More time has passed now since King Kong vs. Godzilla was made than from when the original King Kong was made until KKvG. Despite the passage of more than forty-five years, KKvG is still a remarkable film. I enjoyed it tremendously during my recent, first time viewing of it. It combines a very interesting remake of the 1933 classic film, King Kong, with remakes of Godzilla, King of the Monsters and Godzilla Raids Again.
Many iconic moments from the original Kong film have been recreated:
1. Shots of the island from the sea show forbidding mountains.
2. The tribe have a dance ritual to summon and/or appease their living monster-god, Kong.
3. The village is primitive, but has a strong fence keeping Kong out of the village under ordinary circumstances.
4. Kong has a fight with a local oversized animal, which he wins.
5. Kong winds up unconscious.
6. Kong is taken via sea to a big city.
7. Kong is 'owned' by someone who uses him for publicity.
8. Kong gets loose.
9. Kong trashes the city.
10. Kong 'plays' with a train.
11. Kong finds a pretty girl and kidnaps her.
12. Kong climbs a tall building.
13. After setting the girl down on top of the building, he has an ignominious fall to the ground.
At that point, the similarities to King Kong end.
But there are many similarities to the original 1954 Godzilla film as well:
1. A vessel at sea is lost.
2. Godzilla heads toward an island.
3. Godzilla goes towards Tokyo.
4. Godzilla encounters a train.
5. Many people are chased by Godzilla.
6. The military prepares an electric fence to thwart Godzilla.
7. Godzilla uses his atomic breath.
8. A heroic triumvirate of two men and a woman are the human focus of the film.
9. There is a moment with a mother and a child.
10. The military is helpless against Godzilla.
11. Many buildings are destroyed.
12. Godzilla winds up in the sea, vanquished.
The film also has a few similarities to Godzilla Raids Again:
1. Godzilla and another monster meet in or near a large city.
2. Godzilla and another monster have a big fight.
3. Godzilla appears to win the fight.
4. Later, Godzilla appears to be vanquished by the end of the film because of what the humans did.
There is also one interesting difference: unlike the original films, someone herein already knows of the monsters, other than island natives who worshipped the creatures. A Godzilla monster attacked Tokyo; Kong's island had recently been visited and a handful of people knew of his existence.
This actually parallels something from the 1933/2005 King Kong and the 1976 Dino de Laurentiis remake: in the first case, they have a map showing the location of the island; and in the second case, they have satellite photos showing a mysterious fog bank or bank of clouds.
Unlike the serious Godzilla and GRA, this film aims for humor and family entertainment. The humor does not spoil the film, but actually enhances it. This film foreshadows the changes in the Godzilla series: humor, less serious, family entertainment, less cityscapes and more countryside, and big monster brawling.
The antics of the boss of Pacific Pharmaceuticals actually continue the anti-extreme capitalist message of the previous film, Mothra (1961). Interestingly, there is also an anti-capitalist message in the 1976 Kong movie, as well as a pro-environmental theme. The Showa series would encounter its own environmentally themed film in Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster.
One thing dates the film: In an attempt to curry favor with the natives of Farou Island, the hero gives the king a transistor radio and gives everyone cigarettes. Almost all the natives begin smoking right away, comically. As this takes place two years before the famed Surgeon General's report linking smoking to cancer, they can perhaps be forgiven for doing this. However, this does have ominous overtones if viewed as an attempt to 'ply the natives with liquor'--or worse, give them smallpox blankets. This links the company with those who attempted to do harm to the North American Indians; perhaps it is a subtle dig at America, just as Godzilla had echoes of America in him in the first film. Of course, it was probably only intended as a humorous scene. But future generations can always find something different than what was intended with their own hindsight.
As our esteemed host Chris N. pointed out in a recent email conversation with me, it was the first time Godzilla took on an American rival. And it was the only time, until Zilla (the official name of the monster from the 1998 Tri-Star release) was thrashed in Godzilla: Final Wars. Chris also told me that this was the version of Godzilla that inspired the Aurora model kit. I did not know that, but it was a great choice, as this is one of the best of all of the Godzilla suits.
Toho could not afford the licensing fees for some of the other American monsters, but they were able to make a deal to use Kong. That is impressive, as generally the licensing fees could take up half or more of the costs of a regular Godzilla film. They were able to do it because they had American help, which also allowed Toho to make a sequel in the form of King Kong Escapes. It was easier for Toho to make a film with reference to the Frankenstein Monster because the original Frankenstein story was in the public domain, so they did not have to pay an American filmmaker. Sometimes I think that they spent so much to get Kong, that they could not afford to make him a good costume.
