The thing about obscure or lesser known Kaiju (the now popular shorthand for 'Godzilla-style Giant Monsters') is their obvious lack of exposure. And although the internet has been an amazing help, in bringing many of these obscurities into light, it still pays to repeat, re-post, and re-share the information.
I might not be a Kaiju historian or scholar on the same level of the likes of Steve Ryfle, August Ragone, Stuart Galbraith IV, Keith Aiken, David Kalat, and Alien Geekon the Lonely Super Brain. But in my own small way, I can still contribute to the genre and its fan following.
And give the unloved and overlooked Kaiju a little extra exposure, even if they've been featured elsewhere beforehand.
As is the case with today's subject - a currently lost fantasy film from 1934, entitled "Daibutsu Kaikoku".
|Forgive the poor photo quality...It does come from a lost film after all!|
Despite the original "Godzilla" starting up the Kaiju and related Tokusatsu genre as we know them today, there were earlier Japanese produced fantasy and science fiction films, made well before the 1954 milestone. But many of these productions became lost to time, or simply didn't make enough of an impact, and were quickly forgotten.
Think of it like the 1952 re-release of "King Kong", which had a far greater impact on worldwide cinema, than its original 1933 release. Or the numerous, but largely forgotten giant monster pictures, made before said '33 debut.
Neither King Kong or Godzilla were the first giant movie monsters of their respective countries, let alone human fiction and myth in general. But both did make bigger splashes, and continuous rippling effects, than their predecessors.
Also known by the longer translated title of "The Giant Buddha Statue's Travel Through the Country", "Daibutsu Kaikoku" is one such pre-Godzilla, Japanese giant monster movie.
|Japanese advert poster for "Daibutsu Kaikoku" (1934)|
The following selection of limited information comes from the Monster Kids Classic Horror, and Kaijuphile web-forums (Beware! The former link is filled with pop-up ads!).
And were originally posted / re-posted by forum members Bakeneko and Mattman, respectively.
DAIBUTSU KAIKOKU (1934)
This means THE GIANT BUDDHA STATUE'S TRAVEL THROUGH THE COUNTRY.
A giant Buddha statue (labeled “33 meters tall in height”) comes to life and goes on a nation-wide tour to save the people. After visiting some tourist spots in the Chūkyō region (a metropolitan area centering around Nagoya city), the Buddha statue flies away to Tokyo in the clouds. This was going to be a film franchise, but due to financial problems, they never got made. Now, it is considered lost.
Yoshiro Edamasa said to inspire Eiji Tsuburaya to get into the special effects industry. Kind of like the way Willis O'Brien inspired Ray Harryhausen to become a stop-motion animator. Yoshiro akin to Obie had a project that never got made called THE JUDGEMENT OF THE SOULS, which is a science-fiction thriller.
Now, question. Didn’t daikaiju (giant monster) movies exist in the 1930s Japan? The answer will depend on your opinion. If you think Daimajin (1966) and its two sequels are giant monster movies, you can call Yoshiro Edamasa’s 大仏廻国 Daibutsu Kaikoku (1934) a giant monster movie, too. The title can be translated to The Giant Buddha Statue’s Travel Throughout the Country.
As the title describes itself, a giant Buddha statue (labeled “33 meters tall in height”) comes to life and goes on a nation-wide tour to save the people. After visiting some tourist spots in the Chūkyō region (a metropolitan area centering around Nagoya city), the Buddha statue flies away to Tokyo in the clouds. Originally planned as multi-part films but (possibly by financial problems) the sequels were never been made.
According to the magazine article at that time, it was a “half religious, half sensational film in the style of King Kong” and had some spectacular scenes such as the statue “strides over a train,” “rests his heads on a three-story building,” “makes geisha girls dance on his palm” etc. The “heaven and hell” sequences were filmed in color. This film was shown only in the limited area and is now considered to be LOST.
Edamasa was a cinematographer/director who worked on 145 films between 1914 and 1934. In 1928, he directed a feature length science fiction thriller called 霊の審判 Rei no Shinpan (trans: Judgement of the Souls) for Bando Tsumasaburo Productions but it has never been completed. Edamasa is also known as a man who led Eiji Tsuburaya into the film industry.
Daibutsu, or Giant Buddha statues, are somewhat common place throughout Japan. And therefore it wasn't too big of a stretch in imagination, by having one of these humanoid effigies come to life, and walk about.
Films made on the subject, however, are not as common. And "Daibutsu Kaikoku" seems to be the only focused example of a living Giant Buddha Statue in Japanese cinema.
But totally normal, completely inanimate Giant Buddha statues are used as interesting locations, throughout Japanese films and television programs. Though the only one I can confidently name at the time of this writing, is 1994's "Zeiram II".
Giant living statues (or even smaller ones for that matter) are a recurring story trope throughout worldwide fiction. So I'm not even going to attempt to name check them all, outside the usual suspects of Talos (from 1963's "Jason and the Argonauts"), or Japan's own Daimajin (from the 1966 trilogy of "Daimajin" films).
But the Giant Buddah Statue of this unaccounted film, stands apart from most of the aforementioned, by being a completely benevolent figure. Who seeks out to help us wee humans, as opposed to terrorizing us.
And as much as I try to give older fantasy and science fiction stories more credit in their construction and intelligence, it'd be impossible to deny how 'on-the-noise' this character quirk is...
Our wandering friend here is a Giant Buddha Statue, after all!
I think its safe to assume that the title hero of this film, was brought to cinematic life through basic make-up effects, and costuming. Instead of the more elaborate, full-body character suits, which are the norm for Japanese giant monsters. And similar fictional beings.
And lastly, for posterity sake, I should make mention of the film's only known actors; Hidemichi Ishikawa, Kazuyo Kojima, and Tankai Soganoya. The latter two listed, might have been playing themselves, if some online sources are to be believed.
Which begs the added question, to wither "Daibutsu Kaikoku" was a true fantasy film narrative? Or some offbeat travelogue or documentary-drama, akin to Walt Disney's "The Reluctant Dragon" (1941)?
MORE "DAIBUTSU KAIKOKU" IMAGES: