It's the third of Daiei's Daimajin trilogy. I didn't much like it.
In short, the heroes are small boys and the villain's insufficiently villainous. We begin by being told (not shown) that Lord Arakawa is kidnapping men from villages. You'll now be imagining something much more interesting than what's in the movie, which is merely that he needs slave labour to build a fortress or something. Once that's done, he'll be able to conquer all the other lords in the area.
I'm not sure of the logic of that. A fortress is good for defence if you're being attacked. It's not so useful if you're invading other people's territory. Well, let's not worry about that.
So we didn't see Lord Arakawa kidnapping anyone. We see him having someone thrown into a sulphur pool, which is fun, but otherwise the stuff he does on-screen isn't particularly evil. This is doubly surprising since the film's heroes are children, so you'd expect the film to be giving us a truly loathsome villain as he sends his samurai to hunt down and kill boys. Nope. Not the case. He's a bad man, don't get me wrong, but he knows nothing about the children.
Meanwhile the heroes are... well, it's Children's Film Foundation stuff, isn't it? I don't mind it, but it's fairly boring. I'd feel differently if I were eight, but I'm not. The villagers can't send a message to their lord for help because "there will be heavy snow soon", apparently, despite blazing blue skies and a landscape that's bursting with green. A beautiful summer's day, that's what this is. Later, some of the children fall in a river and never say anything like "brrr" or "the water's cold". Snow does eventually come (hello, special effects department), but even then what we're seeing doesn't match what's in the script. It's a dusting, perhaps an inch at most, whereas the script's telling us that people might freeze to death and having them say things like "we can't walk in this!"
It's pretty, though. I'll give it that.
Anyway, our heroes decide that they're the only ones who can save their village! The film then spends a while being a boy scout mountain hike, except with samurai sometimes trying to kill them. The boys cut down a small tree and cross a ravine. They make a raft (eh?) and ride down the river. They shoot non-lethal arrows at pesky samurai. It's okay and I even quite liked it when there was a threat to life or limb, but basically we're just watching small boys vs. nature. For about an hour. There are other scenes in between, but those are just villain cutaways that don't affect the A-plot.
The big surprise is that the film's prepared to kill children. However it doesn't have the impact that it should have, because this doesn't feel like the kind of film where that kind of outcome's even imaginable. It's fairly lightweight. Every time there's an apparent death, not only are you confident that the boy's still alive, but you even know exactly how the film's going to bring him back. In three of the four cases, you'll be right. However for one of them, no. The brat stays dead. I was waiting and waiting for that fourth child to come wandering back to his friends, explaining that he'd been lost on the mountainside and hadn't been able to find his way back until now... but then the credits rolled. That's it. Four boys at the beginning, but three at the end. There's a forgettable death scene somewhere in between, which I suppose we have to assume is probably lethal after all, despite appearances.
(Well, unless you're watching with young boys, in which case you'll presumably be explaining what "really happened".)
Daimajin's a bit different. He's in the mountains this time, instead of looking out on a lake. I suppose even an unbeliever-smiting stone statue and god-figure needs a holiday from time to time. He also has a pet hawk who seems to share his spirit and attacks baddies. Daimajin is less prominent than usual in this film, even getting a quick "the gods are angry" prologue that I presume was added at the last minute to compensate for the big guy's low profile. The villagers don't go on his mountain. They worship him from afar. We're thus a good third of the way through when we first see the Daimajin statue, after which he's hardly even mentioned until the film's got an hour under its belt and it's Clobberin' Time.
I was a bit grumpy with the film by that point, but Daimajin on the rampage is always worth watching. He does his business slowly, but that just makes it better. I particularly enjoyed the low-angle shots that make him a colossus, while being snow-covered is a good look for him. You've also got to love the crashing sound effects that accompany his every slow-motion footstep. I will however point out that the villain's not being clever. Here's a multiple choice question. Gigantic stone statue of a god comes alive, grows an angry face and starts stomping towards you. Do you: (a) run away, (b) tell your men to drop their weapons and do nothing that might anger him, (c) shoot it with rifles? If you answered (c), congratulations! You're going to die!
I don't know. Maybe I was in the wrong mood for this one, but it seemed to be doing its best to send me to sleep. There are good bits, mind you. I was impressed by the bit where a boy offers himself as a sacrifice to his god and then jumps off a ledge into a ravine. I also like the way in which for once Daimajin isn't answering the pleas of high-ranking nobles, but instead coming alive to save ordinary people at the request of a small boy. The only samurai in this film are baddies. Good. Nonetheless it's basically a film in which child actors trek through pretty mountain scenery without interacting with the B-plot in which a second-rate villain doesn't do much either. I can see how small boys might like this movie. I didn't.
"I smell snow. There will be heavy snow soon."