The Daimajin Trilogy Arrow Video Blu-Ray Review – Iconic Stone Warrior Unleashes Some Vengeance

In Daimajin, directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda (Yokai Monsters, Zatoichi on the Road), the young son and daughter of the benevolent feudal lord Hanabusa flee to the mountains when their parents are slain by the treacherous usurper Odate. Ten years later, when the elderly priestess who has harbored them is also murdered, the rage of the slumbering ancient god that lies beneath the crumbling giant stone idol hidden deep in the forests in the mountains is invoked. In Return of Daimajin, Kenji Misumi (Tale of Zatoichi, Lone Wolf and Cub) brings his usual stylistic flourish, as the wrathful deity is roused from his new home on an island in the middle of a lake by the violent incursions of a vicious warlord. In the final film, Wrath of Daimajin, by veteran jidaigeki director Kazuo Mori, four young boys make a perilous trip to elicit the help of the ancient mountain god in freeing their family members who have been enslaved by a tyrannical lord. Remarkably overlooked in the West, these three thrilling tales of feudal oppression and divine retribution meted out by the iconic stone warrior of the title combine lavish period detail with jaw-dropping special effects.

For thoughts on The Daimajin Trilogy, please check out our discussion on The Video Attic: 

Video Quality

The Daimajin Trilogy comes to Blu-Ray with three films spread over three discs. These films share a lot of the same qualities, so I will mostly be judging them as a group while pointing out any noticeable differences when necessary. Masters prepared by the Kadokawa Corporation for these three Japanese films were provided to Arrow Video, who performed original grading and restoration. Overall, these transfers represent a mostly enjoyable experience in terms of quality. None of the presentations in this set represents a flawless effort, but the quality is perfectly solid across the board. Every film suffers from some minor form of print damage and other source anomalies, mostly when it comes to the optical shots. On the whole, there is not much to object to here. 

All three films offer a comparable experience that I would deem to be quite good, but they have small issues that should not be overlooked. It should be noted that these three films were previously released by Mill Creek Entertainment, but even without seeing those releases it is with great confidence that I can presume these transfers are much better just from a compression standpoint. The films handle the basics fairly well such as color saturation, but not every moment is popping off the screen. Fine detail should be ranked as middling to strong with some scenes presenting as soft in some shots. As mentioned, the films do still exhibit a bit of wear and tear, and some misty moments reveal weakness when it comes to chunky compression artifacts. These films occasionally suffer from instances of black crush or lack of detail in the darkest scenes. Overall these three films are pleasing, but having 4K restorations for all of them would have been even better. Even so, Arrow Video has done a wonderful job with this collection. 

Audio Quality

This Blu-Ray set presents Daimajin with a LPCM 1.0 mono track, while Return Of Daimajin and Wrath of Daimajin are provided with DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio Mono tracks in both the original Japanese and English dubs. As per the usual, we recommend the original Japanese tracks for artistic purity, but we know some have a nostalgic soft spot for the English dub. Dialogue is very clear and easily distinguishable throughout this set of films. They employ some atmospheric sound effects in the mix that thankfully do not get muddled even at the most active. The score maintains a solid fidelity among these titles, although there does appear to be instances of age related wear and tear at the highest amplitudes. All three have moments that can sound a bit harsh, but this is mostly an issue when it comes to the music. The Japanese tracks seem to have an overall better sound quality compared to the English-language tracks. All three films included in this set have optional English subtitles provided. This series is not an audio powerhouse, but it mostly gets the job done in a pleasing way. 

