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Daimajin Trilogy (3-Disc Limited Edition), The
For the uninitiated, in 1966 Daiei Studios in Japan released a trio of monster movies about a giant stone golem that looked kind of like an old fashioned samurai who would periodically come to live and trash evildoers. A mix of Samurai films like Rashamon and Kaiju films like the studio's own Gamera pictures, the Daimajin films stand as a pretty unique entry in the pantheon of giant monster movies and they hold up well even by modern standards thanks to some creative storytelling and great effects work.
Arrow Video now brings the entire trilogy to Blu-ray in a features-laden collection that handily bests both the old ADV DVD set and the Mill Creek Entertainment Blu-ray release from 2012.
Here's a look at the three films in this set:
DISC ONE: DAIMAJIN
In this installment, the first in the series, an evil Japanese warlord has overthrown the local rulers and enslaved the local townspeople, putting them to work (as evil warlords are prone to do sometimes). What the warlord doesn't take into account, however, is that beside the town on the side of a mountain range, there lays in waiting a giant stone statue that has the spirit of an angry warrior god locked inside it. This stone faced god is just itching to be set loose and wreak havoc across the Japanese countryside.
Fast forward ten years and the good ruler's son and daughter have been hidden away in secrecy. When the evil rulers decide to put a stop to the townsfolk's unrest by attempting to destroy their good, the Daimajin makes his way out of the cliff he's been sleeping in and destroys the evil warlord. What follows is a scene to total destruction that rivals anything in any of the Godzilla movies or other monster films of the same era from the East.
While the final twenty minutes of the film are stellar, there are a few parts that drag a bit during the middle of the film. However, for the most part, Daimajin is a charming and entertaining fantasy film for the first seventy minutes, and a whup-ass, pissed off, monster movie for the last twenty. The film is paced very deliberately and nicely shot showing some good production values not just in the monster effects but in the period detail used to create the village where so much of the story is based around. Director Kimiyoshi Yasuda did a few of the Sleepy Eyes Of Death films as well as a few entries in the Zatoichi line, so you know he's got a good eye for samurai style and tone.
DISC TWO: RETURN OF DAIMAJIN
In this second installment of the trilogy, we find the statue, who once again happens to be the local village god, blown up by yet another evil warlord who has once again decided to take over another town. With the townsfolk kept in check, his minions begin looting, terrorizing, and enslaving the townsfolk after assassinating their leaders.
When the pieces of the statue fall into the lake beside the village, everything is looking pretty grim for our unlucky villagers. Of course, this wouldn't be much of a monster movie if that didn't change, and it does when the vengeful stone god rises from the depths of the lake and lays waste to the evildoers who have enslaved his followers.
While not as pretty to look at as the Return of Daimajin, this second chapter still has a lot of entertainment to offer, and the destruction scenes in the final third of the film, just like the other two, is really what it's all about. This film does have the most action of the three and is probably the most entertaining because of this, and it's also the most effects heavy. It moves at a faster pace and offers more chaos, carnage and giant monster based insanity. If the art direction isn't as impressive, the movie doesn't really suffer for it and there's some great use of color and music throughout the film to ensure that the visuals stay interesting.
DISC THREE: WRAITH OF DAIMAJIN
In the third and final film, the same statue from the first two movies is on top of a mountain rather than on the side, which definitely earns it points for being cooler looking. This time out, the fathers of some of the local children have been captured by another evil warlord and forced to work in their labor camps. When the four sons decide to go out and save their fathers, they have to cross the Maijin Mountain, where the stone god lays sleeping. Along the way they cross through a notoriously dangerous area full of treacherous terrain, evil samurais, and of course, the angry Daimajin. Luckily, the four boys are smart enough to pay their respects to the statue when they pass it, so that they don't incur the monsters wrath.
Eventually, the bad guys inevitably anger the statue which once again comes to life and destroys all those who haven't been paying respect to him. Luckily because the kids were smart enough to make sure that that was taken care of, they and their fathers are spared while the work camp is destroyed in another breathtaking twenty-minutes of total destruction, rubber suit style.
