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"King Kong could kill us all! You wouldn't care! Publicity's all you want! Publicity!"
~ Kinsaburo to Mr. Tako
The third entry of the Godzilla Showa series. King Kong vs. Godzilla is the second film to be directed by the known director Ishiro Honda.
King Kong vs. Godzilla, released in 1962, is notable for many things. First, it was the first movie to feature both King Kong and Godzilla in color and widescreen. Second, and this is really important, it had both King Kong and Godzilla in sharing the screen at the same time. Originally released in 1962, Toho's 30th anniversary, King Kong vs. Godzilla remains the most commercially successful film the franchise. The Japanese version of the film was a satire, while the American version was more of a straight-forward monster movie. The biggest difference between the two versions of the movie is the removal of most of Akira Ifukube's score, which is usually regarded today as one of the maestro's greatest works ever. The only pieces of music to survive this butchery were the the natives' chants and a brief piece that plays during the jungle trek. It was in this film that Godzilla's theme would be properly introduced, although it was first heard by American audiences in 1964 with the tastefully intact release of Mothra vs. Godzilla, although the Godzilla theme in that film was also a modified version of the theme heard here. Fortunately, La-La-Land Records released the original Japanese version of the score, in it's original stereo along with two bonus tracks, in America in 2005.
The original idea for the film was actually conceived by Willis O'Brien, although it didn't feature Godzilla at all. It was only through numerous rewrites that Godzilla eventually became King Kong's adversary, and that was only after the script was bought by John Beck, who then sold it to Toho. The differences between the Japanese version of the film and the American version will be discussed in detail on the trivia page, when that eventually gets added. The plot description below will cover the Japanese version of the film.
The film opens with the filming of a commercial, where the audience is introduced to the film's protagonists, Sakurai (played by Tadao Takashima) and Kinsaburo (played by Yu Fujiki), two employees of Pacific Pharmaceuticals. The purpose of the commercial is to promote public interest in a TV show that the company is sponsoring. The audience meets the duo's boss, Mr. Tako (played by Ichiro Arishima), who is angry about the low ratings of the show he's sponsoring, during a meeting with Dr. Makino (played by Tatsuo Matsumura), over a discussion of an exotic red berry whose juice produces a nonaddictive narcotic effect. The red berry is only found on a remote island in the pacific, called Faro Island. Dr. Makino says that the natives are unwilling to give up more than a handful of berries because they use the rest of them to placate their god, a giant beast named King Kong. Mr. Tako, much like someone once named Denham, believes that it would be a great idea to use a giant monster to gain publicity. Sakurai and Kinsaburo are chosen to go to the island.
It is after hearing this news, when Sakurai returns home, that the film introduces his sister Fumiko (played by Mie Hama) and her boyfriend Fujita (played by Kenji Sahara). Fujita reveals that he has been working on a new type of wire, one that is stronger than steel, during dinner. He demonstrates the wire's strength when he climbs out of a window and swings around like Tarzan. He tells Sakurai to take some on his trip.
Meanwhile, a United Nations Submarine, the Seahawk, is investigating the unusually warm ocean currents of the Bering Sea. The Seahawk soon crashes into an iceberg. Before help can arrive, the Seahawk is destroyed when its inhabitant wakes up. In the sky, an American rescue helicopter is just nearing the iceberg when Godzilla claws his way out. The radioactive behemoth makes his way to an Arctic military base, where he destroys everything in sight. Godzilla's return gains huge amounts of publicity, with magazines and television reports covering the monster the way modern day tabloids cover a political sex scandal. The only thing that anyone can talk about is Godzilla, which sends Mr. Tako into a rage, especially when one of his employees says that someone is making a movie about the monster.
After reaching Faro island, Sakurai, Kinsaburo, and their guide/translator (played by Senkichi Omura) impress the village chief with their transistor radio. Not satisfied with this, Sakurai then gives everybody cigarettes(!). However, a loud roar is soon heard, and the natives return to praying. The next day Sakurai and Kinsabruo trek into the jungle, returning after being scared by Kong's roar. Later that night, the village is attacked by a giant octopus, who apparently wants some berry juice. Spears and torches are useless against the cephalapod, as well as guns. Things seem hopeless until King Kong arrives, smashing through the giant wooden doors the villagers created to keep him out, and the gorilla soon fends off the octopus. The narcotic effect of the red berry is on full display when Kong drinks it up. Seeing an opportunity to put their god to sleep, a female villager begins an erotic, er, exotic dance. Kong soon falls asleep. Sakurai and Kinsaburo see this as their opportunity to bring back Mr. Tako's monster.
