Film Review: Return of Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Daimajin ikaru (original title), The Return of Giant Majin (US TV title), Majin (Spain)
Release Date: August 13th, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kenji Misumi
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kojiro Hongo, Shiho Fujimura, Taro Marui, Takashi Kanda

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 79 Minutes

Review:

Return of Daimajin was the second of three Daimajin movies, which were all filmed at the same time and were all released in Japan in the same year: 1966.

All the films have a very similar premise in that they see a giant, stone protector arrive to smash the hell out of tyrannical warlords who try to exploit the weak and the poor.

These are also period pieces and have the feel of a jidaigeki picture until the big demon monster shows up and essentially transforms these into kaiju movies in their third act.

Overall, I found this film’s story to be a bit weaker than the first picture but that was offset by the big finale, which I liked a lot more in this installment. I think a lot of that has to do with Daimajin literally parting the water like the Red Sea in the Bible and slowly walking towards the village full of tyrants, building tension and horror.

Also, the evil tyrant’s death was simply awesome.

I also thought that the special effects felt a bit more refined and perfected. The miniature work was solid and it holds up over fifty years later.

The action also played better and it was just cool seeing the big demon crush these scumbags while tearing down their town.

While at face value, this movie might just come across as “more of the same”, it’s the subtle differences that make it work. I guess it’s kind of like Friday the 13th movies where they follow a predictable formula in the same type of setting but if you’re a fan of the films, you don’t care and each one just has something special and unique within it.

Most people probably won’t dig these movies and that’s fine. However, for kaiju cinema fans that haven’t experienced any of these, you really should check them out.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.

Film Review: Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Majin (France, US), Majin the Monster of Terror, The Devil Got Angry, Majin the Hideous Idol, Majin the Stone Samurai, The Vengeance of the Monster (US alternative titles)
Release Date: April 17th, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Miwa Takada, Yoshihiko Aoyama, Jun Fujimaki, Ryutaro Gomi

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 84 Minutes

Review:

The Daimajin trilogy is mostly forgotten today. Many fans of kaiju and tokusatsu flicks haven’t even seen or heard of the movie. There are several kaiju film friends I’ve met online over the years that were actually introduced to these movies by yours truly. However, I didn’t know about them either until I came across some photos of the movie’s monster online in the late ’00s.

I bought the American Blu-ray set when it came out around 2012 or so and since then, I’ve developed a really deep appreciation for these movies due to their uniqueness and coolness.

They’re not traditional kaiju movies and I guess you could even debate whether or not they even fit the kaiju genre, as they play more like a jidaigeki with heavy fantasy elements. Plus, the monster is just a giant stone statue that occasionally comes to life to crush tyrants and their minions.

My brain categorizes it as a kaiju flick, though, as ever since seeing this, I’ve always thought about how this film’s big stone demon would fare against Godzilla, Gamera and other well-known giant monsters if he were scaled up to a similar size.

The story here is simple and it’s pretty much the same for all three movies despite the smaller details. A tyrant in feudal Japan does bad shit and draws the ire of this angry god, who feasts on the sounds of the crunching bones of a tyrannical army.

Daimajin doesn’t say anything but his presence is greatly feared as he is simply a force of nature in the form of a stone man, cleansing the Japanese countryside of scumbags. He’s unrelenting and will not stop until small corrupt empires are flattened and crushed.

The story that leads up to the monster coming to life in this movie is pretty good. It filled in the blanks nicely and made you have an emotional connection to the people being victimized by the evil bastards that deserved their fate.

I love this movie, the film series and the monster. This is one of the coolest kaiju film series of all-time and frankly, it deserves a lot more recognition than it gets. These are much better movies than what’s typical in the kaiju genre.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.

