King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
The first two Godzilla films followed closely on each other and it was made quite clear that they were two different monsters. That helped since the suit changed quite a bit between the two and so did the tone. While it seems that it may have been by design to catch Godzilla Mania while it was still hot and then retreat, the truth was a third movie was planned that was to further explain where the monsters were coming from, and it's a plot that should be familiar to anyone who has seen the recent Godzilla vs. Kong: the Hollow Earth, populated by giant creatures from bygone times.
That third movie didn't materialize, mostly due to budget reasons. As for his popularity in the United States, technically only one movie had come out; Godzilla Raids Again was released as Gigantis: The Fire Monster in the U.S., five years after its Japanese premier and three after Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a highly edited version of the first movie. As for King Kong, he was as popular as ever in the United States, with the original movie being re-released to theaters on a regular basis. Even Willis H. O'Brien, the man who did the special effects for King Kong, was planning on a movie called King Kong vs. Prometheus.
Toho decided it was time for Godzilla's return 1962 and, after getting licensing from RKO to use King Kong in the movie, decided to bring the big lizard back to battle the big ape. Ishiro Honda, the director of Godzilla, returned to direct, as well as special effects director Eiji Tsubaraya. Even Akihiro Hirata, who played the brooding Dr. Serizawa in the first film, returns to play a more traditional scientist role in King Kong vs. Godzilla.
Pacific Pharmaceuticals is looking to up their sales and Tako (Ichirio Arishima), the regional head in Tokyo, is concerned that the show they are sponsoring is too boring for their product. To combat this he sends two of his public relations agents, Samu Sakurai (Tadao Takashima) and Kinsaburu Furue (Yu Fujiki), to Faro Island to investigate rumors of the emergence of an evil spirit, with hopes that they can capture it and bring it back. Meanwhile their friend Kazuo Fujita (Kenji Sahara) embarks to meet with the Sea Hawk, an American submarine exploring why ice is suddenly melting in the Arctic.
It turns out that the ice problem is being caused by Godzilla, who is trapped inside an iceberg and soon emerges and heads for Japan. Tako is furious because Godzilla is now getting all the attention, but it soon turns out the spirit that Sakurai and Farue were sent to find is none other than King Kong. They manage to capture him, but are forbidden from entering Japan with the monster. However, as Godzilla leaves a path of destruction behind him on the way to Tokyo, Dr. Shigesawa (Hirata) suggests that King Kong could be useful. Transporting him using an invention of Fujita's, they bring him to Japan, where he is quickly defeated by Godzilla and retreats to take his anger out on Tokyo, capturing Fujita's girlfriend Fumiko (Mie Hama) in the process. In an attempt to rescue her it is soon found that Kong has a hidden power that he can use to defeat Godzilla.
Unlike the first two movies this one was never supposed to be taken seriously. Ishiro Honda thought the idea was stupid from the beginning and, Toho, to their credit, wanted a lighthearted comedy. Working with Shin'ichi Sekizawa, Honda came up with a movie making fun of ratings wars and greed, using slapstick and puns and everything else to entertain his Japanese audience. Eiji Tsuburaya, along with Haruo Nakajima and Shoichi Hirose (who played Godzilla and King Kong, respectively), worked on making the battles look like a combination of wrestling and martial arts in order to make it as entertaining as possible. Financially they were successful, with the return of both of these monsters to the big screen being the cinematic event of 1962.
While I have only seen the American version once, and this would have been close to 40 years ago, I remember even as a kid not liking it. I thought it was almost as silly as some of the later movies. Honestly, I can say other than knowing I didn't like it, I couldn't remember much of anything that happened in it, and it doesn't help that even the English dub is not readily available. Turner Classic Movies has every Godzilla movie but this one, and Amazon carries neither version in any fashion. Even rarer is the version I decided to watch, which is the original Japanese one, and I can definitely say that a good amount of the humor translates and the monster battles are a lot of fun. The set of friends at the middle of everything are memorable. It is a far cry from the first two or from the next couple that would come after it, but it is nowhere near as silly as some of the later entries in the Showa series. It was meant to be a light, fun movie, and it succeeds wonderfully.
Also, although I may be in the minority on this, I like it much better than the recent remake. While they may look great and are attempting to sew together a consistent narrative in the Monsterverse movies, something that the Showa-era Godzilla films didn't really attempt to do after the first two, the current Hollywood run of Kong and Godzilla films are often threatening to collapse under the weight of their concepts. I find it harder to suspend disbelief when I see a large ape leaping about from ship to ship as if it were a video game character than I do a guy in an obvious gorilla suit knocking over a model of Atami Castle. Honda was largely proven right - the concept itself of the two monsters fighting is silly, so might as well make it as entertaining as possible. Hopefully the upcoming films in the Monsterverse will start taking that hint.
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
Time: 97 minutes
Starring: Tadao Takashima, Yu Fujuki, Kenji Sahara, Mie Hama, Ichiro Arishima, Haruo Nakajima, Shoichi Hirose
Director: Ishiro Honda