It's another remake-as-sequel that's nowhere near as good as the original.
Bewildering aside: I'm not sure what I'm reviewing here. Daiei made three Daimajin films in 1966: Daimajin, Wrath of Daimajin and Return of Daimajin. Unfortunately ADV's 1990s video releases decided to swap the titles of Wrath and Return, which is confusing. Let me check the original Japanese title card... okay, it's Wrath.
Anyway. Daimajin is a gigantic stone statue whose hobbies include standing very still and providing a place for seagulls to sit. He's a statue. He does bugger all, except look out to sea. You can hammer chisels into his forehead and all that will happen is that you'll have a chisel in a statue... until exactly an hour's screen time has elapsed. Thereupon Daimajin will wake up in a bad mood and do his best Godzilla impression, at which point anyone with a brain will run away very, very fast. (However if you're the villain of this movie, don't bother. You might as well order your men to kill you, because that'll be better than what's going to happen when Daimajin gets his hands on you.)
Daimajin is great. I love Daimajin.
It's harsh of me to call this a remake of the first movie, but they're made to the same formula. Here's the list:
1. Boo-hiss samurai lord who wants to kill his rivals and oppress the poor.
2. Samurai lords who care about ordinary people and are about to get steamrollered by the baddies.
3. Noble high-born lady who pleads with Daimajin to save everyone, even if it means giving up her own life.
4. An hour's worth of human-level samurai drama, timed so precisely that you just know the studio executives had said "Daimajin wakes up after an hour", followed by stompy carnage.
It's perfectly okay. I'd have liked it better if I hadn't seen the first film, though, since its goodies and baddies are less impressive. Last time, the villain massacred everyone except two children, then sent his men like King Herod to hunt them down and kill them too. He also did a bunch of other stuff. We hated him. That's a quality villain. This time though there's no Herod element and the villain's not actually that good at his villainy. His first objective is to kill his rival samurai lords... but he can't even manage that. He takes one hostage and threatens to have him executed, but of course we assume he's planning to execute all his rivals anyway. By samurai standards, he's also a fat coward.
His most loathsome act is right at the beginning. "You serfs belong to your lord! How dare you try to escape?" Killing ensues. There's also a scene later on when he's about to have women and children executed, but otherwise he's a "bad enough" villain rather than truly abhorrent.
As for the heroes, last time we had children. You can't not be on the side of children. This time we've got samurai lords, which just isn't the same. It's also a muddier set-up, in that there are three fiefdoms (Mikoshiba, Chigusa and Nagoshi) and the evil lord of Mikoshiba is invading one of them and then carrying on to the other in search of the lord of the first, or something like that. It's not confusing, mind you. We get a map. I understood everything perfectly. It's just less dramatic than "villain kills children's parents". I even lost patience with the peasants when they said, "If the lords of Chigusa and Nagoshi are dead, no one can save us!" Were you guys born pathetic? It's just two men, who (let's not forget) are samurai. Scrounge some weapons off the dead! Fight back for yourselves against the parasites! I swear, samurai movies could have turned even Hitler into a Marxist.
(Come to think of it, that self-aggrandising yakuza bullshit about being the true descendants of samurai is actually a better analogy than I'd assumed.)
Meanwhile the women are forgettable too. There's no grumpy old priestess, which is a shame since she was awesome. There's a noble lady, but Shiho Fujimura is inspid and less pretty and engaging than Miwa Takada.
Then we have the unusual problem that's inherent to this franchise, i.e. the most sensible course of action within the fiction would be stupid and annoying in real life. We all know Daimajin's going to save the day. His name's in the title. That's what he does. Thus we have people saying, "God has saved us," "I will pray to God," "God, please save us," etc. This is the right thing for them to be doing. If they hadn't been doing it, we'd have been calling them idiots... but unfortunately it makes them look like the kind of limp-wristed god-botherers whose first response to any problem is to pray to to their Celestial Buck-Passing Excuse, instead of, say, getting off their backsides and doing something about it themselves.
I exaggerate. It's not that bad. Most of the god-bothering is from Fujimura, who probably weighs about three ounces (including the kimono) and wouldn't slow down a samurai except by adding an infinitesimal amount of wear and tear to his sword blade. She's useless for anything else, so she may as well pray to Daimajin. Good use of her time.
I've been rude, but it's not that bad. The villains are villainous and the heroes are noble. It's a serviceable runaround and of course it ends with Daimajin. The baddies fight back against him more effectively this time, with grappling hooks and even explosives. (Does it help them? Ahahahaha.) I also like the continued religious references. There are crucifixions, which I presume the filmmakers must surely have known is the most important Christian symbol of all, even though as it happens Japan did use crucifixion as a method of execution. Daimajin also does a version of the Parting of the Red Sea. That looked cool.
The maddest and most interesting thing about these movies, I think, is that they're almost using the Old Testament God as the monster in a Rampaging Monster Flick, with samurai. It's not Him, but it might as well have been. That doesn't look like anyone's idea of God the Father, but then again the Ten Commandments say we're not allowed to make graven images of Him. Daimajin gets worshipped as a god. He smites the unbelievers. That's in the same ballpark, at least.
What happens at the end is also worth attention, I think. When he's finished, Daimajin doesn't go home. No, he destroys himself. He'll be back for the next film, but you could choose to interpret this as a meaningful statement if you're following my suggested religious reading. God tramples your enemies... and then crumbles into dust, or (as here) liquifies. You've called on Him and he's saved you just this once, but from now on, you're on your own. Your lives are your own responsibilities.
And then the last line of this film someone saying they see him coming up from the lake, to which the camera replies by giving us a nice long look and there's nothing there at all.
Overall, it's okay. I enjoyed it. All that negativity above was partly me going into brutal analysis mode, to try to work out why I'd enjoyed it less than its predecessor. However it's nothing special, whereas the first film blew me away. It's a perfectly passable samurai movie with Daimajin in it. You could do worse.