Film Review: Gamera: Super Monster (1980)

Also known as: Uchu kaijû Gamera (original Japanese title), Phoenix Dominator (Belgium), Space Monster Gamera, Gamera 80 (alternative titles)
Release Date: March 20th, 1980 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Niisan Takahashi
Music by: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Cast: Mach Fumiake, Yaeko Kojima, Yoko Komatsu, Keiko Kudo, Koichi Maeda, Toshie Takada

Daiei Film, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Space ship Zanon is about to attack. Even Gamera is not powerful enough to stop it. You must find some way. You must!” – Giruge, “Sister, you’ll be all right!” – Keiichi, “Thank you, boy. If it’s true we are reincarnated after we die, then I should be born here again. Goodbye.” – Giruge

This seems to be the one Gamera film that people vehemently hate. I don’t, however. But I’ll explain why that hatred exists and why I don’t feel the same.

One has to understand that this did come out when Daiei was in financial peril. Because of that, they revisited a plan that bailed them out once before. This plan saw them create a new movie in their successful Gamera franchise but in an effort to make it as cheaply as possible and to maximize profits, they reused monster fight footage from previous films and wrote the story around that in an effort to make it work, narratively.

So we’re essentially stuck with the second “best of” Gamera movie just a few years after the first one.

However, this one is better than the previous attempt and that has to do with how ridiculous and cool the story was that tied this great mess together.

To start, it recycled elements of the previous “best of” and had an alien threat summon all the monsters of Gamera’s past to do battle with the giant turtle. With that, Gamera has suspiciously familiar battles with foes we’ve seen before and they all go suspiciously the same way. I do like the alien warship in this, though, as it is a deliberate ripoff of the Imperial Star Destroyers from the first Star Wars movie. In fact, this film even replicates the opening shot of A New Hope.

The grand finale, after all villain monsters are destroyed, sees Gamera take on the faux Star Destroyer.

Additionally, the film has a wacky plot about these three alien sisters that have a van that transforms into some spaceship thing that looks like a glowing yellow ball. They do weird dance movies, terrible karate and try to help this film’s annoying little kid, who is really only there to scream encouragement at Gamera.

The weirdness doesn’t end there, however. This film strangely splices in footage from to legendary Leiji Matsumoto animes Space Battleship Yamato a.k.a Star Blazers and Galaxy Express 999. Why this was done, I have no f’n idea but these two animated shows were immensely popular at the time.

It’s all this batshit craziness that makes me love this movie, though. I can’t help myself. This, to me, is just so damn bonkers I can’t not love it. And man, it just feels like pure, cheesy tokusatsu of the greatest caliber, especially for its time.

In my heart and in my head, I know that Gamera: Super Monster is a terrible film. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a smorgasbord of wonderful, entertaining shit.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the other classic era Gamera films.

Film Review: Gamera vs. Viras (1968)

Also known as: Gamera tai uchu kaijû Bairasu (original Japanese title), Gamera vs. Bairus (alternative spelling), Destroy All Planets, Gamera vs. Outer Space Monster Viras (US alternative titles)
Release Date: March 20th, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Niisan Takahashi
Music by: Kenjiro Hirose
Cast: Kojiro Hongo, Toru Takatsuka, Carl Craig

Daiei Studios, 90 Minutes (TV cut), 81 Minutes (theatrical cut)

Review:

“Attention all spaceship crew members. Attention all spaceship crew members. Gamera has been located. He’s at the bottom of the ocean. Prepare to attack at once. Activate the super catch ray.” – Doctor A

This Gamera film is really a mixed bag but due to the behind the scenes troubles that Toei was dealing with at the time, their shortcuts in this film are somewhat excusable and the new stuff is pretty enjoyable for a Gamera picture.

What I’m referring to is that the studio was in financial trouble and they needed to make some money to stay afloat. The biggest money maker for them was the Gamera film series but since money was tight, this picture reuses footage from previous ones.

So on one hand, this plays like a Gamera’s Greatest Battles compilation while also providing a new, cool alien threat and an awesome kaiju creature for Gamera to fight in the final act.

From my youth, this was the Gamera movie that always stuck out in my memories, as the set design of the alien ship was just f’n cool. It’s pretty simplistic and just uses triangular screens and flashing light panels but it’s surrealness just burned into my brain. Plus, the outside design of the alien ship is cool and I always wanted a toy of it.

