Return of Daimajin (1966)

Return of Daimajin (1966)‘Did you hear that big noise? Your god was blown up!’

An evil warlord invades a coastal village and enslaves the peaceful population. In order to tighten his grip on the people, he decides to destroy the statue of their god, which stands on a lonely, mountainous island out to sea.

The international success of Japan’s Toho Studios and their monster mashups in the 1950s and 60s inevitably provoked rival film companies to focus their attention on fantastic subjects as well. Toho had always favoured creatures created by science, be it human or extra-terrestrial, and, by the mid-1960’s, were aiming its product towards a more child friendly market. The Daei Studios chose a different path; adopting a serious, even mystical tone, with a series of 3 films firmly located in the roots of legend and folklore. Their creature of destruction was a giant statue invoked by prayer and ritual, rather than radiation or aliens.

The first film in the trilogy was ‘Daimajin’ (1966) and it was fairly impressive, and many of its virtues are repeated here. The visual compositions are inventive, and the stunning use of landscape and photography gives the film a real stamp of quality. Another powerful score by Toho regular Akira lfikube is of great assistance in establishing the mood, and there are committed performances from the cast. The SFX are of their time, but very good when it’s not necessary for any human component to share the frame with our stone faced hero.

Unfortunately, something else also gets repeated: the story. This isn’t a sequel so much as a remake. The simple, virtuous, god-fearing peasants are put to work in the service of the invading warlord and all resistance is crushed. The virginal heroine escapes to a remote location which is believed to be the abode of the local god, but the warlord’s minions find her and he decide to destroy the giant statue that represents their almighty. At which point, the statue comes to life and goes apeshit. Same old same old.

Return of Daimajin (1966)

‘I’m telling you he’s not happy about something…’

The plot simply rehashes all the beats of the first film, with the only appreciable change being the coastal setting, and the few scenes on the water. As a result, this feels very much like second hand material, and the climactic emotional payoff has little resonance because it’s exactly as expected. Of course, it would be surprising if the film differed too much from the original, but a little variation would have been extremely welcome.

The three films in the series were all shot in 1966, but released a year apart. Perhaps the similarities between the first two films helps to explain why.  A disappointing experience.

‘The Wrath of Daimajin’ (1966) followed.

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