Let me take you back to a time when the internet didn’t spoil everything for you. And information wasn’t readily available. When I was a child, let’s say about 8 because I don’t know all the specifics, I happened to be at the local K-Mart looking through the movie section. Lo and behold, I stumbled upon King Kong vs. Godzilla on VHS.
At this point in my life, I was aware of both monsters, having seen at least one or two films of each. Hell, back in the 80s, if you were looking to get into Japanese kaiju films, you were issued a copy of Godzilla vs. Megalon just to get you started. But Kong AND Godzilla in the SAME movie?? My brain couldn’t conceive such a notion. I had to have this movie. I don’t know how I exactly convinced my parents to buy this for me… but I did and I thank them silently for it.
Like most of us here, I will be referring to the Americanized version of this film since it’s no doubt the one we’ve all viewed. But I do have comments on the Japanese cut as well. Big surprise! I LOVE this movie! And it could be that I’m wearing the biggest pair of nostalgia glasses because of the previous story, but I can watch this film at any time and always enjoy it. But why though, right? That’s the big question. I’ve seen numerous outlets tear this film to shreds for a number of reasons that I personally don’t agree with. But as with everything here, to each their own. We all don’t have to like the same things.
But what do I like? Oh man where do I begin. First of all, I feel like the story is pretty solid, even more so in the Japanese cut but still holds up despite losing some of its satirical bite. Ichirô Arishima is hilarious as Mr. Tako. That face he makes while watching the TV always cracks me up and the frustrated noises he makes just adds to it all. Then Tadao Takashima and Kenji Sahara and both great as Sakurai and Fujita respectively. Fun fact, Kenji Sahara was the first actor I could name in Godzilla films, mainly because I put two and two together when I saw his name in the credits. Not sure if he’s the record holder of actor that has most appeared in a Godzilla films but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was.
I’ve heard comments about the UN broadcasts being ridiculous expositions for American audiences but I like them. I think they make for fun little segues. Plus, Michael Keith is charming enough to keep your attention. Don’t tell me he isn’t. And while I always love the music of Akira Ifukube in these films, it somewhat pains me to say that I kinda prefer the Universal stock music. It just brings a different kind of energy to film and I like it more. Had I been exposed to the Japanese cut first, my opinion could be different. Another fun fact: the music Universal used was actually the theme music to one of their classic horror flicks, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Had I been exposed to that film first it could have changed my perception.
But the main focus here should be our monsters and this film does not skimp on that. This film definitely feels like it created a nice balance between focusing on Godzilla, Kong and the human characters that have to drive the plot forward. Kong’s origins are familiar enough but then takes a turn when he appears to fight the giant octopus who actually has a name, Oodako I believe. You’d think that would mean “octopus” but in fact “tako” means “octopus” so… do what you will with that trivia. That octopus scene always disturbed me as a kid. The addition of the suction noises as it breathes just made me uneasy for some reason. The shit is nasty.
While we’re adjacent to the subject, let’s talk about Kong. I admit his design looks goofy at times. Don’t even get me started on the close-up shots. But for suitmation, it’s not as bad as it could be. Just go look at King Kong Escapes. And it was clear from the start, everyone knows Kong is the underdog. Godzilla ran him off fairly quickly during their first encounter because, you know, atomic breath. So I try to be understanding as to why Toho would have given him some extra ability. But, he was doing pretty damn good on his own before the lightning boost. And the lightning bolt didn’t seem to change his fighting tactics. I’m sure the decision makers thought they were leveling the playing field, but I felt you could have made some minor adjustments and done away with that element. Make it a true Rocky vs. Apollo story.
Then we have Godzilla who, along with Kong, is making his third film debut AND for the first time in color AND in a widescreen format. Amazing how all that worked out. I really dig Godzilla’s design here. He has a much more reptilian look which contrasts nicely with Kong’s design. He’s still in villain mode since he hadn’t made the switch yet and he’s kind of a jerk which I love as well! The mocking gestures he makes at Kong, clacking his claws together is one of my favorite things.
And Godzilla is still a genuine threat in Japan. There’s still the fear of his appearance and they spend a better part of the movie trying to stop his rampage. I will say in regards to the Japanese edit, the scenes of Godzilla and Kong rampaging make more sense from a narrative standpoint. In the US version, some scenes felt out of place but I had no context as to why. Now, having seen the Japanese version, it’s because they are!
Finally, the fight on Mt. Fuji could not be any more perfect than it was at that point in time. This was a fight! In fact, I can’t think of another fight Godzilla has had that felt like a genuine brawl. Punches, kicks, pushing, shoving, leg trips and body flips… it’s all here. And of course the classic “tree in the mouth” move which comes off like a desperate tactic done out of frustration. But it’s a great moment!
If I saw this movie for the first time today, I would like to think I would derive the same amount of joy from it. I do appreciate the Japanese version because it’s much stronger narratively. But I have such a fondness for the American version that it’s usually my go to. To the casual viewer, it might be a hard sell despite the names attached. To the hardcore fans, it’s a dream come true.