The popularity and evolution of Godzilla films in the 60’s and 70’s is an interesting genre to learn about, especially concerning its demographic. The original Godzilla, released in 1954, was metaphorical of the dangers of nuclear weaponry, and was a harsh but fantastical reminder of what the Japanese people had to go through during the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By the mid 1970’s, Godzilla was an allegory for giant crummy looking monsters punching each other in the face. As time went by and World War II slowly became a bad memory, Godzilla took on a more light hearted, goofy and entertainment focused approach The audience slowly devolved from adults, to teenagers and then to young children. King Kong vs. Godzilla, the third in the Godzilla franchise and the first film to see both Godzilla and King Kong in color, is arguably the first film in the franchise to implement this silly new direction. I want to make it clear that I don’t think the tonal change and focus during this time is a slight on the franchise. In fact, I think it was the best decision that Toho, the producers and distributors of Godzilla, ever made. I grew up with Godzilla movies, and King Kong vs. Godzilla is easily one of my favorites. But I will fully admit that the movie is really, REALLY dumb.
The movie is about a greedy Japanese pharmaceutical CEO named Mr. Tako (Ichir? Arishima) who’s disappointed with the TV shows that their company is putting out, and he wants to try and find a way to boost their ratings. He hears a rumor about a giant monster who lives on an island in the South Pacific, and believes that capturing the monster would be a perfect ratings booster. The company head sends two of his men, Sakurai (Tadao Takashima) and Kinsaburo (Y? Fujiki) to capture the monster and bring it back to Japan. Why did the company head send two pencil pushers to capture the monster as opposed to professional animal hunters or cryptozoologists? Don’t think about it. When they reach the island, it’s revealed that the monster is, of course, King Kong. Yes, King Kong is alive and is somehow six times larger than he was in the original King Kong film. How and why? I said don’t think about it, didn’t I? Kinsaburo and Sakurai manage to capture King Kong, but he escapes. Meanwhile, Godzilla shows up in Japan and commences his usual routine of destroying the city, and runs into King Kong. And thus, the two tokusatsu titans throw down in a WWE style smackdown for the ages!
Godzilla Raids Again, made in 1955, may have introduced the concept that Godzilla could fight other giant monsters, but King Kong vs. Godzilla takes full advantage of the genre, and it shows just how ridiculous and fun a movie like this can be. The more I think about it, this match up actually makes a lot of sense. Godzilla is a representative of Japan, and King Kong is a representative of America. The two nations have fought each other for various reasons for generations, why not through our monsters?
The fight between Kong and Big G is an incredibly entertaining and oftentimes impressive piece of 60’s monster movie cheese. Kong and Godzilla bellow at each other, Kong throws rocks at Godzilla, Godzilla uses his atomic breath, Kong jams a tree down Godzilla’s throat, Godzilla does a dodgy stop motion double kick on Kong, they both destroy a pagoda with their bare hands and they tumble and wrestle each other down various mountains and cliffs. The effects and costumes are admittedly not the best, but the attempts to make the fight as entertaining, realistic and creative as possible makes up for the cheap production. And besides, if you want amazing effects in a monster movie from the 60’s, then you’re asking for too much. I’m fairly certain the scriptwriter for this film was a 7 year old on a sugar high playing with his action figures. In fact, in one particular shot, Godzilla and King Kong are fighting in the distance, and they literally look like action figures being smashed together. Is it cheap? Totally. Is it funny and memorable? Absolutely.
Watching King Kong vs. Godzilla is like watching professional wrestling. It’s dumb, cheesy, looks fake and is cartoonishly violent, but it is an absurd amount of fun and I wouldn’t have it any other way. To top this off, there are plans for a remake/reimagining in 2020 as the fourth film in the Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse series. While I normally hate remakes, I do believe that King Kong vs. Godzilla warrants one. As much as I love the 1962 version, seeing King Kong and Godzilla fight with a much bigger budget and superior effects does tickle my monster movie fancy a tad. I don’t see how they could mess up a simple concept like King Kong vs. Godzilla, anyway. Make up any dumb excuse for them to meet each other, and let them fight. It’s not hard. We’ll see how that project plays out when it eventually makes it to the big screen. Until then, watch the original.