Written By: Ken Hulsey
Recently I have written a lot about how the 1933 American classic monster movie "King Kong" influenced Asian film makers. Right from the moment that "Kong" came on the scene, the Japanese developed a love for the monster. Almost imeadiately Shochiku produced their own clone of the film, "Wasei Kingu Kongu", and five years later made "Edo Ni Arawarita Kingu Kongu". Both films featuring a man in a gorilla costume as "Kong."
It is known fact that the Meriam C Coopper film "King Kong" had a profound influence on both Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya, two men, who would decades later, combine their talents to create a cinematic monster icon of their own known as "Gojira" (Godzilla).
The film had a special place in the development of Japan's premier special effects legend Eiji Tsuburaya. Only a camera man at the time, Tsuburaya, optained a 35mm print of "King Kong" and began to study it frame by frame. From his studies the future special effects genious was able to disect the film and learn how each effect was achieved. It was this film, above many others, that inspired him to work on movie effects.
The idea of pitting King Kong against another monster came about in 1960, when Willis O'Brien, the man behind the stop-motion effects in the original film, had developed his own sequel. Godzilla, however, was not the monster that O'Brien had wanted Kong to fight. Frankenstein was the monster of choice for this new movie idea, but there was all kinds of hurdles that would have to be overcome if the classic Universal horror icon was to be used.
O'Brien believed that he would have no trouble securing the rights to use the name "King Kong" from the now defunct RKO, but he was worried about getting the rights to use "Frankenstein" from Universal. To get around this, the name was changed twice during development, first to "The Ginko", and then finally to "Prometheus", an alternate name for the monster from Mary Shelley's original novel.
O'Brien peddled his "King Kong vs Prometheus" film idea to all the major studios in Hollywood. Ultimately it was the effects man's insistance that stop-motion animation, a long and expensive process, be used, that turned the studios off.
On a side note, it is interesting that decades later (in 2007) a writer named Rock Baker would try and pitch a new script to for "King Kong vs Frankenstein" to Universal. It was his hopes that the film could be a sequel to Peter Jackson's 2005 remake. Once again someone was shown the door.
O'Brien was only able to convince former Universal producer, Jon Beck, that his idea was viable. Beck, like O'Brien before him, took the idea from studio to studio, again no takers. It wasn't until he started looking outside the United States, did he find an interested party, Japan's famed Toho Studios.
Toho wasn't interested in using Frankenstein, but due to undoubted influence from both Tsuburaya and Honda, they expressed an interest in making a King Kong film. The studio had been looking for a long time for a vehicle to bring back Godzilla, so the project seemed like a marriage made in heaven.
Beck ultimately caved to Toho's request, and changed Frankenstein to Godzilla, selling the idea to the studio. He also managed to get Toho to pay for the rights to use "King Kong" in the film, a price that was so high that it ate up a good chunk of the money that was allotted for the production.
With both monsters 'locked in', Toho began production on what would end up to be the most popular monster movie in their studio's history.
The cost of using "Kong" did, as a mentioned before, eat up a lot of the film's budget. Several shortcuts had to be made to fit the film under this reduced financial cap. Filming had to be moved from Sri Lanka to Oshima Island, located just off the coast from Tokyo. The King Kong costumes were not as detailed as many of the monsters suites used in prior films. Puppets of various sizes were even utilized for some of the effects shots.
It is safe to say that the final result was not what Honda and Tsuburaya had invisioned for their "King Kong" movie.
On the other hand, the Godzilla suite design was a major improvement over what was used in both "Godzilla" and "Godzilla Raids Again." This time around "Big G" sported a more reptilian look, something more in line with its dinosaur ancestry. The new design would be the basis of all the Godzilla suites that would proceed it throughout the 1960s.
In fact, this is my favorite Godzilla design of all time. I just think it looks more like a dinosaur than any of the others. Hey, its all subjective, and yes, I do like the GMK design as well. I'm just mentioning that, because I know some fan is going to call me on it. Better to beat them to it, I say.
Despite the budget restrictions, Tsuburaya produced some his best minature sets for the film.
Mr. Tako, head of Pacific Pharmaceuticals, is frustrated with the television shows his company is sponsoring and wants something to boost his ratings. When a doctor tells Tako about a giant monster he discovered on the small Faro Island, Tako believes that it would be a brilliant idea "...with a punch" to use the monster to gain publicity. Tako immediately sends two men, Sakurai and Kinsaburo, to find and bring back the monster from Faro.
Meanwhile, the American submarine Seahawk gets caught in an iceberg. Unfortunately, this is the same iceberg that Godzilla was trapped in by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces back in 1955, and the submarine is destroyed by the monster. As an American rescue helicopter circles the iceberg, Godzilla breaks out and heads towards a nearby Soviet Arctic base. The base alarm sounds as they deploy everything they have against him. Tanks were sent to stop Godzilla's advance, but to no avail. Godzilla advances, now closer to the base. 12 rapid-firing four-turreted artillery cannons, despite their firepower and firing rate, had no effect either. Godzilla, now at the coastline of the base, fires his atomic ray at the tanks' defensive line, melting them instantly. The rest of the tanks retreat, now leaving the bases defenses to deal with him. The base itself, of course is ineffective against Godzilla. He continues moving inland, razing the base to the ground, and sends the tank armory up in flames. Godzilla's appearance is all over the press, making Tako furious.