I also liked the monster Viras, who was essentially just a space squid with a sharp, pointed head and the ability to fly.

The plot is wonky as shit and the overall production is cheap and noticeable, even for a Gamera picture.

Still, this isn’t a bad way to waste some time, especially if you’re a kaiju fan and haven’t seen this one.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other classic era Gamera films.

Film Review: Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)

Also known as: Gamera tai Daimaju Jaiga (original Japanese title), Gamera vs. Monster X (US TV title), Monsters Invade Expo ’70, War of the Monsters, Gamera vs. Giger (alternate worldwide English titles)
Release Date: March 21st, 1970 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Nisan Takahashi
Music by: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Cast: Tsutomu Takakuwa, Kelly Varis, Katherine Murphy

Daiei Motion Picture Company, 82 Minutes

Review:

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a Gamera movie but I do have a few left from the original run of films that I haven’t yet reviewed. I already did all the movies that were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 but there are still three left that never made it on that show.

This one is mostly more of the same but it does have an interesting bit where Gamera, after a defeat, is essentially dead with a pale head. His body is left half submerged in the bay near the World Expo ’70 site, a world’s fair type of festival that takes centerstage in this movie.

With Gamera out of commission, two kids use a small submarine to enter his mouth and try to resuscitate him. While in there, they have to survive the heroic mission while outwitting killer parasites in the giant creature’s body. It’s weird, it’s neat and it’s pretty cool if you’re a fan of this sort of awesome cheese.

Other than that, there’s not much more to say. Everything is on par with the other sequels but this at least stays afloat and has an edge over some of the other chapters because of the sequence with the kids inside of Gamera’s body.

All in all, a decent flick for Gamera fans but if you’re not a diehard kaiju or tokusatsu viewer, you’ll probably be scratching your head for eighty-two minutes.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other classic era Gamera films.

Film Review: Dead or Alive (1999)

Also known as: Dead or Alive: Hanzaisha (original title), D.O.A. (short title)
Release Date: November 5th, 1999 (Tokyo International Film Festival)
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Ichiro Ryu
Music by: Kōji Endō
Cast: Riki Takeuchi, Show Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi

Daiei Film, Toei Video, Excellent Film, 105 Minutes

Review:

“My father was a small-village cop in a town where nothing ever happened. He just hung around like a scarecrow, until he died. But like they say – even a scarecrow keeps away the sparrows.” – Detective Jojima

People often ask me, “Hey, did you see that new Takashi Miike film?!” And my usual response is, “No.” People that know that I’m a hardcore film aficionado just assume that I like everything weird and strange out there but Miike’s movies have never really resonated with me and this one is no different.

Now that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate the film. I respect lots of things that aren’t my cup of tea because a person doesn’t have to like everything just for the fact that others see value in it or just because it has some sort of merit or special quality that makes it unique or influential.

I understand why Miike’s films resonate with some people, just as I understand why David Lynch is so beloved, even if most of his films don’t hit me in the same way. But I also know that directors with really strange oeuvres have die hard fans that love everything they do almost blindly. Miike fans are very much like that, especially ones in the Western Hemisphere.

Dead or Alive is beloved by many but I just see it as a knockoff of old school Japanese Yakuza and Hong Kong crime films with a bunch of crazy shit thrown into it to gross people out without a real reason for it to exist other than shock value.

Now I think that Riki Takeuchi and Show Aikawa gave good performances and they deserve the recognition they received in these sort of films but lots of capable actors give capable performances in movies beneath their talent level.

I guess the only way I can describe this is that it’s like Infernal Affairs or The Departed if they were made by Troma and with Japanese dialogue.

Like other Miike films, a bunch of crazy, nonsensical shit happens with really fucked up curveballs thrown at your head pretty violently. Here we get a girl fucking a dog, a stripper drowned in a kiddie pool of diarrhea, a man snorting a 30 foot line of cocaine and a big finale that doesn’t make you suspend disbelief, it just shows you that you’re an idiot for thinking that you could.

