Return of Daimajin returns more than the title character to the screen. Daei’s penman Tetsuro Yoshida recycles the concept of warring samurai invading villages, chopping down statues, and recklessly angering a vengeful god. Even the finale, which depicts the visually spectacular giant playing “destroy the Legos” with a miniature city, recalls the struggle of the first film. Villains tie the god with ropes instead of chains, and the end result is double the destruction from the dangling cords.
All three Daimajin films were done within a year, and here lies the middle child, rushed through without much thought. The gimmick here to liven up the material is water. Residential zoning has placed the statue on a small island between two lively societies. This allows for destruction and death before the grand reveal closes the film. Boats are ripped asunder with no more than a disturbed water surface, and invisible scares shake the core of the villainous forces under Lord Mikoshiba.
That movement under the surface keeps Daimajin in the limelight, more than a static statue. It alleviates the skimpy script work that fails to establish a dominating villain, leaving the narrative dry. Mikoshiba’s dastardly plot involves the killing of other leaders, but it’s all superficial until the close. Daimajin takes notice as a female is burned at the stake, rising from his sea lair to stop the innocent slaughter.
Order is irrelevant in this series. Watch them as you wish; each will carry the same mystique and wonder along with a different director. There are no connecting points beyond genre and theme, a set-up that should deliver unique concepts and ideas. In this ’60s environment, with the genre reaching a popularity crescendo, it’s obvious that wasn’t ideal to bottom lines.
It should be made clear that Return isn’t a clumsy film or low rent. It’s put together with a sharp eye for miniature photography, loads itself with visual effects, and makes the most of a cave set where Daimajin’s statue resides. The somber tone, panicked villagers, and dominating Ikira Ifukube score are fantastic in giving Daimajin a sense of identity even when it’s cloning itself. It feels lavish and highly budgeted with a tone that in this genre, is strictly its own. Return is absolutely worth a watch, but chances are as a fan, you’ve been here before.
Mill Creek gives Return plenty of digital space despite doubling it up with the first Daimajin. This one is a definite challenge. Moist interiors collect and form fog banks, while superimposed haze is glazed across the image. That’s rough on compression, and Return’s grain structure is certainly weighing heavy on the image. Despite those elements struggling, the film is never broken down into a series of blocks, and grain – for the most part – looks like grain. It’s hard to penalize material like this under such conditions.
Return benefits from brightly lit photography, limiting the downward effects of gray and blue black levels. Most scenes are filmed during the day, and much of the nighttime work is handled in the first act. Struggles may be evident against black rocks inside the constantly used cave set, although it allows for some appreciation of the texture work applied. This is an easily spotted studio set as a fleeing samurai grabs a little too tight and bends the framework in one shot. Oops.
There are condition issues on the source, beginning with minor specks and dirt. Those fall under the realm of being acceptable for the cult-status and ’60s film stock. Return has look of being sourced relatively close to the camera negative too, so a few bumps and bruises are acceptable. Where things go awry is a jumpy scratch, the first signs of which appear around 52:20 on the right side of the frame. It’s light, clearly having some fix applied to it, but it’s evident for upwards of 10-minutes. That will reappear at 1:10:10, but subside much faster.
This is a muted film, colors oppressed like the people that populate it. The purpose is clear as the final moments come into view with dazzling primaries signifying new hope for the villages. Everything else is meant to be weak, subdued, and bland. That doesn’t, however, take away from the extensive level of fine detail worked into the transfer. Close-ups are exceptional and sharp, shining facial detail back at the viewer. Costumes are textured, and environments are well resolved. It’s still a stunner even with some problems.
The dub here is terrible, and that has nothing to do with acting or timing. Despite equaling formats in DTS-HD between the dub and native Japanese, this becomes a great example of how important balance is to a sound mix. The English dub detracts from the score, sound effects, and other audio materials to push dialogue that runs a few decibels higher. A great example is the statue explosion, a pop that barely registers, and falling rocks that are part of the story are hardly evident as characters speak.
As usual, native dialogue is the proper decision, even with fidelity problems. Ifukube’s score rumbles when it shouldn’t, lacking tightness and losing quality. While it roars to life to give scenes power, it’s hard to feel the same way when the elements sound so far removed from the source. Restoration probably won’t save this, although it’s important to note how much worse it can be. The orchestra offers clearly defined instruments, and it can carry over Daimajin’s grumbling footsteps during the closing moments.
Return’s disc carries no extras, as it’s packaged with the original film. The score reflects that, but do note Mill Creek puts the bonuses on the second disc along with Daimajin Strikes Again.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.