Meanwhile on Faro Island, a Giant Octopus attacks the native village. The mysterious Faro monster is then revealed to be the giant gorilla King Kong and he arrives and defeats the tentacled menace. Kong then drinks some red berry juice, gets drunk, and then falls asleep. Sakurai and Kinsaburo place Kong on a large raft and begin to transport him back to Japan. Back at Pacific Pharmaceuticals, Tako is finally glad because Kong is now all over the press instead of Godzilla. Mr. Tako arrives on the ship transporting Kong, but a JSDF ship stops them and orders them to return Kong to Faro Island. Godzilla had just come ashore in Japan and destroyed a train, and the JSDF doesn't want another monster entering Japan. Unfortunately, during all this, Kong wakes up from his drunken state and breaks free from the raft. Reaching the mainland, Kong meets up with Godzilla in a valley and Tako, Sakurai, and Kinsaburo have difficulty avoiding the JSDF to watch the fight. Eventually they find a spot. Kong throws some large rocks at Godzilla, but Godzilla shoots his ray at Kong's chest, forcing the giant ape to retreat.
The JSDF desperately tries everything to stop Godzilla from entering Tokyo. In a fielded area outside the city, they dig a large pit laden with explosives and try to lure Godzilla into it. They succeed and set off the explosives, but Godzilla is unharmed and crawls out of the pit. They next string up a barrier of power lines around the city filled with a 1,000,000 volts of electricity (300,000 volts had been tried in the first film, but failed to turn the monster back). The electricity is too much for Godzilla, who then moves away from the city towards the Mt. Fuji area. Later at night, Kong approaches Tokyo. He tears through the power lines, feeding off the electricity which seems to make him stronger. Kong then attacks Tokyo and holds a woman from a train, named Fumiko, hostage. The JSDF explode capsules full of the berry juice from Faro Island and knock out Kong. Tako approved of this plan because he "...didn't want anything bad to happen to Kong." The JSDF then decide to transport Kong via balloons to Godzilla, in hope that they will fight each other to their deaths.
The next morning, King Kong is dumbo-dropped onto the summit of Mt. Fuji from the balloon air-lift, meets up with Godzilla and the two begin to fight. Godzilla has the advantage at first, eventually knocking Kong down with a vicious drop kick, and battering the monstrous ape unconscious with powerful tail attacks to his forehead. When Godzilla tries to kill Kong with his ray, an electrical storm arrives and revives Kong, giving him the power of an electric grasp. The two begin to fight again, with the revitalized Kong swinging Godzilla around by his tail, shoving a tree into Godzilla's mouth, and judo tossing him over his shoulder. The brawl between the two monsters continues all the way down to the coastline. Eventually the monsters tear through Atami Castle and Kong drags Godzilla into the Pacific Ocean. After an underwater battle, only King Kong emerges from the water and begins to slowly swim back home to Faro Island. As Kong swims home, onlookers aren't sure if Godzilla survived the underwater battle, but speculate that it was possible.
There are major differences between the version of "King Kong vs Godzilla" that was released in Japanese movie theaters and the one that was shown in the US. The original Japanese version, which was penned by Shinichi Sekizawa, was a fast paced humorous satire about commercialization, something that was lost on Beck, who produced the Americanized version.
Beck inserted scenes with American actors, which were intended to give the film a serious tone. These scenes, combined with the origianal satirical Japanese footage, just succeeded in making the film seem awkward.
The producer also made a major error in eliminating Akira Ifukube's original score from the Amercan release. When watching the US version, it is hard not to notice the 'signature' music from Universal's "Creature From The Black Lagoon", which was added by Beck to make the film seem less "Oriental."
One thing that was not changed from the original Japanese version, was the ending. For decades it was always assumed that in Japan audiences witnessed Godzilla rising from the depths and swimming away. That was never the case. In both versions it is indeed Kong the emerges the victor, and swims for home.
King Kong vs Godzilla (1962)
Aka: Kingukongu tai Gojira
Directed By: Ishiro Honda
Written By: Shinichi Sekizawa, Bruce Howard, Paul Mason, Willis H. O'Brien (King Kong vs Prometheus), & George Worthing Yates
Produced By: John Beck & Tomoyuki Tanaka
Music: Akira Ifukube & Hans J. Salter (USA Version)
Special Effects By: Eiji Tsuburaya
Tadao Takashima as Osumu Sakuri
Kenji Sahara as Kazuo Fujita
Yu Fujiki as Kinsaburo Furue
Ichiro Arishima as Mr. Tako
Jun Tazaki as General Masami Shinzo
Akihiko Hirata as The Prime Minister
Mie Hama as Fumiko Sakurai
Akiko Wakabayashi as Tamiye
Akemi Negishi as Chikiro's Mother
Runtime: 98 Minutes Japan / 91 Minutes USA
A good portion of the information contained in this article came from August Ragone's book, Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters. The best book on Japanese sci fi that I have ever seen!
See Also: The Mighty Peking Man (1977)(Shaw Brothers Studio) / Frankenstein (1931) / Gigantis The Fire Monster (1959) / Godzilla King of the Monsters (1955) / Mothra vs Godzilla (1964) / King Kong Escapes (1967)