It's a Japanese giant monster movie about a statue. He's 4.5 metres tall, he's made of stone and he doesn't move much... but when he does, you'll know about it.
It's also brilliant. We'll start with the plot, which kicks off with samurai being about to kill other samurai. Normally this would count as pest control and a reason for celebration, except that here there's a big difference between our samurai. The local Lord and his family don't seem like bad people and are trying to protect their children. They're the ones getting butchered.
The one directing the killing (Ryutaro Gomi), on the other hand, is the Lord's trusted chamberlain and a complete bastard. "I have no loyalty." He wants to wipe out the Lord's entire family including the children, for instance setting fire to a stable because they're inside it. He's also a tyrannical ruler, using the local villagers as slave labour to build himself a fort and having them beaten if they, for instance, collapse from exhaustion. A dying wife doesn't count as a reason to go home. Helping fellow workers escape is a crime punishable by death.
Pitted against this guy are:
(a) a boy and a girl
(b) the samurai Kogenta (Jun Fujimaki), who's protecting them
(c) a magnificent old priestess who talks to Gomi and his henchmen as if they're something she's scraped off her shoe. "I serve our god. Do not soil my home with your dirty feet!" She serves the Majin, even though this normally translates as devil, evil spirit or genie. ("Dai" means big, so "daimajin" means "giant demon".) This village worships Diamajin, you see. They perform ceremonies to keep him appeased. They don't let anyone trespass on his sacred mountain.
Gomi doesn't believe in Daimajin. Heh heh.
For exactly an hour, there's no supernatural involvement at all. Instead it's straight drama with our heroes fighting a tyrant. There are always children in the cast, even after the first lot of children have grown up, but that's not a problem. Even without Daimajin, I was loving it. Gomi is loathsome, our heroes are heroic and the oppression of the villagers would make even Gandhi want to grab an AK-47. Besides, the priestess is cool.
There's a protracted death scene, with a victim who for some reason stays alive long enough to deliver almost a soliloquy. However there's also some torture, men being hung up by their feet and Gomi being too powerful and vicious for even our heroes to overthrow. This is all juicy stuff... but of course we're waiting for the big guy.
The film keeps us waiting and waiting, but in a good way. Gomi's men go to destroy the statue, even hammering a chisel into its forehead. That goes badly, yet still Daimajin isn't up and walking. What eventually rouses him is a disturbing bit in which Miwa Takada puts her faith in her god (okay), prays to him (still no problems yet) and promises to give her life if he'll save her brother and Kogenta. Since we have a fair idea that there's a Daimajipocalypse on its way, this will almost certainly creep you the hell out and leave you deeply unsettled for the rest of the movie. Miwa Takada's a good girl. She wouldn't say a thing like that if she didn't mean it. (Note the waterfall scene.)
It does the trick, though. The statue walks.
I loved the non-Daimajin main body of the film, but Daimajin himself is magnificent. He's also a convincing god, given his Old Testament approach to people who piss him off. (Remember that chisel? Daimajin certainly does. He's also happy to push people through walls, in a bad way.) If there were a bit in the Bible where God the Father came down to Earth personally to smite the Egyptian army or something, I could imagine it playing out like Daimajin. I'm not being anti-religious. This has the same kind of apocalyptic tone as do Biblical stories like the destruction of Sodom or the Levite and his concubine. (Note also this film's crucifixions.)
The special effects are first class. Daimajin is obviously a man in a suit and I was waiting throughout for a corny special effects shot to laugh at, but it never came. The matting is almost flawless. The combined shots of other characters on-screen with Daimajin are excellent. The destruction he causes as he flattens buildings looks as if it could be the real thing. This guy is seriously bad news and the film's most powerful scene comes when Miwa Takada, having woken him up in the first place, then starts pleading with him to go home and leave at least a few survivors.
Daimajin only got a trilogy, unfortunately. Why not more? Daiei shot three films back-to-back in 1966, then never put him in a movie again. (Two years later, the same studio would do the same for Yokai Monsters. I adore Shigeru Mizuki and everything associated with him, but this film is better.) However you can't keep a good stone idol down and in 2010 Daimajin got a 26-part TV series. The trilogy is also available in America on Blu-ray.
This is a simple and fairly unsophisticated film, but it's also really good. Everything it's supposed to do, it does like billy-oh. Hateful villains, check. Heroes you're rooting for, check. Pretty girl (Takada), check. Intriguing spooky scene where an ugly small boy is running through the woods and may or may not be being pursued by ghosts, check. Walking statue and massive property damage, check. What more could you ask for? If you like Godzilla films, this stomps over most of them (although of course not the original). My only caveat is that small children might not agree with me. Despite having child characters, it's perhaps a bit too serious and adult in its pacing to appeal to fans of, say, Godzilla Destroy All Monsters.
I'll be pleasantly surprised if the trilogy manages to maintain this quality level throughout, but it would still be worth watching even if it slipped back to "pretty good". All hail Daimajin!