In 1965, Japanese movie company Daiei Motion Pictures realized that there was some serious yen to be made by producing giant monster movies. Taking a cue from the enormous success of the Toho Company stable of monsters (Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Ghidorah, et al), Daiei produced GAMERA THE INVINCIBLE in 1965 to huge profits and recognition. The film was even Americanized (with added scenes featuring Brian Donlevy and Albert Dekker) in 1966 where it has a major cult following to this day. In 1966, while production of the second Gamera film (WAR OF THE MONSTERS) began, producer Masaichi Nagata developed the idea of combining a period historical drama with elements of the monster movie genre. The results were three interesting films with top notch special effects and period detail. Of the three, two were released to U.S. television in 1968 and 1970 by American International Television (AIP-TV). The third (MAJIN STRIKES AGAIN) was never released in the United States until ADV Films released re-mastered widescreen Japanese language versions of all three to VHS in 1999 and to DVD in 2002 and again in 2005. Now, Retromedia Entertainment has released to DVD the AIP-TV versions of MAJIN-MONSTER OF TERROR and RETURN OF GIANT MAJIN from passable (if not spectacular) 16mm prints.
The plots of both MAJIN-MONSTER OF TERROR and RETURN OF GIANT MAJIN are almost identical so here they are in a nutshell…in both stories (set in 17th century, Japan), evil warlords usurp the thrones of reigning rulers and drive the rightful heirs to the thrones into exile. The cruel warlords and their henchmen rule the population with iron hands and force the citizens into slave labor and untold hardship. Finally, after years of abuse, the hapless citizens call forth the spirit of their god Majin (a giant, stone idol) to enter his statue and come to life and release them from these tyrants. After righting the wrongs in a spectacular display of special effects, Majin is appeased and returns to sleep.
The special effects for all the Majin films are professionally done by generally the same effects team who worked on the Gamera films. Although the giant monster action in both films is saved for the third act, the human drama and period detail of feudal Japan is interesting and well-acted. The music (especially in the first film) is grandiose and composed by none other than Akira Ifukubie of GODZILLA fame. Apparently, Mr. Ifukubie was moonlighting from his duties at Toho Company Ltd., and his scores feature many echoes from his Toho films (especially the third Majin film from ADV Films which features a score very similar to KING KONG ESCAPES). The actors in the Majin films are not as prolific as the Toho monster movie regulars with the only exception being Kojiro Hongo who appears in THE RETURN OF GIANT MAJIN. He previously appeared in WAR OF THE MONSTERS (aka GAMERA VS. BARUGON), and would later appear in RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS (aka GAMERA VS. GAOS) and DESTROY ALL PLANETS (aka GAMERA VS. VIRAS).
As already stated, Retromedia’s presentation of the Majin films is decent, but in no way remarkable. The DVD was made up from two passable full frame 16mm TV prints. PLEASE REMEMBER... the two films on this DVD were made up from 16mm prints. They were NOT re-mastered from the original negatives so you will NOT be getting the same quality of the DVD releases from the major studios. The colors are a bit faded on the second film and more vibrant on the first. There is not a great deal of print damage and really no major jumping or splices as are often all too common on 16mm prints. As with so many scope films blown up to full screen for television, there is a bit of a blurry image. The sound quality is in mono and good on both films. In addition, both films are the uncut American versions and feature the famous AIP-TV logos and music which die-hard genre fans of this reviewer’s age group (in my case, mid 30’s) all know, love, and treasure to this day. It is therefore recommended that all genre fans keep their ADV DVDs of the Majin films for the clarity of the re-mastered prints, but also purchase the Retromedia DVD in order to compare the Japanese and American versions. Also, the Retromedia DVD is a great way to relive the glory days of New York’s “The 4:30 Movie” (in which MAJIN-MONSTER OF TERROR aired and was seen by this reviewer in 1974) for a certain sense of nostalgia from those long ago days. (Joe Cascio)
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