Arrow Films released a very nice collection of the Daimajin films in 2021, and I have since watched two of the three. They’re honestly extremely interesting entries into the giant monster/tokusatsu milieu because they run with a lot of ideas that I feel would in turn turn into super robot anime tropes, and well worth a watch. I think it’s fair to say they’re both very different to a lot of monster disaster films but also much more thematically similar than you might immediately expect.
What made Daimajin seem interesting to me was the fact it was a series set in the past; this both changes a lot and very little. The draw is still the slow build to a climax of monster action, only here there is even less meaningful resistance to a giant statue tearing buildings down – this is not a world of science and superweapons, of high technology versus nature, it is one of humans unable to stand before a vengeful supernatural. This is not a fight to watch, it is simply destruction until the work is done. This hardly feels a place to discuss the philosophy of watching action or disaster films, or the nature of catharsis, but there is something key to Daimajin that gives its action purpose beyond spectacle. The arc of each of the first two films is simple. A ruler oversteps the bounds of decency and diplomacy, disrespects the divine, and faces divine retribution. Immediately there is a direct moral arc here – higher powers exist and will tear down those who build themselves up by evil, in order to save those who are good and restore good rule.
Is this fundamentally too different to the idea of the kaiju as an instrument of nature trying to stop the abuses of man, or the idea that a disaster of any sort is the galvanising factor in showing the weakness of government and even humanity? In a society where faith is an important part of daily life, the idea that some higher, directable but not controllable power will step in to address imbalances in that society feels to me just as true to the themes of the disaster or monster movie as anything else. The Daimajin comes from its temple, a holy statue taken life to serve as the agent of god, punishes sinners and disappears, its work done and its miracle provided. This is key to the films’ structure; at any time the villains can simply stop, accept the tenets of their faith and not oppose the divine, they do not, and so the divine makes them. I think the direct spirituality of this – as opposed to ideas of science and the extraterrestrial as unknowable – is what I like most. Arrow films’ summaries of the films compare them to the story of the Golem and that’s very apt.
But there is another angle to this, a realisation that perhaps everyone else in the world had before me. Daimajin is about a big statue that has weirdly supernatural powers, emerges from water and sometimes a giant rocky face in a cliff on a remote island, and smites some evil before going home. It’s not a million miles from a super robot and I think watching the films made me draw the direct aesthetic line from statues in Japanese temples to certain mecha designs. I found myself thinking most, in terms of how Daimajin acts as a super robot, of Giant Gorg which has an extremely similar aesthetic and is a largely unmanned, autonomous agent of justice on an island that is being overrun by the modern equivalent of the unscrupulous local lord – the corrupt CEO. But the emerging from a statue part speaks to me of Raideen, the emerging from water and the more abstract aesthetic is very Mazinger, and you could go on easily. Indeed, Mazinger is described as both god and devil, and while it is piloted and the product of science it is – at least in some incarnations – deep in its own mysticism.
All in all, give Daimajin a go; at the very least it is an interesting, aesthetically impressive take on the giant monster movie with some tropes of horror intersecting with a religious parable about the consequences of sin – but you may well find more in its slow building menace, its building sense of rot in the society depicted that is torn apart by a creature at the boundary of technology and human craft and the divine.