King Kong Vs. Godzilla (Japan 1962)

Rating: *
Review Date: 2/8/20
Director: Ishiro Honda
Cast: Mie Hama

Until the Criterion Showa Era collection came out, I didn't realize that "King Kong Vs. Godzilla" was Godzilla's big comeback film, and the first to be shot in color. I always assumed it was one of the last in the series due to its completely silly and juvenile premise. Even watching it as a child, I thought it was overly ridiculous. Unfortunately, the version in the Blu-ray collection is the horribly butchered American edit, and I didn't find out until later that the original Japanese cut is on the supplemental disc as an unadvertised bonus. However, I'm going to be hard pressed to watch the film again, just for the sake of comparison.

An expedition to the South Seas discovers a special berry that grows only on Faroe Island. Pacific Pharmaceuticals wants to use the berries to make a new drug, but the island natives refuse to give them away. They say the berries are needed to appease Kong, the god of the island. At the same time, global warming frees Godzilla from his icy prison, and he makes his way towards Japan. The head of Pacific Pharmaceuticals is enraged by Godzilla's appearance and demands to have a monster of his own in order to boost his TV ratings, so he sends a TV crew to Faroe Island to find out if Kong is real, and to bring him back to Tokyo if he is. After much silliness, Kong and Godzilla meet in Hokkaido and Kong beats a hasty retreat. But the humans decide to capture Kong again and airlift him to Mt. Fuji with helium balloons for a rematch. Strengthened by lightning, Kong and Godzilla toss each other around until they finally tumble into the ocean. Kong surfaces and swims away, while there's no trace of Godzilla.

Nearly everything about the film is a complete embarrassment, including goofy slapstick characters, natives offensively painted in black-face, really awful chroma-key compositions, unconvincing matte and background paintings, and a very silly looking King Kong costume and matching puppet. There's also a really long and nasty scene of a live octopus attacking a village, which is really uncomfortable to watch. Some of the miniature work is very good, but the film quickly cuts away from those scenes. By all accounts, director Ishiro Honda intended the characters to be a humorous satire of the entertainment industry, but Toho additionally wanted to make the monsters comical and more kid-friendly, which was against Honda's wishes.

The American edit of the film is nearly incomprehensible, and replaces most of the funny bits with news footage from the United Nations, laughably trying to explain what's going on. It's downright awful. Not only does it chop up the continuity of the original narrative, but it completely stalls the pacing. Character arcs are jumbled and make no sense. Around the middle of the film, Mie Hama's character gets on a train to Hokkaido to try and find her missing boyfriend, who was briefly introduced at the beginning of the film and quickly discarded. When he shows up, he's alive and well, but there's no clue as to who he is at this point. He then jumps into a Jeep and chases down his girlfriend's train, which has been derailed by Godzilla. At first, she's running away with a group of a dozen other evacuees, and then she somehow ends up flailing around in a creek for no discernable reason. After driving through waves of fleeing people, the boyfriend just happens to spot his girlfriend lying in the creek bed, in the dark, which is nowhere near the road. All this time you're thinking to yourself "what the hell is going on here and why?!?"

The American edit also replaces Akira Ifukube's music score with music from "Creature From The Black Lagoon" (1954) and inexplicably inserts footage from "The Mysterians" (1957) at the end of the film. While I found the film distasteful and disappointing in nearly every regard, it was a huge hit internationally, and reportedly still holds the record for the best selling film in the series.