Kingu Kongu tai Gojira (1962)


It’s been years since I’ve seen King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963) and, until now, I’d never seen the original Japanese version, Kingu Kongu tai Gojira (1962.) It's found as a bonus feature on the eighth disc of Criterion’s wonderful Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975 collection. Either version you watch, the movie has only gotten better with the passing of time.

.

My memory was that Kong looked terrible. He was simply a man in a gorilla suit instead of a marvel of stop-motion animation. However, the approach serves him much better than I recall. Waving his arms wildly over his head and moving quickly across the landscape, he’s faithfully ape-like.

.

That is, until he beats his chest with open palms instead of closed fists. There, the illusion is shattered. Plus, I still have issues with his face, which range from being immobile in long-distance shots, to looking unfinished in close-ups. He’s faster than his foe, Godzilla, and cleverer, hiding under a boulder until he passes so he can grab his tail.

.

Kong also has long arms and hands. He can throw rocks at Godzilla, who can only bat them back at Kong with his tail, more than occasionally with perfect aim. Most of the time, Godzilla can only kick rocks onto Kong when he’s down. Godzilla is the more powerful monster, though, unless Kong has been gnawing on electrical wires. Then, they’re pretty evenly matched.

.

The circumstances bringing them together are coincidental. At the same time the submarine, Sea Hawk, encounters a “shining iceberg,” and Godzilla takes television ratings away from Pacific Pharmaceuticals, the head of the company, Mr. Tako (Ichiro Arishima) hears rumors about a mammoth evil spirt that has awakened on Faro Island.

.

He sends Osamu Sakurai (Tadao Takashima) and Kinsaburo Furue (Yu Fujiki) on an expedition to learn what it’s all about. They step into a scenario very similar to the original King Kong (1933), minus Fay Wray. When the giant beast drinks red juice out of native pots, he passes out and the two men are able to strap him to a raft and haul him back to Japan.

.

The triumphantly slimy Tako arrives on board the ship pulling Kong through the water when he’s accused of smuggling and told he can’t bring the giant ape to shore. However, when a plan to bury Godzilla in a constructed gas chamber fails, and Kong escapes and seems instinctively drawn toward Godzilla, the battle of the century might allow the monsters to destroy each other, thereby saving Tokyo.

.

This is Kong’s story and I love his Japanese “origin.” At times, it evokes the original RKO production, particularly when Kong lifts Fumiko Sakurai (Mie Hama) and carries her through the city, then climbs to the top of a building, stubby though it may be. (It also evokes the 1976 version when Kong seems to play with his nipple while staring at the girl in the palm of his hand.)

.

This was only the third film in the Godzilla series, so it maintains the darkness of the original while dipping its toes into the comical aspects of future movies. Still, it relies on the human characters for comic relief, and this is a good cast of them. Their subplots are just the tiniest bit contrived, but in ways that engage and entertain.

.

Honestly, I kind of love Kingu Kongu tai Gojira, aka King Kong vs. Godzilla, and think it may be a new favorite. Of course, I say that after each Godzilla movie I watch. The original Japanese version is six minutes longer than the American version, even minus the additional scenes shot it English. At any length, it sped along and never caused me to fidget.

.

Finally, what everyone wants to know. Since Kong’s name is mentioned first in the title, does it mean he wins? Well, much to Tako’s, and any betting man’s, dismay, the outcome is ambiguous. Both creatures roar as the screen fades to black. However, we see only Kong swimming toward home.

.

If that’s any indication, I’ll place my money on Godzilla in the much-anticipated Godzilla vs. Kong. His name is first in the title.

Written by Shin’ichi Sekizawa

Directed by Ishiro Honda

Starring James Yagi, Tadao Takashima, Kenji Sahara, Ichiro Arishima, Yu Fukiki, Jun Tazaki, Akihiko Hirata, Mie Hama

RT 97 min.

Released June 3, 1963 (US premiere)

Home Video Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

35 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All