Die-hard Kaiju fans may be familiar with the giant monster from an iconic 1966 movie, Daimajin. This movie has had a significant impact on kaiju movie makers over the years and the uniqueness of Daimajin is absolutely something that is worth exploring. Here we’ll get into the history of this movie, its cultural impact, and the themes and symbolism that are present in the film.
Kaiju movies feature giant monsters, usually depicted as the antagonist or anti-hero of the story. There’s thrilling action scenes, destruction of some famous city and its landmarks and everyone has a great time. Daimajin, directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda, is a unique kaiju movie that takes elements of the samurai film genre and combines that with supernatural themes. The movie revolves around a giant stone statue that comes to life to punish evildoers, protect the innocent, and restore justice. The film was released in 1966 and became a trilogy in the same year with the release of Return of Daimajin and Daimajin Strikes Again.
The history of kaiju movies & Daimajin as a unique kaiju movie
To really understand why this is a significant film you can look back to earlier kaiju movies. The beginnings of kaiju movies can be traced back to King Kong from 1933, an American movie that introduced the world to larger-than-life creatures. It was a smash hit. Then after the Second World war Godzilla came out of Japan and was an instant classic. The success of Godzilla spawned a run of giant monster movies from the 50s, into the 60s and beyond. New creatures such as Rodan (1956) and Mothra (1961) expanded the kaiju universe and ensured that this genre of film was here to stay.
The 60s brought with it a whole host of monster movies, this era saw the creation of the infamous Gamera, a giant turtle monster, and the aforementioned Daimajin. What sets Daimajin apart from the other kaiju movies is the way it combines elements of samurai films, period drama, and supernatural horror. This mix creates a unique and, somewhat, refreshing take on kaiju movies.
One of the most interesting parts of the movie is its setting. There’s no skyscrapers, Tokyo Tower or Empire State Building, the story takes place in feudal Japan sometime around the 16th century. The historical backdrop gives the story a new sense of authenticity and depth. This setting allows the movie to also explore feudalism, oppression and rebellion as well as giant monsters.
Our main character, Daimajin, also adds to the uniqueness of this kaiju movie. He’s not a giant monster from ancient times or a radioactive accident, he’s a supernatural, god-like being who comes alive from his statue form in order to vanquish evil and protect the innocent. At the time this would have captivated audiences in Japan who were used to seeing shrines and statues of deities, so they could easily relate to one of those coming to life to protect them. Daimajin’s protective nature, somewhat, sets him aside from other kaiju who are often, mainly, destructive forces.
Check out this Daimajin figure.
The cultural impact of Daimajin
Daimajin's unique approach to the kaiju genre resonated with audiences in Japan and beyond, making it a cultural phenomenon. The film's popularity led to the release of two sequels, solidifying Daimajin as a beloved character in the kaiju universe.
The film's themes of rebellion and justice struck a chord with viewers, as Daimajin represents the oppressed rising up against their oppressors. Its portrayal of a supernatural protector also tapped into the Japanese cultural belief in kami, or spirits, that reside in natural objects and can be invoked for protection.
Furthermore, Daimajin's design and aesthetic have left a lasting impression on the kaiju genre, with its stoic, imposing figure inspiring the creation of other stone-like monsters in later films. The film's fusion of samurai and supernatural elements has also paved the way for other movies that explore similar themes, showcasing the enduring influence of Daimajin on the genre.
Themes and symbolism in Daimajin
Daimajin is rich in thematic content and symbolism, which adds depth and complexity to its story. Justice is the theme that dominates the movie, Daimajin is brought to life to help the oppressed and serve as a force for good. This suits the movie’s setting as this period in Japan was marred by conflict and social upheaval.
Another prominent theme in Daimajin is the power of faith. The people in the film believe in the protective power of the stone statue, and their faith ultimately brings Daimajin to life. Japan is a spiritual country and this is something that also resonated with movie-goers at the time.
The villain of the movie is greedy, cruel and wants to become more powerful. Whilst other characters show compassion, loyalty and selflessness which is rewarded by Daimajin as the villain character is punished for his set of virtues in a symbol of divine retribution.
Comparing Daimajin to other iconic kaiju movies
When comparing Daimajin to other iconic kaiju movies, several key differences become apparent. The setting is very different compared with other kaiju movies. Modern city backdrops are replaced by 16th century Japan. It is really awesome to see a giant monster movie set in this era, it tightens the focus of the action and destruction because the buildings are not giant skyscrapers so you get to see more detailed destruction in these scenes.
Another significant difference is the moral alignment of the kaiju. In many kaiju movies, the monsters are portrayed as forces of nature that are indifferent to human suffering. In contrast, Daimajin is a force for justice that actively seeks to restore balance and punish evildoers.
However, there are also similarities between Daimajin and other kaiju movies that cannot be ignored. The epic battles between kaiju are a staple of the genre, and Daimajin is no exception. The film features thrilling action scenes that showcase the monster's immense strength and power.
Daimajin definitely stands out in terms of giant monster movies, there is nothing quite like it, and no monster that looks so creepy whilst being the good guy either.
The future of the kaiju genre
Will we ever get another kaiju movie featuring Daimajin? Unlikely. This unique movie was well-received in its time but with modern audiences with short attention spans, I can’t imagine a plodding kaiju like Daimajin would capture the imaginations of movie-goers today.
Part of the charm of older monster movies is the practical effects. Daimajin is not short of these. However, modern kaiju movies and tv series are resorting to using more and more CGI to make the action more dramatic and the monsters more fantastical.
So, we can all agree that this unique movie had a big impact on subsequent kajiu movies and japanese cinema in general. Its blend of themes and iconic action was a recipe for success on its release.
Daimajin is a lesser known kaiju, but when you delve into this trilogy of movies you will start to love this giant green man. You may also start to notice its influence on later kaiju movies whilst also appreciating the significant differences it has to those movies too.