The Giant Majin fills in on
Charlton Heston's day off.
A universal theme in movies is Don't Mess With the Native Gods. Time and time again, across all different types of films and cultures, cinematic evildoers fail to heed those words and suffer as a result. In Wrath of Daimajin (a.k.a. Return of the Giant Majin), yet another wrathful deity exacts a horrible revenge upon those who would mock the local object of worship.
Wrath of Daimajin is the second of three movies that feature the Giant Majin, a huge stone idol that comes to life and delivers primitive justice to those who would opress the innocent. The first movie, Daimajin (a.k.a. Majin, Monster of Terror), introduced the concept. In 18th century Japan, an evil lord enslaves a village in order to build a fortress. The lord mocks the villagers' belief in a stone idol that resides the nearby forest, and goes so far as to try to destroy it by having his men drive a spike into the idol's forehead. In a surprising twist, the idol bleeds and his men flee in terror. Soon, with some help of a prayer session by a local priestess, the idol comes to life and pops open a six-pack of whoop-ass on the lord's men and the lord's fortress. Majin climaxes his rampage by pulling the spike out of his head and pinning the lord to the ruins of his castle with it. Then, like the golem of Jewish legend, the Majin goes beserk before it is stopped with another prayer from the priestess. Afterwards the Majin disintegrates, never to be seen again...
Just kidding. Apparently the movie was a success, because Daiei made sure Wrath of Daimajin came out the same year as Daimajin. Wrath follows the same outline as the first film, but with a few more twists and turns.
In Wrath, the Majin idol has taken up residence on an island in the middle of a lake. The lake is surrounded by two countries, which we will call the Happy countries. They are just so darn happy. Everybody who lives in those countries is happy. Happy happy happy.
Near these two countries, but not bordering the lake, is the Unhappy country. Ruled by an evil lord, the Unhappy country's citizens (predictably enough) flee the Unhappy country as often as they can, and make their way to the Happy lands, where the lords are only too happy to take in the refugees. One day the evil lord decides to take over the Happy countries, and he sees a window of opportunity in a festival that the Happy countries hold every year to show just how darn happy they are.
After a hard day crushing evildoers,
Majin relaxes in the Jacuzzi.
What follows is a predictable samurai era drama. The good guys end up on the run. The bad guys chase them. There is a lot of running about and hiding. For some reason, people keep ending up back on the island with the statue. Eventually, the evil lord has his men blow up the statue with a lot of gunpowder. Majin's shattered remains end up at the bottom of the lake.
Also true to the samurai formula is the amount of melodrama in Wrath of Daimajin. Retainers sacrifice themselves so their masters can get away. Women swoon. Little kids cry. Lords proclaim their anger (our favorite proclamation was: "Resistance is futile!") and villagers are executed at the drop of a hat. Occasionally something paranormal happens, but such occurrences are met rather indifferently. (When a boat filled with bad guys is pulled under water in best felt-not-seen Jaws fashion, one of the main characters simply says, "They met our god. Ready to go?") All of this, however, is a mere preamble to the final fifteen minutes of the film, in which the Majin finally comes to life and, like his predecessor, inflicts some serious damage upon the evil lord and the surrounding landscape (which, you'll remember, is one of the Happy countries). All things considered, he's not a very considerate avenging god.
If this were Gappa, someone would be
patronizing the island boy in this shot.
Be warned, there is an awful lot of samurai drama, and very little city stomping by monsters in this film. Frankly, it would probably be best if you go into this film expecting no monster at all. However, the monster scenes that we do get are superb. The Majin is fairly small (50 feet tall or so, we'd guess) which allows for the models he interacts with to be very realistic. The Majin movies use a lot of optical effects so the Majin interacts quite a bit with the human characters, something you don't get even in some of the best Godzilla and Gamera films. The Majin scenes are also very imaginatively shot, with the sky itself taking on the angry aspects of the stone idol.
Wrath of Daimajin is probably one of the harder Japanese monster films to find, and most viewers of Godzilla films will probably find them of limited interest simply because there is so little monster footage. But if you're willing to put up with an hour of medieval Japanese drama to get to some pretty neat monster stuff, getting your hands on Wrath of Daimajin would probably be worth it.