One of my favorite scenes was when they decided to evacuate the city. The heroine's neighbor and her son are ready to evacuate, but he wants to go see Godzilla. That is actually a great metaphor for the future of the series: The older generation fears the big Kaiju King, but he will become adored and treasured as a lovable, heroic figure by the next generation.
Another great scene was at the end, when they are fighting at Otami Castle and fall into the sea. The historic castle is destroyed, but down below, the tourist community full of hotels: the next generation, as it were, only gets splashed a bit by the water displaced by fall of the monsters into the sea. Delicious irony! Again a foreshadowing of the changes to come in the Godzilla series: serious historic monsters are changed into fun moneymaking monsters.
Kong is the hero of this film, even if he is a slapstick version of the character. He has a personality somewhat reminiscent of the original Kong, which makes it easier to root for him. You are happy for him, as he seems to have won the final battle…
The framing sequences for the American audience--the UN reporter--has been properly castigated for its problems. But being attuned to tech stuff, I was greatly interested in the foreshadowing it did of the instantaneous satellite communications between different points around the world. It is like when The Today Show has an interview with someone live in Los Angeles, while they also do a live link with someone in Europe during the same broadcast. More interesting for my interest in Showa space technology, they used a BIG communications satellite owned by the U.N. The satellite was not some tiny Telstar model; it clearly was a huge space station of the kind seen in the other Toho productions [it even rotated to provide artificial gravity, something that space stations in the 'real' universe don't do as of the time this article was written, January of 2009-CN]. While it was not a toroidal shape, it had a rotating disc, and they would cut off the shots of it just after a small shuttle type vehicle appeared in the lower right of the screen which gave it a huge scale. They used the same footage of the satellite in each shot. This gave the scene the appearance of being stock footage. The satellite clearly is an outgrowth of the space program begun in the wake of the Mysterian invasion that is far more advanced than ours is. Also, the United Nations seems to own it (under the name ICS that I think stood for International Communications Satellite), and has a broadcast news channel, kind of like C-Span or the BBC. This clearly hints at some form of international cooperation as has been referred to a lot in Chris' Showa timeline.
After thinking about this, I discovered a picture of the satellite at the Toho Kingdom website, but the picture did not refer to this film: instead, it is supposed to be the Mysterian satellite! I believe this means that the U.N. took over the satellite after the Mysterians retreated from Earth space. Among other things, they are using it for instantaneous communications, as it provides quality worldwide connections in color. Because the U.N. took possession of the satellite, it makes sense that they would utilize its advanced technology to spread information and encourage peace. To better help them do that, they actually created their own network or channel. In a way, this all foreshadows what we have today in the real world. But it is still very fresh in the past at the time of King Kong vs. Godzilla, as can be seen by the fact that the bureau correspondent in Japan and the reporter in Chile are still using old-style headsets. Interestingly, however, they can transmit a still picture (they show a picture of the submarine Sea Hawk). That reminds me of the graphics modern-day news shows will sometimes put up when they are talking to someone but not showing their picture for whatever reason (i.e., they are on the phone with someone). I do not believe the networks really did that sort of thing in the early 1960s, so this turns out to be a bit of foreshadowing.
As a side note, the U.N. takeover of the Mysterian battle station was reflected in the background premise of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Cardassians had been occupying the planet Bajor, and was stealing their mineral resources and processing them at an orbital facility named Terok Nor. When they abandoned the planet, the Bajoran government took over the station and asked the Federation to run it. They did so, and renamed it Deep Space Nine. That also has a circular shape to it as well. The U.N. took over the Mysterian station after the invaders pulled out; the Bajorans took over the Cardassian facility after those invaders pulled out, too.
The U.N. also owns the Sea Hawk, the submarine that first encountered Godzilla in this film. The Sea Hawk may or may not be a military vessel. There is no hint of weaponry on it, but it does have a fair size to it. A large number of people are standing around in the control room and it is not crowded like a typical submarine of the era. There are a number of civilian scientists on board who are from different countries of the world. Conversely, the entire crew appears to be North American, but that could simply be because the U.S. had the largest submarine force at the time of the Mysterian invasion and contributed the most personnel to the U.N. sub crew. This is a new submarine. I think it pays homage to the Seaview from the 1961 film, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. (The television series came later.) It was intended to be a civilian research vessel, although it had been created and designed by an American admiral. There is a bit of a window in the front of the control room, although it is nowhere near as big as that of the Seaview's front windows.
