KING KONG vs. GODZILLA (1962)
With Legendary’s rematch finally on the horizon for release, maybe it’s time to look back at Godzilla and Kong’s first cinematic slugfest. This review is of the original Japanese language version.
The story finds Godzilla breaking out of his icy prison after seven years and, once more, heading for Japan, after he makes a quick snack of a nuclear submarine. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical company CEO Tako (Ichirō Arishima) is looking for something big to boost the ratings of the TV shows his company sponsors. Rumors of a large creature on a Pacific island may be just what he needs. The creature is a massive ape known as Kong and Tako plans to bring the beast to Japan. Obviously, Godzilla and an escaped Kong arrive on Japanese shores at the same time and are destined to cross paths and lock horns.
Flick is directed by Ishirō Honda from a script by Shinichi Sekizawa. The film is a lot lighter than the first two Godzilla films and goes for more comical situations than dramatic intensity…though it has that, too. Godzilla is clearly the bad guy here with Japanese authorities even provoking a second fight between the titans, after Godzilla’s heat ray cause Kong to retreat the first time around. The film is colorful, as were most of the 60s era Godzilla flicks and the FX from the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya range from some really elaborate model work to the sadly inadequate Kong costume, which looks like a Halloween ape suit. The arms laughably and drastically change length from shot to shot. Kong is the underdog here, with Godzilla portrayed as bigger and more powerful. Kong is given an added caveat of being able to absorb power from electricity to even up the odds. The battles are fun, though keeping in consistency with the rest of the flick, carry a lighter, more humorous tone. There is a lot of damage caused by both Kong and Godzilla when they are apart and utter destruction when they are in combat. The human drama is amusing enough to occupy us whenever our colossal critters are not on screen, which isn’t often and Kong gets to show he still has a way with the ladies. Legendary Toho composer Akira Ifukube provides another classic score. It’s a fun movie, though slightly disappointing for those expecting the more serious tone of both Godzilla and Kong’s original movies.
The cast are all good. Ichirō Arishima was known in his native land as the “Japanese Chaplin” and one can see why, as the actor delivers a fun performance of both exaggerated line delivery and physical comedy. Toho veteran Tadao Takashima and Yū Fujiki share hero duties as Osamu Sakurai and Kinsaburo Furueshare, the two PR men sent to retrieve Kong and then get involved with the carnage between the big ape and his opponent. Joining the two is Bond girl Mie Hama as Osamu’s sister Fumiko and Toho veteran Kenji Sahara as Kazuo Fujita, her boyfriend. Haruo Nakajima once again does a great job in the Godzilla suit, as does Shoichi Hirose give Kong a lot of character despite the sub-par gorilla suit. Ironically Nakajima would get to play Kong, too, in Toho’s only other Kong adventure, King Kong Escapes.
Despite being a sillier entry in Godzilla’s early filmography, Kong was said to be popular in Japan, so the film pairing of the two monsters was a big hit and remains one of the top grossing Toho Godzilla flicks. It’s a lot of fun and fast moving at 97 minutes long. The FX are standard for Toho sci-fi flicks of this era, save for the awful Kong costume, and there is a lot of destruction for the buck. For almost 60 years, a rumor has persisted that there are two versions of the film, with Godzilla winning in the Japanese version and Kong winning in the U.S. version. Despite Universal’s U.S. version being heavily edited, with some new footage of Western actors added in, the ending remains the same with both monsters tumbling into the sea. Kong surfaces, swimming off and Godzilla remains underwater, his fate uncertain until the next flick. Godzilla would re-emerge in 1964 for Mothra vs. Godzilla and Kong would fight his mechanical double for Toho in 1967’s King Kong Escapes also starring Mie Hama.
3 rampaging Godzillas.