This is a movie for people who want to relish in super violent, gross shit. This is the cinematic equivalent to poop munching porn. People will argue for the artistic merit of this film and Miike’s creative choices but I’m sure there’s someone that gets paid to analyze psych ward hieroglyphics that a mental patient finger-painted with their own feces.

Yet, Miike is pretty good at making this feel like one long, overly surreal music video. So props on the editing, I guess. Except for the middle of the film where things slow down to a brutally boring crawl.

I don’t want to completely trash Miike because he is capable of making good movies but I just don’t understand how and why this became a beloved film.

Dead or Alive was actually my introduction to Miike around the turn of the century. It didn’t set a good precedent and I do think that it has made me biased against his later work but I do think that Audition was a good movie and Ichi the Killer certainly felt more refined and accented his style better.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Takashi Miike films that focus on crime or the Yakuza.

Film Review: Rashômon (1950)

Release Date: August 26th, 1950 (Japan)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Akira Kurosawa
Based on: In a Grove by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
Music by: Fumio Hayasaka
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyō, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki

Daiei Film, 88 Minutes

Review:

“It’s human to lie. Most of the time we can’t even be honest with ourselves.” – Commoner

Kurosawa is one of the best filmmakers of all-time. I have a deep admiration for a lot of his pictures. However, Rashômon isn’t at the top of my list, even though it really brought him worldwide notoriety and won an Academy Award.

It’s still a really good film but I always gravitated to his action heavy samurai epics like Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood and Yojimbo or his crime films like Stray Dog and Drunken Angel. But this film is still very engaging and maybe more intimate than the others, as it has a very small cast and really just focuses on a single event.

The purpose of the film is to tell the story of this event from four different perspectives. Kurosawa did this because he wanted to show how different interpretations can greatly vary. Also, within that, Kurosawa wanted to show how memory or bias can sway factual accuracy.

Initially, Japanese critics weren’t too fond of the film and they were a bit baffled when Western audiences praised it. Ultimately, this film opened the gates for Japanese cinema, as it was now being appreciated by audiences across the world.

The film deals with some heavy subject matter, especially for 1950. The story deals with the rape of a woman and the apparent murder of her husband. I don’t really think that this is a film that could have been made in America, at the time. I also think that its gritty realism is what caught audiences by surprise and captivated them, as Hollywood films were typically so clean and pristine. Even the grittiest of film-noir pictures didn’t get this dark.

Historically, this is one of the most important foreign films of all-time. It paved the way for other directors and new genres that made their way to the States. It allowed Kurosawa to have the respect and freedom to make better films, some of which became the best movies ever made.

I don’t want to take anything away from this. It’s doesn’t necessarily resonate with me like a lot of Kurosawa’s other work but I can’t deny it’s place in history, its influence and the great craftsmanship it took to bring it to life.

Also, the sequence where the dead husband speaks through a medium is legitimately creepy. I did love that part of the film.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Kurosawa films of the late ’40s and early ’50s.

Book Review: ‘The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films’ by John LeMay

I am a big fan of John LeMay’s first two big books on kaiju film history, so when I found out about this one, I had to get a copy.

The subject of this installment also really peaked my interest, as I already knew a lot about existing kaiju pictures but this book was all about the lost films in the genre. It looks at films that were actually made but are now lost or destroyed, films that went into production but were never made, alternate versions of films that were scrapped, as well as some fan produced movies.

This is one of the best books I have ever read on the kaiju genre and it is certainly a must own for kaiju fans. It was just stacked with so much information on films that the vast majority of people have never heard about. It truly digs deep and fleshes out all these kaiju pictures that were lost or just not meant to be.

With a third book on the subject, John LeMay, in my opinion, has become the best English speaking writer on these types of films. I can’t imagine how much time was devoted to researching all the titles covered here. There are literally dozens of films discussed and analyzed with a few appendices added on at the end for dozens more where he wasn’t able to get enough info to write up anything larger than a blurb.

