the style of flattened art lacking perspective that the Japanese were kind of known for in their art at a certain point in time. And, of course, all this is made sweeter by an excellent Akira Ifikube score, not a million miles away from some of the stuff he used to write for the Gojira movies, in all honesty.

So there you have it. Return of Daimajin is an absolutely brilliant entry in the series... at least compared to the first one (which I also really enjoyed, to be fair). I just have one more to watch to complete the original Daimajin trilogy now but I would certainly recommend the US Mill Creek Entertainment Blu Ray of the three movies as an excellent buy, if you like this kind of thing.

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