"We have to evacuate Tokyo and maybe all of Japan......"
Let me set the scene. My son Steve and I have always shared a love for Godzilla movies, and since my purchase of a multi region player, I’ve been importing Godzilla titles like a man possessed. Only a couple of the 28 films in the series are available on European region 2, so I’ve been buying in from Australia, North America, New Zealand to name but a few.
Since Steve was a small child, we’ve enjoyed the sheer goofiness of the traditional kaiju films - men in monster suits stomping around miniature sets of major Japanese cities. I feel that these kaiju films are something you either "get" or you don’t. If you do, then you need no explanation, but if you don’t then you never will. The exact same applies to KISS - you either "get" the band, the image and the merchandise or you don’t - there’s really no middle ground. Kind of like Marmite, I guess. Love it or hate it. There is no indifference.
So, lately I’ve been watching the original Japanese cuts of Gojira and its sequel Gojira no Gyakush, (literally translated as Godzilla’s Counterattack but known to us as Godzilla Raids Again) undubbed with subtitles and I’ve been blown away with how sombre and grim their tone is. Filmed in black and white, Gojira is a metaphor for what Japan was experiencing at the time. Made in 1953, a mere eight years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki and during the time of atomic bomb testing in the Pacific, causing the fish caught by Japanese fishermen to become irradiated, Gojira with his radioactive breath and his destructive force became a personification of the menace of radiation. When the film was dubbed, drastically re-cut and released in the Western World in 1956 as Godzilla - King of the Monsters it became a completely different film with a totally different emphasis.
When we last saw Godzilla, he had been stopped by being buried in an avalanche of ice - it would be seven years before he would rise again to wreak havoc on Japan. Thus in 1962, Toho Studios unleashed Kingu Kongu Tai Gojira on an unsuspecting world and Universal Studios stepped in to handle the Western release with some dubbing and editing and....... oh boy. It’s the American version I’m covering here.
Kong hadn’t been seen in in the movies since the 1933 original - and you know how big a fan of that I am and how much I owe that film - right? There was a lacklustre sequel of sorts called Son of Kong, sure - but the eighth wonder of the world was nowhere to be seen. So for whatever reason, RKO Studios sold the rights to Toho who produced.... this. A film so excruciatingly bad, it’s a work of comic genius despite at times having visual effects that are impressive even now 51 years later. What's even funnier is that if you check the poster at the top of the page, you'll see it originally was certified "X" in the UK - the equivalent today would be "18".
Let’s start at the beginning. Inexplicably, after the titles we are shown the planet Earth from the heavens..... spinning really, really fast. So fast that a day can only last about thirty seconds and I’m guessing the population have all either been pureed against the surface or they’ve all been catapulted off into space. Also, there are no clouds. None. It’s the nicest day’s weather the planet has ever seen. All this while a grim voice intones "There are stranger things on Earth, Horatio...."
Well allrighty, then.
I guess one of these stranger things might be the newscaster who can’t seem to sit still behind his desk while reading the news, or the atomic submarine investigating a strange luminescence emanating from an iceberg in the Arctic Ocean. A strange RADIOACTIVE luminescence, I might add. Nobody - literally nobody seems to remember that Godzilla had been buried in ice. Worse still, the atomic submarine somehow manages to collide underwater with the very iceberg it’s investigating. And by collision, I mean it’s buried nose deep in ice with water coming in everywhere, breached hatches, torn hull, rapidly flooding. "Abandon ship" screams the ship’s captain. Uh... how? You’re underwater. And where exactly would you go? Again, you’re underwater. In the Arctic Ocean and you’re stuck to a lethally radioactive iceberg. I think your options are pretty much limited to either drowning or flash freezing.
Of course the iceberg contains Godzilla - how could it not? And the sub has just released him, and he’s heading straight for Japan. Why specifically Japan? And why don’t the Japanese authorities immediately recognise him? He’s levelled Tokyo and Kobe already in the previous films? But no - they determine that he’s a strange cross between a giant t-rex and a stegosaurus "also known as the plated dinosaur". Um, yeah - of course those dinosaurs were... er... known for cross breeding like crazy. Makes perfect sense. But despite theorising like this and not recognising that he’s already killed tens of thousands of their population and caused enough property damage to bankrupt the world’s economy - they somehow know he’s called Godzilla. Take the continuity dept out and shoot them.
Meanwhile, on Faro Island, another monster has been reported - King Kong, the giant ape. Two people are sent over to get Kong for a TV station - and on arrival at Faro Island, are greeted by the local natives. Two points - isn’t Kong from Skull Island? And the natives - well they’re not the African Americans we saw in the original film. They are actually, honestly Japanese extras in black face and wigs. I kid you not.
Of course what’s even worse is that the make up for the skin colouring isn’t evenly applied and most of the natives have streaks, patches and runs. To compound the sheer lunacy of this scene - the well meaning Japanese "good ol’ boys" even hand out cigarettes to native children laughingly telling them not to smoke in front of their parents.
During a routine run-in with a giant octopus which wanders up the beach out of the water (????) to attack a native hut (Dialogue: "What’s up?" "Giant octopus, come on".) The mighty Kong appears just in time to throw some rocks at the octopus (a mixture of live octopus and stop motion) as it slithers and squelches its way haughtily back to the ocean.
Only it’s not the charming stop motion puppet of the thirties, it’s a man in possibly the worst looking ape-suit in the history of stupid looking ape suits. There are extensions to the arms which are removed during any sequences where Kong has to use his hands, his face looks confused to the point of appearing to be, shall we say whimsical to the point of retardation.
Anyhow, Kong escapes from his giant raft and although in the middle of the ocean still manages to stand upright in the sea to the score of Universal’s Creature from the Black Lagoon. Well, according to the authorities, it seems that Godzilla and Kong are natural enemies and Kong heads for Japan. How precisely would they know this? I thought Kong was a one-off as was Godzilla. Were there entire species of Kongs and ‘Zillas during dinosaur times? Really?
Anyhow, the first skirmish is just that - a skirmish. Kong throws a couple of boulders, Godzilla blasts the big ape with his radioactive breath, Kong wanders away, scratching his head.
Godzilla is still heading for Japan foiling all attempts to stop him by digging a huge pit booby trapped with explosives, but some high tension wires loaded with a million volts of electricity stops him, so he heads for Mount Fuji instead.
Now here’s an interesting new plot development that makes no sense whatsoever - just as electricity is too much for Godzilla, Kong chews through some cables on the outskirts of Tokyo and it charges him up, making his stronger. How the hell does THAT work?
Anyhow, they airlift Kong by balloon and drop him on the Mount Fuji site so he can do battle with Godzilla - after trading blows and wrestling holds, they both fall into the ocean and only Kong resurfaces, and he begins the long swim back to Faro Island.
The curious side of my nature would love to check out the Japanese original cut to see how it differs, but to be honest, there’s a side of me that enjoyed this movie for all the wrong reasons. In all probability, it was made with all earnest intent by Toho and was warped out of all recognition by Universal, and thus became a pure slice of comedy gold by accident. As "Mr Tako" says on the film - "Kong can’t make a monkey out of us". Oh, that’s a knee slapper.
For the rest of that particular Godzilla series which came to an end in the mid seventies, things would change - no more the sombre, dark message from a melancholy country still under American post-war occupation, the films would become bigger than life monster-fests with an ever more bewildering cast of opponents for Godzilla to face, including one that looks like a scaled dragon with a chicken’s head and a buzz saw blade spinning in its chest. I can’t wait to see how they explain THAT one. But if you want to check out THIS monster turkey - click here.
Copyright © 2010 - 2013 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.