Related Posts with Thumbnails

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Daimajin Strikes Back (1966) review



Hideki Ninomiya (Tsurukichi), Shinji Hori (Daisaku), Masahide Izuka (Kinta), Nagatomo Muneyuki (Sugimatsu), Hiroshi Nawa (Daizen), Toru Abe (Arakawa Hida Mamoru), Takashi Nakamura (Sanpei)

Directed by Kazuo Mori

The Short Version: Mighty Majin crushes, and unequivocally destroys enemies of the downtrodden in this third, and last entry in the unusual series. Kazuo Mori's movie is virtually identical to the others, but the focus is shifted to four small boys and their adventure to rescue their parents from a tyrant who's kidnapped them into slavery. Unfortunately, for the few intriguing nuances, there's a great many more things wrong with DAIMAJIN 3 that not even the angry stone idol can save in what is an oppressive air of repetition.

The ruthless Arakawa clan kidnaps groups of peasant woodcutters to use as slaves to build a weapons depot. One of the strongest log men, Sanpei, manages to escape back to his village in Koyama. Near death, Sanpei proclaims they must go to Hell's Valley to find and rescue their people. However, all paths are under tight security save for the mountain of their stone idol. With winter approaching, the villagers fear angering their god should they trespass over his mountain. Sanpei dies, and no one dares make the trek. Four intrepid youngsters decide to make the precarious trip in secret to save their fathers and family members from slavery. With their food supply gone, one of the boys dead, and two others near death, the last remaining child prays for salvation.

This last entry in the Majin trilogy may sound just as gloomy as the previous two, but it isn't. The tone is noticeably lighter, not to mention the budget was smaller than before. Even so, the filmmakers went an extra mile for the destruction-laced finale set in a wild snowstorm -- one of the few novel touches that's different. Lots of fire and explosions provide a nice color palette amidst the snowy landscape. But while they've added some things, even more are recycled from the previous features; so much so that it appears some of the same effects shots have been done over; or reused, but enhanced with snow effects. These include Majin knocking down a mountain to gain access to the villains stronghold; and his approach towards Arakawa's frightened soldiers. 

Aside from the impressive special effects, Majin's third revenge against samurai dictators has the least impact of the entire series. That's not to say the finale isn't a highlight, just that nothing that comes before it lends the conclusion the sort of significance Yasuda and Misumi's films did. Despite possessing a ton of potential for an adventure story, one of the major weaknesses is the script; which isn't too surprising considering these three films are almost exactly the same; and all being released in the same year. Imagine three FRIDAY THE 13TH movies all in the same year.

As similar as it is to the previous entries, this third movie is quite different in a few ways. Moreover, Tetsuro Yoshida's screenplay is the weakest of his works for these three films. Following suit with Toho's Godzilla series, that was, at this point, catering to kids, DAIMAJIN STRIKES BACK goes one better and makes four boys the main stars; and we spend lots of time with them as they walk up hills, cross mountains, rivers, and even treacherous chasms all the while being pursued by a trio of Arakawa's men. Virtually none of it is engaging, though. All the ingredients are here for a spirited adventure tale, but it's squandered on long scenes of the kids walking, or talking amongst themselves. Still, some might find this appealing.

Granted, Morita Fujiro's and Hiroshi Imai's photography is magnificent, capturing an array of natural vistas (as well as composites), but these scenes linger far too long, and the limited peril the boys find themselves in keeps the pace slow. You're left to count down the minutes till the giant genie awakens to dole out justice to the villains. Speaking of which... 

Barely any time is spent with the villains; and when we see them, they do suitably evil things like beatings, shootings and shoving slaves into sulfur pits; yet a disconnect remains since so much time is spent with the four boys instead. We never see them attack, or kidnap anyone, they've already done so when the film begins; we simply hear about it. These are cardboard bad guys who do bad guy things necessary to the plot -- but there's no emotional resonance behind their villainy. Again, the focus is squarely on the four boys.

To spice up an already tired concept, Yoshida tosses in an overseer for the god (Arakatsuma) -- a hawk that infrequently appears flying around overhead, and helps the kids out at one point. Like most everything else, the hawk is poorly implemented into the film. The wintery setting is a nice touch, and this helps with what little differentiation the filmmakers could amass. Allegedly a fourth movie was planned, but not sure what more could be done with the Majin character in this type of milieu. The first movie was predominantly set in and around forests and mountain terrain; the second moved much of the action (and the genie statue) to a water location; and the third sets things in the winter time, culminating in a snowstorm.

The film does try to be edgier by adding blood and some light gore, and the playful tone threatens derailment by the impending deaths of the kids. The first two movies were extremely dark and brooding, and this third go-round makes an effort, but the weak script betrays any attempt at a bleak atmosphere. Judging by all the kiddie footage, it would seem director Mori was either persuaded, or simply wasn't interested in keeping things consistently glum. The following year, Daiei's Gamera series would inch closer and closer into the realm of children's fantasy. In some ways, DAIMAJIN 3 was a trendsetter with its half-pint leads.

As with the previous movies, Chikara Hashimoto is the epitome of retribution via an angry stone idol brought to life. There's been some tinkering done to his character for the third, and final outing. The first time around, the mad Majin was essentially an uncontrollable force kept locked within an enormous stone idol -- the dark side of the villagers benevolent benefactor that didn't recognize who was good and who was evil; and was only stopped by the tears of the woman that called upon him. For part two, Majin was strictly a savior whose people pray into existence to save them, then return once the threat is quelled. In the third film, Majin is still mean, but like his daikaiju colleague Gamera, he has a fondness for children -- the very personification of innocence. In this movie, Majin has the power to bring the dead back to life. In addition, for the first, and only time in the trilogy, Majin unsheathes his sword as an instrument of his revenge.

Throughout the three films, Hashimoto was told to try and not blink when performing in costume. Blinking eyes are beneath an angry god, you see. With all the dirt, dust, fake snow, and assorted other irritants flying around during the finales of the three movies, to not blink must have been torture at times. You do catch Hashimoto blinking on a couple of occasions, but otherwise, he does an incredible job under the suit built by famous painter, monster modeler Ryosaku Takayama; and later modified by Ekisu Productions staff such as Gamera modeler, Murase Tsugizo.

Daiei's impending bankruptcy kept Majin encased within his stone bastion, preventing any further adventures by Daiei. The company's troubles weren't helped when an entire reel was ruined by accident and the footage had to be reshot. The film was released in Japan on December 10th, 1966 without a support feature. It never got a release of any kind -- theatrically, or on television -- in America. Perhaps in the near future, monster Majin will be resurrected once more to unleash his wrath, and trample evildoers under his heavy stone feet.

This review is representative of the Mill Creek blu-ray set.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.