Thursday, October 24, 2013

Repetition is the Soul of Wit: The Return of Daimajin

The Return of Daimajin is the sequel to Daimajin, the second of three films released by Daiei in 1966. In keeping with the middle film always being the darkest, The Return of Daimajin starts with a peasant massacre. Serfs attempting to leave the land of Lord Mikoshiba are caught and cut down. This sets the tone for the rest of the film. Lord Mikoshiba is an evil lord, oppressing his serfs, plotting to conquer the other prosperous, happier kingdoms surrounding his.

Maybe the root cause of their production problems is destruction of the means of production.

Daimajin is no longer at the top of a waterfall, but now in in an island. I can't tell if this is supposed to tbe the same statue/spirit. It looks the same, but it has been on the island long enough that there is a legend concerning it. If the statue's face ever turns red, the kingdom will fall. Of course, early in the film, his face turns red. Lord Mikoshiba is a scoundrel with an evil laugh in the same way that Lord Odate from the original Daimajin was. He takes over the surrounding locations with little difficulty, because he is ruthless. And while the peaceful lord warns of the vengeance of Daimajin, Daimajin is slow to fury. A lot of unpleasant things happen before he rouses himself. He doesn't even get angry when the evil lord sets black powder at his feet, tumbling the statue's head into the ocean.

Daimajin's statue head flies through the air.

I understand that this makes the evil lord more evil, but Daimajin's long delay before getting to work makes him look either apathetic or weak. After the statue is destroyed, lightning strikes and the water boils red, but the show stops short of doing harm. In the last film, the beginning of Daimajin's rage was when they they drove a spike into his statue. This time, they destroy him, and he still doesn't take much action.

And BOOM goes the statue!

Moer than in the previous film, we are rpesented with Christian imagery. Lady Sayuri is crucified and the straw below her lit in fire because one way of dying just isn't enough for evil Lord Mikoshiba. Only when her tears fall does Daimajin rouse himself, with eighteen minutes left in the film. He parts the waters of the lake, again harking back to The Ten Commandments.

Lady Sayuri as the offering to God, Daimajin

Suck on THAT, Heston!

There's a little more complexity to the plot, compared to the previous Daimajin, and it's riddled with samurai film melodrama and cliche. In one innovation, Lord Mikoshiba, after watchng bullets bounce off the stone statue, threatens one of his prisoners. Daimajin solves this by commanding the wind, which knocks the evil lord off his feet. Mikoshiba also tries laying boxes of black powder before the advancing statue and blowing them up. It doesn't work, either.

Still going to kick your ass with my giant stone boot.

Daimajin diplays more of his poetic irony. Evil Lord Mikoshiba tries to get away in a boat, but Daimajin sets it on fire. Mikoshiba ends up tangled cruciform in the rigging, of a burning boat, echoing the burning crucifiction he tried to inflict on Lady Sayuri. Once this is done, Daimajin is satisfied. The Lady weeps another tear, and Daimajin returns to his statue form, then dissolves into water.

Oh the ironicalness of being rope-crucified to a boat when you were doing that to the nice lady who is the white-robed Christ figure!

The Return of Daimajin breaks little new ground. The script has the same outline as the previous film. Evil lord takes over the land of the good people who propriated Daimajin. the people are abused, and the tear of a pure woman awakens the statue to wreak vengeance on the bad people. The first Damiajin, directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda, was more interested in the creature. Daimajin was dynamic, nowhere more so than when he shifted his attention. The turn of the suit actor's head indicated that the devastating statue was moving in a different direction, and that a new group of samurai was about to be wrecked. In Return of Daimajin, Daimajin just marches toward the camera. So I find it less satisfying, especially since the god allows the abuse and cruelty to go on so much longer.

Next week, the last of the Daimajin trilogy.

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