So, here we have more similarities to a film:
1. We have a submarine that is not intended for military purposes.
2. It gets involved with a strange radiation event.
3. At one point, it is seen operating in waters where icebergs are present.
4. The strange radiation event could turn out to be the end of the world if it is left unchecked.
I also see now that the submarine Atragon bears some similarities to the Seaview:
1. It was designed by a forward-thinking individual to serve many purposes.
2. The designer was a brave man.
3. The submarine would later fight sea monster(s).
4. The crew would later encounter people living on the ocean floor.
Unfortunately, as usual, nobody comes to help the Japanese out. They get no support from the United States, the United Nations, or anyone else onscreen. That happens a lot throughout all of the film series. The American version of Godzilla vs. Mothra, which came out two years after King Kong vs. Godzilla, did have an added scene where the U.S. Navy fires Frontier missiles at Godzilla. But that was just an Americanizing factor, and as Chris states in his chronology, it is not certain if that really happened or not. I first realized this lack of help from reading the film's review in David Kalat's excellent resource book, A CRITICAL HISTORY AND FILMOGRAPHY OF TOHO'S GODZILLA SERIES (more on this book in a future review). The Japanese Self-Defense Force is all that stands in the way of Godzilla…usually futilely. The Japanese government has to run its own evacuation, refugee, and recovery programs alone as well. If anybody does help them, it is entirely off-screen.
However, there was a powerful Chilean earthquake just before the film and a massive relief airlift from the US to Chile was underway. The U.N. reporter talks with a correspondent in Santiago, Chile, before the rest of the action of the film begins. To be fair, a lot of the military air assets probably were disbanded in the wake of the Mysterian invasion. Cargo and personnel planes were most likely reassigned to the Chilean relief effort. But why the US Pacific Fleet was not bombarding King Kong or Godzilla is strange. There are more than a few inconsistencies here, but again, these are fantasy films, not realistic recreations of horrific events after the first few films from Toho.
In real life, the massive earthquake that struck Chile on May 22, 1960--the most powerful one on record--affected more than 150,000 square miles, and killed thousands of people between the quake and the resulting tsunamis, and set off a volcano. With that much devastation, I could see the world trying to help Chile, and abandoning Japan to Godzilla and Kong. I do not think we have to shift the date of King Kong vs. Godzilla in the Showa Chronology. It is likely that the big Chilean quake was offset because of the Mysterian invasions and kaiju attacks disrupted the planetary field--especially when Mothra went to Japan, and then to New York, to bring the Shobijin back.
The whole film takes place only over a few short days, so it is possible that there were no naval assets in the area, which could assist Japan. Because of the kaiju incidents, I suspect that Japan's Self-Defense Force was greatly expanded and that the Americans pulled out of their bases in Japan because
1) they did not feel Japan was going to be a military threat anymore, and
2) that it was more important to be concerned about alien threats.
America was also undergoing attacks by kaiju at this time, if we bring in such films as The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and It Came From Beneath the Sea from Ray Harryhausen, plus other films such as Them!, Tarantula, and The Deadly Mantis [not to mention the original version of Earth vs. the Spider and The Giant Behemoth-CN]. Since America had its own problems, and a history of isolationism in regards to international issues
1. Washington's desire to be free of entangling alliances stated when he retired in 1797 to Mount Vernon
2. a corollary to The Monroe Doctrine, about not getting involved in European events
3. reaction to World War One
it would be quite likely that they abandoned Japan. Europe was also starting to get hit with kaiju attacks-Gorgo, Konga, and Reptilicus being the most noteworthy. So there was a combination of fending for oneself against kaiju attacks, as well as preparing to cooperate against alien invasions.
I believe that major national military assets were largely dropped after the Mysterian invasion, but groups like the U.S. National Guard and the JSDF were still active in case of natural disaster or kaiju attack. There was more emphasis on international military aerospace forces to prevent alien invasion, but less ground troops. That made it easier to shift funding into research (hence the maser cannons or advanced space tech), and perhaps allowed a greater proportion of national resources to be used for recovery after kaiju attacks. Incorporating elements of the Harryhausen film catalog---specifically, the Rhedosaurus' attack on New York and the Pentapus attack on San Francisco---wouldn't alter that, as those two cities suffered relatively little damage and both attacks took place before the Mysterian invasion. But they still would lead towards an attitude of 'you take care of your problem, and we'll take care of ours'.