I have always been a big fan of “what ifs”, especially in regards to movies. This book is cool as hell and a lot of fun. LeMay deserves a ton of props for the work that went into this. I hope it pays off, in that this book lives on for years to come.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

Release Date: April 12th, 1962 (Japan)
Directed by: Kenji Misumi
Written by: Minoru Inuzuka
Based on: The Tale of Zatoichi by Kan Shimozawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Masayo Banri, Ryuzo Shimada, Hajime Mitamura, Shigeru Amachi

Daiei Motion Picture Company, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Then why don’t you live a decent life?” – Tane, “It’s like being stuck in a bog; it’s not easy to pull yourself out once you’ve fallen in.” – Zatoichi

The Zatoichi films are movies I have heard about for a really long time thanks to having friends that are big fans of jidaigeki pictures. Unfortunately, I have never seen any of them until now. It is a pretty big injustice that I have to rectify and absolve myself of. But since I have the Criterion Channel, I now have access to twenty-five of these pictures. So why not start with the first?

This film introduces audiences to the character of Zatoichi, a blind masseur and master swordsman. He is hired by a yakuza boss named Sukegoro, who thinks that his skills will come in handy due to an oncoming war with a rival gang led by Shigezo. Shigezo responds by hiring a legendary ronin, Miki Hirate.

The film shows that Zatoichi is very humble and because of this and his low social stature, he is often times underestimated by the men around him. Zatoichi also shows that he uses his handicap to his advantage, as he turns the tables on those trying to take advantage of his blindness.

It is revealed that Zatoichi’s rival Hirate is ill with tuberculosis. This makes Hirate eager to fight Zatoichi because he feels that death at the hands of a great warrior is a better fate than dying of his illness. All the while, Hirate and Zatoichi develop a strong bond and friendship, leading up to their confrontation.

The film’s story plays out really well and it is actually quite stellar and builds up to something great, as you reach the climax. This is of course enhanced by the talent of the main actors and the quality of the film from a technical standpoint.

For 1962, this is one of the best Daiei films I have seen, up to this point. Hell, it is one of the best Daiei films, period. It is also cool seeing that Daiei had this jidaigeki franchise alongside their more famous kaiju pictures, just as their rival studio Toho had Kurosawa’s jidaigeki epics alongside their Godzilla franchise.

I’m not sure how well the quality maintains over the course of this long film series but it was off to a good start with this picture. I can assume it will go the route of James Bond or Godzilla, where quality tends to taper off but you still get an occasional high point, here and there.

Rating: 8/10

Book Review: ‘The Kaiju Film: A Critical Study of Cinema’s Biggest Monsters’ by Jason Barr

Jason Barr’s The Kaiju Film: A Critical Study of Cinema’s Biggest Monsters is really a mixed bag. It is a book I tried to like and get behind but ultimately, couldn’t.

It comes with several great reviews on Amazon but I guess I’m in the minority here.

The book is essentially a theoretical analysis of kaiju films throughout history. The author uses all kinds of examples to support his theories on the deeper meaning of all these films and how they change with the times. He covers politics, weapons of mass destruction, economics, foreign affairs, etc.

The problem is that the author just reads way too far into these films. Most people who are fans of the original Godzilla film understand the meaning behind it and the warnings it presents. However, most kaiju film after that were purely entertainment. Japanese culture certainly sprinkles in their philosophy and their view on life in many of these films but Barr digs so deep it feels like we are left to bear witness to him trying to make his theories stick.

It reminds me a lot of how conspiracy theorists over analyze things for so long that they can make anything into a conspiracy without much evidence and just a lot of theorizing and speculation. I feel like a lot of this book is cherry picking to fit the conclusions that Barr wants to make. It reminds me of Room 237, that conspiratorial documentary on The Shining, where the bulk of the rhetoric just seems like academic babbling.

Also, Barr takes sides on some of the issues and paints a picture that supports his stance. He also presents his theoretical analysis as if he is speaking factually and not simply theorizing.

In the end, most of these movies were made to capitalize on the kaiju craze of the 1960s. Many of the non-Toho films were just poor ripoffs of Gojira (the original Godzilla film). I just can’t buy into the idea that the writers, directors and producers sat down and tried to stuff so much political and social consciousness into these films, as Barr implies.

Rating: 4/10