Back in Japan, Fumiko has read an article in a paper about the ship that Fujita was on being sunk near Hokkaido. Wanting to know if her fiancee is alive or dead, Fumiko decides to head to Hokkaido. Returning home, a very much alive Fujita is met by Fumiko's friend and neighbor, Tamiye, who tells him that Fumiko went to look for him in Hokkaido. Fujita and Tamiye are both informed by a woman and her son, who are preparing to leave Tokyo, that Godzilla has been sighted in Hokkaido. Fujita then rushes to the island to save Fumiko. Hours later, in Hokkaido, the train that Fumiko is traveling on is stopped and everyone is told to flee for their lives as Godzilla is approaching. During the evacuation, Fumiko is left behind and is inadvertently chased by Godzilla. She is eventually rescued by Fujita.
Out on the ocean, Sakurai and Kinsaburo have finally left Faro island, and on a large raft behind them is King Kong. Mr. Tako soon arrives via helicopter and is ecstatic, as the press will now cover King Kong and not Godzilla. But, their ship is soon hailed by a naval vessel, and Mr. Tako is informed that since he did not fill out or have the necessary forms and permits for bringing an exotic animal to Japan, King Kong can go no further, and Pacific Pharmaceuticals will be held liable for damages. Kong, however, wakes up from his drunken nap during this, and he tries to break free of his restraints. Sakurai and Kinsaburo, realizing how ridiculous their whole situation is, decide to detonate the dynamite attached to the raft. Mr. Tako tries to stop them, but he ends up pushing the trigger himself. The dynamite fails to go off, and Sakurai and Kinsaburo decide to just shoot the dynamite instead. The raft is destroyed, and King Kong now begins making his way to Japan.
Later, back in Japan, the JSDF is preparing for Operation: Burial, a plan to bury Godzilla alive in a giant hole. The preparations are interrupted by the appearance of King Kong, and moments later, Godzilla. King Kong and Godzilla face off from a distance, with Kong throwing large boulders at the dinosaur, which only seems to make him mad. Godzilla uses his atomic ray to destroy a helicopter, and then again to scorch Kong's chest. King Kong walks away in defeat. That night, Operation: Burial is ready, and the JSDF lure Godzilla into the trap. Despite going off without any problems, Godzilla is still alive, and he soon escapes his would-be tomb.
The JSDF now begin fortifying an electrical barrier around Tokyo, composed of power lines with a voltage of 1,000,000 volts, to defend against Godzilla, and it is completed by the next day. Meanwhile, King Kong is wreaking havoc across the countryside. When Godzilla approaches the city of Tokyo, the barrier proves to be a success, and Godzilla is discouraged from attacking. However, King Kong soon attacks the city, and surprises everyone when he eats the electrical wires and the city begins evacuating. Fumiko is once again caught in the path of a giant monster, but this time she doesn't get away when King Kong attacks the train that she's riding on. Fumiko falls out of an open door and into Kong's hand. Fascinated with the human woman, Kong throws the train car, still full of people, to the side. Kong eventually makes his way to the top of the National Diet building.
Holding back a furious Fujita, Sakurai quickly thinks of a plan to rescue Fumiko before the JSDF can shoot Kong. With the cooperation of the JSDF, dozens of loudspeakers are setup around King Kong, and some berry juice is put into some rockets. Sakurai begins playing the drums, along with what is apparently a recording of the natives' dance, and the berry rockets are fired. They explode in mid-air, enveloping Kong with a cloud of berry juice that, along with the music, causes him to fall asleep. Fumiko is rescued, but Japan still has to contend with the problem of having two giant monsters rampaging through it. Godzilla has been sighted near Mt. Fuji, so the JSDF decide to pit King Kong against Godzilla in a battle to the death. Using Fujita's wire, Kong is quickly tied up to several large balloons, and is soon towed by a helicopter to Mt. Fuji, where Godzilla awaits.
In the morning, King Kong finally wakes up and the balloons are destroyed, sending him tumbling down and crashing to the mutant dinosaur. The monsters then engage in a duel to the death on Mt. Fuji. King Kong is briefly knocked unconscious by Godzilla, but a thunder storm soon revives the gorilla, who then attacks Godzilla, sending electric currents through his fingertips every time he touches the saurian. The two monsters continue their duel and reach the coastline, eventually destroying the Atami Castle while going at each others throats. The two monsters soon tumble into the ocean, their fight causing tidal waves and an earthquake. Eventually, Kong resurfaces, with no sign of Godzilla. The dinosaur has seemingly disappeared, and King Kong begins his journey back to Faro island.
The film was a commercial success back in 1962, and made over 350,000,000 yen at the box office, with a budget of 5,000,000 yen. Contrary to popular belief, King Kong is the victor in both versions of the movie. At the time the movie was made, King Kong was still more popular than Godzilla. The Godzilla suit used in the film, named the KingGoji suit by fans, is very popular, and would be reused in the next film, Mothra vs. Godzilla when Godzilla is swimming towards Iwa Jima and when the titanic saurian falls into the ocean after being covered by the Mothra larvae's silk.
