Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Halloween 31 For 31: King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962)

From http://wrongsideoftheart.com/wp-content/gallery/

Dir. Ishirō Honda

After seeing him climb the Empire State Building in King Kong (1933) for this season, I can see the great ape in a position drastically different, a result of the original film's success, getting into a fist fight with the legendary Japanese kaiju Godzilla as depicted through TohoScope and full colour. First thing to mention is that the version I viewed is the American release which has a drastically different tone, including scenes of an American news reporter and his correspondents. The result actually added to the film, though I want to see the original Japanese release, furthering the paracinema nature of the viewing experience with a reassuring American voice informing the viewer within a room you'd might have found in Willy Wonka's bachelor pad. The film's title is its plot. Godzilla suddenly appears out of an iceberg and goes to Japan for a rampage. Kong, now the god of an island populated by Japanese extras painted up as African tribesmen, making the tribe on the original Skull island, including a couple blacked face white actors, modern in comparison, ends up being acquired by a Japanese advertisement company. (All with the help of giving cigarettes to the natives, even the kids, and the effect of a berry also from the island with a narcotic quality to get the ape high.) Kong eventually gets to Japan and sizes up Godzilla, leading to a fist fight between both monsters as the humans hope Kong wins.

From http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-NW7RpCxJv-g/U17xrQncEYI/AAAAAAAAOMI/v2qjT6d4IsM/s1600/King+Kong+vs+Godzilla+1962+movie+pic1.jpg
Out of the films of Ishirō Honda I've seen, becoming a favourite director, this is admittedly the schlockiest of them all, the film compared to the others that, for all their kitsch, are highly artistic and spell bounding in their imagination, while this one is a lot more silly and obviously absurd. It doesn't help that Godzilla has googly eyes or Kong looks more like a yeti than an ape, evoking Tony Schiavone commentating over the fight between the two*. A lot of the more fantastical aspects of these Honda productions feel more childish and amusing, as a result, in a great way here - the models representing military vehicles, the gaudy bright colours, the pan international tone despite being a Japanese film dubbed or otherwise. The drastic changes made for the American version - added footage, use of pre-existing footage and music from other films and how it juggles the added material with the original content - does give it a campier tone. The other Honda films I've seen were in their uncut Japanese versions, which for all their kitschy aspects have a serious, rollicking tone to them, thus leading me to consider that American sci-fi films from this time, and their reedits of other countries' sci-fi, is far and away more dated and ridiculous in tone to the Japanese ones. Still great and entertaining, but possibly more ridiculous than even the content in the Asian films in terms of tone.

From http://www.fantastique-arts.com/photos/6647.jpg
Actually describing the film in more detail is difficult because it is all a wait for the dramatic fight, which if you watch expecting a colossal, fight-to-end-all-fights, or one from a modern day blockbuster, you'll be disappointed. The film waits it's time with diversions. Comedy in the two people sent by the Japanese advertisement company to the Kong island who, with a translator, play up a shtick that involves exaggerated facial features and bumbling about. Their boss is a complete buffoon for more comedy. There is a slight drama involving a romantic couple and their friends in the midst of this monster rampage, briefly evoking Kong's continuing obsession with grabbing women and scaling buildings with them. Outside the titular two's various interactions, there is a giant squid attack, mostly done with real squid on model sets that, despite the effects looking utterly ropey today, is entertaining just to see a real squid (or four) being plonked on a model shamelessly. (More so knowing three were released back into the wild, and the fourth went into the stomach of  special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya afterwards). And the fight between Godzilla and King Kong? They interact on numerous occasions beforehand, which usually consists of Kong throwing a boulder at Godzilla, Godzilla using his fire breath, and Kong, always checking if his fur has been singed, trundles off. The actual fight is two men in suits crashing into each other, which is fun, not the greatest fight that could've happened, but considering the film still enjoyable. The film has a goofy, childish tone, and it's not a coincidence, after this film did well financially, the franchise called Godzilla started fully afterwards, growing into its own style drastically different from Honda's original 1954 film in favour of a gaudier style and rubber suit fights.

From http://m.cdn.blog.hu/me/mediaviagra/image/1962_king_kong_vs_godzilla_2.jpg
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
Japanese kaiju/sci-fi/horror from this era, as I view more of it, could get an entry on the Abstract list, the mix of the aesthetic style and the fantastical content potent enough to be trippy to modern eyes. Honda has a likely candidate, in fact, with Mantango: Attack of the Mushroom People (1963), but that's a literal mushroom trip for another time. As for King Kong Vs. Godzilla, it has nothing that really qualifies as weird or unconventional.

From http://www.notcoming.com/images/reviews/l/kingkongvsgodzilla.jpg
A Cinema of the Abstract movie?
Now having seen the original King Kong, there are numerous continuations of the character for me to see, becoming a fan of the ape. This isn't the last time Japan, or Ishirō Honda, took interest in Kong either. (If Frankenstein's monster can become a kaiju, nothing's off limits). And fittingly, as one monster was brought to Japan, the country's own would grow in strides to be a pop culture icon himself, as passing of the touch unintentionally happening here regardless of who won the fight. The film itself is a silly diversion, the drastic retooling for US release having as much a peculiar effect on the content too. Far from the best Japanese sci-fi films of this era for me, far from Honda's or Godzilla's best, but utterly entertaining. It's the kind of flamboyant pulp that is just entertaining and that's all I'd wished for from it.

(*Forgive the obscure wrestling references, but if you know what the reference is, I couldn't resist.)

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