Following the success of Rodan, Toho studios green lighted another giant monster movie, this one featuring Ishiro Honda’s inspiration for Godzilla, King Kong. This film would mark the beginning of the 1960’s era Godzilla franchise in which less and less was spent on each film, and the target audience age was lowered. Although the impact of these changes wouldn’t be felt most until the end of the decade, King Kong Vs. Godzilla provides a watershed in kaiju film making. From here on virtually all giant monster films would use a variation on the themes first establisher here.
As with the other Toho Kaiju in my collection I only have the Americanized version of the film to comment on, and though there are definitely changes from what I assume was Honda’s original, I can’t make a good comparison. The Americanized version was re-scripted by Bruce Howard and Paul Mason from an earlier draft by George Worthing Yates.
Okay, as with any import kaiju we get lots of the same cheap-assed treatment especially visible in the later imports, and spearheaded by the treatment of the second Godzilla film, Godzilla Raids Again. That is, poorly read dubs, inserted scenes that make little or no sense and have little or no impact on the story, and complete replacement of musical score with stock music.
In the case of King Kong Vs. Godzilla the excellent score by Godzilla composer Akira Ifikube is replaced with the score to The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Only the native King Kong music survives into the American edit. It’s a pity too, because based on the segments featured on the Best of Godzilla 1954-1978 soundtrack CD the Ifikube score was by my ears at least, far superior.
But hey. I am only one guy.
This was the first Godzilla film shot in color and even in my crappy “Hollywood Hits” VHS they come through pretty well. I can only imagine that the DVD is crisper, but I don’t have it so I can’t say for certain.
Anyway we get our fist look at a new, meaner Godzilla suit. This one is green, though lighter than virtually all of the others, with a re-sculpted head and mouth that alternates between looking fantastic (side view) and misshapen (front view). His tail is somewhat shorter too as are his fins.
Kong gets off a little less easy. His suit is widely criticized as the worst monkey suit ever committed to film, and though I tend to agree, I still find elements of the costume effective.
We get a weird brand of Hope/Crosby road humor in this too, which seems astoundingly out of place most of the time from our heroes Sakurai (Tadao Takashima) and Fujita (Kenji Sahara) and their Jerry Lewis-esque boss Mr. Tako (Ichiro Arishima). But I’m getting ahead of myself...
We begin with some inserted footage from what appears to be Thunderbird 5 (look it up kids) or some other orbital space station which, I think, is supposed to represent a communications satellite. From here we get our introduction to the premise of the film, a Japanese pharmaceutical company has located a source of “Soma Berries” on a remote and unknown island that may provide a new era in medicine for their anesthetic yet non-narcotic properties.
All of this is delivered by a newscaster/narrator and his Japanese pal. I won’t mention their names because they aren’t all that important. From here we cut to Mr. Tako’s office. He runs a pharmaceutical company and television station and wants to take a TV crew out to this island to see what sort of berries these Soma Berries are. To do this he enlists Fujita and Sakurai to visit the island and being back several barrels of the stuff.
Both Fujita and Sakurai are married, or have girlfriends, it isn’t all that clear, and spend the evening with their respective mates before departing. Sakurai displays his new “invention” (which we all know will come into play later, though strangely in the Americanized version it doesn’t...) a super strong string with greater tensile strength than steel.
Once they get to the island and impress the natives with... er... a transistor radio and... er again... cigarettes, they are given access to as many berries as they can carry.
Cut to the Japan Sea where a submarine is navigating through a field of icebergs and strikes one. A rescue copter spots their distress signal (a yellow water stain) and as they swoop down, Godzilla emerges from the iceberg.
Those who’ve seen Gigantis the Fire Monster/Godzilla Raids Again will no doubt remember that Godzilla was trapped in an iceberg at the end of the second film. There is this whole continuity argument in the world of Godzilla (that I will address some time) that deals with where Godzilla was last seen and where he was next seen and try to put the whole Showa/Hesei time line into perspective.
I can do this because I have no life.
Godzilla begins a bee-line straight for Hokkaido (which in this film is mispronounced by every single American voice over actor. Most often as Hok-kay-eye-doh). Meanwhile Kong decides to visit the village who worships him, and get some of that fine, fine berry juice.
We get to see the first ever native attack against the back projected octopus before Kong arrives and saves the day. Yeah, the effects stink and you can clearly see the shadows of the torches as they bounces off the projection screen, but hey, in a movie with a giant ape and a giant radioactive lizard you need to suspend your disbelief.
Kong is knocked out by the berry juice once he vanquishes the octopus and strapped to a nearby barge to be towed back to Mr. Tako and his wacky pharmaceutical company/television station. As a precaution against accidental release Kong’s supine body is surrounded by cases of TNT and attached to a detonator.
Before you can say Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon Mr. Tako arrives via helicopter and accidentally falls on the plunger. Luckily the dynamite doesn’t explode, but worse than that, the Japanese government has prohibited Tako from bringing the ape into Japanese waters.
Kong wakes up and having no reason to respect the sovereign government of Japan, makes a bee-line straight for Hokkaido too.
We’ve set the stage for a great series of monster mayhem now, and we get it.
Kong and Godzilla are drawn together by some innate hatred that is never explained and fight beat each other pretty well. Godzilla has the advantage though because his atomic breath burns Kong up pretty well. Kong runs off after their first meeting.
Meanwhile Godzilla is engaged by the Japanese military who try desperately, yet ineffectively, to steer the monster away from Hokkaido.
Kong rampages through the city and takes Sakurai’s girlfriend hostage. He takes her to the top of the Japanese Parliament building (in an homage to 1933 Kong) and waits there while Sakurai plays drums and canisters of Soma Berry juice are fired up at him.
Kong falls asleep.
Godzilla stalks off into the mountains somewhere when Sakurai suggests sending Kong back to face the radioactive lizard. This is accomplished by suspending the ape from several helium balloons and guiding them to the battleground with helicopters.
Actually, this is pretty cool.
Meanwhile the army have their own plan. Knowing that Godzilla didn’t much like being jolted in the 1954 film when he crossed the Tokyo power lines, they decide to drop a metal-mesh net over the creature and seed a lightning storm.
Where do they get these crazy ideas?
So we set the stage for the final battle where we learn that Kong loves electricity because it makes him stronger (hmmmm... don’t remember that from 1933) and it also makes Godzilla weaker.
Special effects range from hand puppet battles akin to those boxing nun toys to full on wrestlemania on a well designed forest set.
Should you watch this one? Sure, it is a hell of a way to kill 85 minutes on a rainy Saturday afternoon, and it’s great fun to watch with a bunch of kids.
The Americanization of this flick is pretty bad, cutting back to the international (i.e. American newscaster) is really annoying and the soundtrack is wholly inappropriate for the film. As I said in the earlier Gigantis the Fire Monster review, if anyone has a Japanese copy I’ll pay for it on VCD or DVD.
It’s a shame that the series would peak (in my mind at least) with the next film Godzilla Vs. Mothra. Only the 4th in the franchise and begin a slow decline into kiddie-ness that would forever link kaiju with kid movies that even adult plots and big budgets can’t seem to shake.