King Kong vs. Godzilla also remains notorious for being one of the most poorly preserved Kaiju Films from the 1960s. In the 1970s, the film was edited down to 70 minutes for the Toho Champion film festival. During this process, parts of the original negatives were cut out. These remaining parts only exist in fading 16mm copies. Toho's own DVD of the film is sourced from an archaic laserdisc master of said copies, resulting in muddy picture and even worse color.
This film contains examples of the following:
- Ass Pull/Deus-Ex Machina: The freak lightening storm that powers up King Kong to allow him defeat Godzilla. Hell, Kong being powered up by electricity when the same power lines failed to hold Godzilla back in his debut film also counts.
- A-Team Firing: In the Artic base scene, the military really missed Godzilla. Only two shells hit him, but to no avail.
- Character Tics: Godzilla's "clap" seen throughout the course of the two battles. It even has its own sound effect.
- Chekhov's Gun: Fujita's super strong thread comes in useful for lifting King Kong up to Mt. Fuji.
- Chekhov's Skill: During the making of a commercial at the beginning of the movie, Sakurai is playing the drums. This comes in handy later on when rescuing Fumiko fom Kong's clutches.
- Cut and Paste Translation: as mentioned above, Akira Ifukube's score was almost completely removed from the American version and replaced with stock music. It remains one of the greatest crimes in cinema yet.
- Diabolus Ex Nihilo: The Giant Octopus Kong battles on Faro Island.
- Distressed Damsel: Fumiko, who is menaced by both monsters, each time while on board a train.
- Executive Meddling: Not production-wise, but in-universe. Mr. Tako is rather meddling in this film because he wants to boost his ratings by Godzilla and King Komg's publicity. Yeah, having two destructive monsters to boost your ratings (even title dropping to drive the point home) is a "Good idea".
- Eleventh-Hour Superpower: Kong's ability to harness electricity against Godzilla. Ironic, as Godzilla would gain an electricity based power in a later film.
- Establishing Character Moment: Kong and Godzilla both have one. Godzilla attacks a military base, where he melts tanks and sets the entire complex ablaze with his heat-ray. Kong battles a giant octopus, which shows he is indeed powerful, but clearly outmatched by Godzilla.
- Heads or Tails: Mr. Tako habitually does this to make decisions. He even does it when the two monsters first confront each other in an attempt to predict the winner.
- Helicopter Flyswatter: Although he doesn't actually touch it, Godzilla does down a helicopter with his heat-ray.
- Jerkass: Godzilla. Oh so very much. He doesn't respect Kong as an opponent in the slightest, pretty much laughing just at the sight of him.
- It Only Works Once: Averted. The military manage to use the high-tention towers on Godzilla when the previous idea failed in the original Gojira.
- Large Ham: Mr. Tako.
- Lost World: Although it's easily accessible and has been mapped and charted, Faro Island is certainly one.
- Mobile Shrubbery: Sakurai and the others attempt to sneak past the JSDF to film King Kong and Godzilla by hiding in the grass and holding branches over their heads.
- Monster Popsicle: Godzilla after Godzilla Raids Again.
- Monumental Damage: Godzilla and Kong do their best to tear the Atami Castle to shreds.
- Mr. Exposition: Dr. Shigezawa, played by Akihiko Hirata.
- Off-Model: The stop-motion model used for Godzilla's infamous dropkick only resembles the suit very slightly. Kong's puppet used for closeups also qualifies.
- Opening Narration: Parodied. It's revealed the ominous narration was only part of the show Tako was sponsoring. The show's host even says it sounds like something out of a comic book. Played straight in the U.S. cut, complete with the same fake spinning globe and a stock quote from Hamlet.
- Pit Trap: The Self-Defence Force's plan to defeat Godzilla. Naturally, it doesn't work and he simply climbs out of it.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: Tying in with the last film, Godzilla is still frozen in ice at the beginning.
- Spell My Name with an "S": In the Japanese version of the film:
(After Godzilla breaks free) Helicopter pilot: IT'S GOJIRA!!!
- To note this, he says this in English.
- This Is My Boomstick: Sakurai's transistor radio and cigarettes serve this purpose.
- Title Drop: Mentioned above when Mr. Tako's trying to gain publicity.
- Urban Legend: There's an old myth that the film has two endings. A Japanese ending where Godzilla wins and an American ending where King Kong wins. For the record, however, both the Japanese and American versions have the same ending.
- Where's the Kaboom?: A classic example occurs during a scene aboard the ship.
- Word of God: According to Toho Studios, the winner of the battle is King Kong.