Director: Ishiro Honda
Writer: Shinichi Sekizawa
Cast: Kozo Nomura, Ayumi Sonoda, Koreya Senda, Akihiko Hirata, Fuyuki Murakami, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Minosuke Yamada, Hisaya Ito, Yoshifumi Tajima, Nadao Kirino, Akira Sera, Akio Kusama, Noriko Honma, Akira Yamada, Fumindo Matsuo, Soji Ubukata, Toku Ihara, Yoshikazu Kawamata, Yasuhiro Shigenobu, Takashi Ito, Mitsuo Tsuda, Jiro Kumagai, Shoichi Hirose, Keisuke Yamada, Hideo Shibuya, Koji Suzuki, Masaki Shinohara, Michiko Kawa, Yasuo Onishi, Toshiko Nakano, Hiroshi Akitsu, Mitsuo Matsumoto, Toshiko Nomura, Rinsaku Ogata, Junichiro Mukai, Satoko Taira, Eisuke Nakanishi, Takashi Narita, Keiichiro Katsumoto, Haruya Sakamoto, Ryuichi Hosokawa, Ko Hayami, Tokio Okawa, Tazue Ichimanji, Hiroko Terasawa, Toriko Takahara, Katsumi Tezuka, and Haruo Nakajima
Composer: Akira Ifukube
Release Date: 10/14/1958
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
While investigating a rare species of butterfly, two etymology students are crushed to death in a mysterious landslide. Scientific researcher Kenji Uozaki (Kozo Nomura) and Yuriko Shinjo (Ayumi Sonoda), the sister of one of the deceased men, pay a visit to the village near the Kitakami River—the location of the disaster. Initially unimpressed by local legends of a mountain god, Kenji and Yuriko soon discover that a giant, prehistoric reptile has awakened from a slumber spanning millions of years.
A generic effort by Gojira director Ishiro Honda, Daikaiju Baran (literally translated to Giant Monster Varan*) will appeal to only the most passionate enthusiasts of the kaiju eiga genre. The serious tone, acting, and musical direction of this film do, however, deserve respect from those of a critical mindset.
For composing a powerful soundtrack to accompany the special effects of Eiji Tsubaraya, Akira Ifukube should be commended. (Kaiju fans will note that elements of Ifukube’s score were later featured in the iconic theme for Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster.)
Also praiseworthy is the performance of Akihiko Hirata, known for his portrayal of Dr. Serizawa in the original version of Godzilla. Though quite minor, the scientist character played by Hirata adds an air of gravitas to an otherwise mediocre film.
By insulting the religious beliefs held by the people of Iwaya Village, Kenji Uozaki does a poor job of establishing himself as a likable hero figure. Even more problematic is the romantic subplot involving Kenji and Yuriko, the shallowness of which may prevent the audience from relating to either protagonist.
In addition to its lack of character development, Daikaiju Baran never builds an adequate level of suspense or intrigue around the monster Varan. When considering the goofy, uninspired qualities of Varan, viewers may struggle to understand why the village high priest prays to and worships the creature as if it were a deity.
As opposed to Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan, Daikaiju Baran fails to explore the origin of its title monster, leaving no room for a political statement on real-world affairs (e.g. the consequences of nuclear testing).
Daikaiju Baran forgoes narrative substance in favor of copious action, thereby solidifying its reputation as the weakest entry among Toho’s original lineup of kaiju films. Especially disappointing is the absence of social commentary, which, until this point, had been a defining aspect of the Japanese monster movie.
Overall Quality: 5/10
*To avoid confusion with the Americanized Varan the Unbelievable, the original Japanese title of Daikaiju Baran has been retained for this review.
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