Indeed, I suspect that new construction techniques allow modern cities to be rebuilt pretty fast after kaiju and alien attacks: Tokyo is completely rebuilt after the first Godzilla attack in the 9 years before King Kong and Godzilla thrashed around. In fact, Tokyo suffered damage from Mothra a year before Kong showed up to dance with Godzilla, but it looks like it is in great shape. Tokyo is attacked again before the end of the Sixties, but gets rebuilt again. (That would probably also be reflected in the Daiei tales as well; Tokyo must get attacked more than once there and thoroughly rebuilt.)
Once we have a more complete picture of the Showaverse (i.e., include Daiei, Harryhausen, Korean, European, American, and other kaiju incidents), I think we will see clearly that cities are sometimes rebuilt in a year's time. That represents a lot of economic effort, which would lead to a big trickle-up effect, allowing a city to be rebuilt a few times over the 1960s. Indeed, as seen in several films, relocation seems to be relatively common--during kaiju attacks, people evacuate in a panicked yet seemingly ordered manner. In King Kong vs. Godzilla, many people get evacuated by buses and whatever other vehicles are available, including the backs of trucks, including the people on the train. (Which is another point: when Godzilla was coming, why didn't the engineer back the train up to another station where the passengers could be offloaded into buses? Because this bullet-style train is only designed to go forward, even though you would expect there to be a second set of controls at the rear of the train. An attempt to sacrifice weight [no reversing gears] and increase speed. I don't know if real-life bullet trains have that feature or not.) Now, while the scene reminds me of a similar scene from War of the Worlds, with mass evacuations and people trying to climb into the back of a moving pickup truck, it is all too obvious they have had lots of practice evacuating. The Showa equivalent of civil defense drills, if you will.
After the Second World War, in short order, they had:
1. the first Godzilla (1954)
2. the second Godzilla and Anguirus (1955)
3. Rodan (1956)
4. the Mysterian Invasion (1957), and
5. Varan (1958)
This was followed by Mothra (1961) a few years later, so by King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), the Japanese had gotten quite good at evacuations, because they knew that they had been through this before. As much time, effort, and resources are spent on civil defense drills, they must have a lot of air raid shelters or rather, kaiju raid shelters. These shelters had to be capable of handling the rapid shifts of hundreds of thousands or millions at a time in small groups of a few hundred, so they certainly would need a lot of them. After building all of these shelters, it became obvious people would have to stay in these shelters for a long time if their homes were destroyed, so they'd have to get better at rebuilding their cities. One thing is certain, they would have gotten into the habit of having newly modernized cities! No slum renovation here after Godzilla stomped through!
Another important thing happened during the American framing sequences: a paleontologist tells us that Godzilla fossils have been found in Japan. This gives us an insight into Godzilla's motivation: he is returning to his ancestral home, much as the Rhedosaurus was attempting to! At first, he is beelining towards Hokkaido. Does this mean the Godzillasaurus lived on Hokkaido? It would seem so. But then Kong shows up, they 'detect' each other, and head towards each other… I think it is pretty clear that we now have additional motivation for the attacks on Japan: it is (or was) his home, and these pesky little insect-humans have changed it. The paleontologist expert actually states that Godzilla has stopped because he seems confused by the changes to his home. (Of course, this expert said that Godzilla had been in the iceberg for millions of years, when he had only been there since 1955, and used a children's picture book to explain things to the home audience…) I do think my previous hypothesis, that these irradiated monsters are drawn to radiation sources such as Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and power plants might need further exploration in light of this. However, there are times when Godzilla or other monsters (in Showa or Heisei continuity for certain) are coming to soak up radiation. In King Kong vs. Godzilla he is coming home to Japan. But he is confused by the rapid changes to Japan in the seven years since he was in the iceberg. He is then attracted to the radiation, and moves south towards the main Japanese island of Honshu. Then he 'detects' another monster…Kong, in this case.
Finally, I would like to note how the kaiju have become deities. In all the tellings of the King Kong story (1933/2005, here in 1962, and in 1976), Kong is worshipped as a monster god. In the 1954 Godzilla flick, the name of Godzilla was adapted from that of a powerful deity of the Odo Island natives. Mothra herself is a deity to those she protects. (Other, later films emphasize and expand Mothra's mystic connections to the Earth.) Manda is a guardian of modern day Mu, and Megalon is a guardian of Seatopia. Both appear to also be worshipped as deities to some extent. Then there is also Daiei's Daimajin series with its stone deity idol.
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