Slightly better than the first chapter, this film moves at a faster pace and has got some absolutely gorgeous scenery that really adds to the film, and the monster seems just as angry, if not more so, when he's trashing the work camp as he does when he's stomping all over the towns in the first two films. Again, the pacing is decent here and the story is strong enough to keep us interested during the buildup, so that the insane finale has enough pay off to make it all worthwhile. Nice costumes, a good score and some great effects work makes this one a lot of fun to watch. Kazuo Mori was responsible for a few Zatoichi films just like his fellow Daimajin directors but also directed the excellent Samurai Vendetta.
Overall, The Daimajin Trilogy is an interesting series of films that any fan of monster movies is sure to get into. The highlights, of course, are the scenes involving the Daimajin himself, with his furious and angry eyes, giant stone sword, and constantly stomping feet. The monsters face, which is rumored to have been modeled after Kirk Douglas, is always frowning and locked in the same, angry expression, lending a slightly creepy quality to all three of the films.
On an interesting side note, the man who played the Daimajin in all three films, Riki Hoshimoto, is probably best known outside of the suit for playing Susuki, one of the characters who went head to head with Bruce Lee himself in Fists of Fury.
Arrow brings each film to Blu-ray on its own separate 50GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition properly framed at 2.35.1 widescreen. Daimajin gets 26GBs of space, Wraith Of Daimajin 23.3GBs of space and Return Of Daimajin 20.8Gbs of space. The transfers look pretty similar to one another, showing good detail but never quite hitting reference quality levels. Colors are good, nice and bright and well-reproduced without looking boosted at all. Compression artifacts aren't ever really an issue and skin tones look nice. There isn't any noticeable noise reduction or edge enhancement and overall, these look quite nice, improving over the Mill Creek Blu-ray release quite a bit, though you do have to wonder how much better they might have looked had there been new scans or restorations provided.
Japanese and English language 24-bit LPCM Mono tracks with optional subtitles provided in English are available on all three discs. Audio quality is fine. The dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow, the levels are well balanced and track is free of any hiss or distortion.
Extras are spread out across the three discs in the set as follows:
DISC ONE: DAIMAJIN
The first disc's extras start off with a brand new audio commentary by Japanese film expert Stuart Galbraith IV. He starts by noting the different title that the film has been known as over the years before then putting the film into a historical and industrial context by explaining the state of the Japanese studio system in the mid-sixties, Daiei in particular. He also uses comments from Yoshihiko Aoyama, who he interviewed over the phone for this track. He offers plenty of details on Kimiyoshi Yasuda's career, on the different cast members that appear in the film, some of the effects work used in the picture, who originally pitched the idea and how it borrows from the legend of The Golem, the film's distribution history and its success at home and abroad and lots, lots more. Galbraith knows his stuff and he offers a lot of great information here in a laid back, listenable style. This is definitely worth your time.
The disc also includes a newly filmed introduction by critic Kim Newman that runs fifteen-minutes. Here he and his fantastic moustache note how the films aren't really that thematically linked but are in fact three different variations on the same formula. He then talks about the success of the three films and their staying power.
Bringing The Avenging God To Life is a brand new exclusive video essay about the special effects of the Daimajin films by Japanese film historian Ed Godziszewski. Here, over seventeen-minutes, Godziszewski goes over Yoshiyuki Kuroda's connections to Daiei Film, how Kuroda's recruited different model makers to create the creature seen in the movie, the connection to Ultraman, the mechanics that were built into the figure, how the actor in the suit's real eyes were used in the film and why, how some of the more impressive set pieces seen throughout the three films were created, the use of wirework in the films and lots more. This is very well-researched, quite interesting and it also contains plenty of great behind the scenes photos from the making of the movies.
Finishing up the disc are alternate opening credits for the US release (as Majin The Monster Of Terror and available with both 1.33.1 and 2.35.1 framing options), a few trailers (original Japanese theatrical trailer, the Daimajin & Gamera Vs Barugon Double Feature trailer and two US TV spots), an image gallery, menus and chapter selection.
DISC TWO: RETURN OF DAIMAJIN
Disc two starts off with a brand new audio commentary by Japanese film experts Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp. They start by talking about how they each originally became aware of the Daimajin films in the first place, Mes admitting he came to them quite late, before then going on to talk about how films like the Lone Wolf And Cub movies were a gateway drug for a lot of people getting into Japanese movies, the history of Kenji Misumi and his work for the studio, the sets and art direction in the picture, other films that the cast and crew from this picture worked on, how the Daimajin films have as much in common with the chanbara films as they do with the success of the Gamera pictures, the benevolence of the Daimajin character, how Daiei's films differ from the kaiju movies that Toho was making, the effects that the structure of Daiei had on the picture and lots more. This isn't always specific to the history of Return Of Daimajin and the conversation occasionally goes off in some unexpected directions but they always tie it back in interesting ways (they do a fantastic job of connecting the Shaw Brothers output to this movie, for example). It's good stuff.
My Summer Holidays With Daimajin is "a newly filmed interview with Professor Yoneo Ota, director of the Toy Film Museum, Kyoto Film Art Culture Research Institute, about the production of the Daimajin films at Daiei Kyoto." Here, over thirty-four-minutes, Ota, who is interviewed at the actual Toy Film Musuem (which would appear to have quite the collection of ephemera), talks about what the museum does before then going on to cover how he got to go on location when the first movie was made as a high school student. He was also on location for Return Of Daimajin and a Zatoichi movie and eventually wound up working as a camera assistant for a while. He shares some stories about what it was like being around when the movie was made, talks about some of the people that he interacted with, goes over the legacy of the Daimajin films, talks about the importance of this movie to Daiei and more.
Finishing up the disc are alternate opening credits for the US release (as Return Of The Giant Majin), an trailer for the original Japanese release, a TV spot for the US release, an image gallery, menus and chapter selection.
DISC THREE: WRATH OF DAIMAJIN
Disc three features a brand new audio commentary by Asian historian Jonathan Clements. He talks about how there is a seasonal progression to the three Daimajin films which would appear to be on purpose, how the snow effects in the movie were created, how the film's opening differs greatly from the first two movies, the different cast and crew members who appear in the film and details on their lives and careers, subtleties in the film that you might not pick up on (they're mining sulfur to make gunpowder in the mining scenes, for example), some of the cultural quirks involving geographic boundaries inherent in the dialogue that tie into Japan's past, the pros and cons of using child actors in key scenes, the way that the samurai scenes in the film are shot, how a different set of model makers created the titular monster for this third film, the use of Japanese folk horror stories in the picture, how the Daimajin in this film only answers to the pure of heart, Daimajin's media footprint since these movies were made (including his appearance in some Toyota commercials) and more. Clements delivers a great talk, going into all manner of weird minutia and delivering some fascinating information, often times with a good sense of humor as well. This track is both interesting and enjoyable to listen to.
The interview with cinematographer Fujio Morita discusses his career at Daiei and his work on The Daimajin Trilogy in a very lengthy eighty-seven-minute interview that covers a whole lot of ground, including how he got into the business at a young age, how it changed over the years, how he became known as the go to guy when you needed to incorporate live action and SFX footage, how he continued to learn about different processes throughout his career, how and why double magazines were used instead of blue screens for certain shots, mistakes that were made on certain projects that he was involved with, the importance of specific lenses to specific shots, when blue screen effects were used later on in his career, the importance of speed settings on cameras and lots more. This is a bit on the dry side but to be fair, Morita has had a pretty great career and he remembers a lot of it in very clear detail.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are some trailers for the original Japanese release, a teaser trailer, an image gallery, menus and chapter selection.
As to the packaging, each movie is packaged in its own clear keepcase and with some slick reversible cover sleeve art. These three keepcases fit inside a nice, top-loading box that also holds a full color booklet that contains credits for the features and the Blu-ray release as well as a few essays on the films. It's a very nice presentation.
Arrow's Blu-ray release of The Daimajin Trilogy is solid, presenting these three iconic and underappreciated monster movies in nice shape. The film hold up well and the extra features put together for the three discs in the set do a very solid job of exploring their respective histories. Highly recommended.rn
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.