Special Features

Disc One – Daimajin

  • Audio Commentary: Japanese film expert Stuart Galbraith IV provides a pretty great commentary track in which he helps put the film into a historical context, discusses how the film came about, where Daiei studios was at the time of this project’s creation, background details on the cast and crew, the locations utilized during production, the special effects and much more. There are also some great comments included from actor Yoshihiko Aoyama from a phone interview conducted in 2001 which helps bring some personal insights to the track. 
  • Introduction By Kim Newman: A 15-minute conversation with the film critic in which he discusses the Daimajin trilogy, the variations that each feature give to the standard story, the legacy of this character, the misnomer of the “hero” due to distribution, how it fits into the kaiju genre, the themes of these narratives and more. 
  • Bringing The Avenging God To Life: A 17-minute video essay from Japanese film historian Ed Godziszewski which dives into the special effects of the film including the initial one-foot model crafted for both versions of the figure, as well as the life-size model that was built with functionality in mind. The fact that this model still survives feels like something of a miracle, and it is very impressive what the creative team was able to accomplish at this time. Other effects are also discussed such as the transformation scene and more which are very enlightening. 
  • Alternate Credits: This disc provides minute-long credits for Majin, The Monster Of Terror in 1.33 and 2.35 aspect ratios. 
  • Trailers: This disc provides the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:32), Daimajin & Gamera vs. Barugon Double Feature Trailer (1:14), US TV Spot (1:07) and the Alternate US TV Spot(1:07).
  • Image Gallery: A collection of stills, behind-the-scenes photos and marketing material is provided here. 

Disc Two – Return Of Daimajin

  • Audio Commentary: Japanese film experts Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp provide a pretty informative commentary track in which they discuss their experience with this trilogy, help put the film into a historical context, discusses the filmography of the director, the state of Daiei studios at the time of this project, background details on the cast and crew, the marketing of the film, how it compares to similar films of the time, the special effects and much more. 
  • My Summer Holidays With Daimajin: A 34-minute interview with Professor Yoneo Ota, director of the Toy Film Museum, Kyoto Film Art Culture Research Institute, in which he talks a bit about the museum’s archival process before discussing his experiences as an production assistant in his early days, the production of the Daimajin films at Daiei Kyoto, maintaining the legacy of Daimajin within the studio, the special effects, inventive filmmaking techniques, the narratives and more. 
  • Alternate Credits: This disc provides minute-long credits for Return Of Giant Majin in 1.33 and 2.35 aspect ratios. 
  • Original Theatrical Trailer: This disc provides the two-minute trailer. 
  • US TV Spot: This disc provides the minute-long US TV Spot
  • Storyboards
    • From Storyboard To Screen – Bringing Return Of Daimajin To Life: A four-minute which compares the filmed versions of key scenes to the storyboard versions. 
    • Storyboard Selection: An image gallery of storyboard is provided here. 
  • Image Gallery: A collection of stills, behind-the-scenes photos and marketing material is provided here. 

Disc Three – Wrath Of Daimajin

  • Audio Commentary: Asian historian Jonathan Clements provides a pretty enlightening commentary track in which he delves into the creative uncertainty of the franchise, the tone of the film, the behind-the-scenes turmoil, background details on the cast and crew, the historical details within the narrative, the creative team and much more. This is arguably the juiciest of the three commentary tracks in this set and is well worth seeking out.  
  • Interview with Fujio Morita: A truly fantastic 88-minute conversation with cinematographer Fujio Morita in which he discusses his early childhood interest in the filmmaking process, his journey to working in the industry, the evolution of filmmaking techniques, the transition from monochrome to color, his career at Daiei, his work on the Daimajin Trilogy, his experimentation with different aspect ratios and special effects techniques, and so much more that makes this an invaluable piece of film history. 
  • Original Theatrical Trailer: This disc provides the two-and-a-half-minute trailer. 
  • Original Teaser Trailer: This disc provides the minute-long teaser trailer. 
  • Image Gallery: A collection of stills, behind-the-scenes photos and marketing material is provided here. 

 

Final Thoughts

The Daimajin Trilogy is a really fun time that should delight anyone with a soft spot for kaiju or other larger-than-life forces swooping in to save the day. The storytelling can admittedly become a bit repetitive over the course of these three films, as the only thing that really changes are the specifics of the oppressed people and the season in which the smackdown takes place. The first hour of each of these features have their interesting moments that stand proudly alongside other classic samurai films, but the final 25-minute battle is what makes this set worth the price of admission. Arrow Video has bundled these three films together into a Blu-Ray collection featuring a strong A/V presentation and some worthwhile features. We are living in an exciting time when all of these old gems previously only experienced in poor cable quality have been provided with renewed life.  Highly Recommended 

The Daimajin Trilogy is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray.

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Arrow Video has supplied a copy of this set free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.