Ishiro Honda’s King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) Review

 

When Gojira (known worldwide under its name Godzilla) was released in Japan in 1954, it created a cinematic legend that became a dominant figure in Japanese cinema over the decades to come, and it wasn’t long before it also took the world by storm.

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Gojira‘s director Ishiro Honda became the master of the monster movie, and it would bind him to this Japanese special FX film genre till his death in 1993.
8 years after its cinematic birth it was decided in 1962 that Godzilla needed to face an adversary that was known world wide as well. Maybe a foe that was even more popular than Japan’s own radiation monster. They found this adversary in King Kong, another unmistakable legend from the silver screen. It would become The Two Mightiest Monsters Of All Time! in the cinematic smack-down of the decade.

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Honda’s original intention was to make the film with stop motion animation. Unfortunately the budget was tight, making this impossible to achieve. So out came plan B: men in costumes going at each other and stomping on models. This basically setting the standard for the many more creature films that would follow.

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The men in costume is what gives the film a certain entertaining charm but also its b-movie cheapness. Looking at it now it makes the film extremely dated, but also gives it its classic feel of a gone-by era. The obvious models that get stomped by the costumed men is enjoyable to watch, even more so is the climatic showdown. Like when Kong throws fake rocks at Godzilla that have no impact whatsoever, or Godzilla kicking Kong in true “This is Sparta!” style.

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One of the film’s biggest issues next to the budget constraints is that other than the previous Godzilla films, there has been a slight shift in tone. If you watch the original 1954 film, the main atmosphere and tone of the film is clear: terror. Godzilla is a frightening creature, born out of atomic radiation and destroying whatever blocks its path. In this film, the shift has been made to be more comedic. “There are two gigantic lethal monsters destroying our cities and killing many people in the process, but hey we are used to it; who are you putting your money on?” Since it is a campy film, there is nothing wrong with this, and it still features its moments where terror is the ruling element, but it does put the showdown between the two heavy weights in a different lighting.

It almost makes you forget that there is a plot to all this. Of course this plot happens to be just an excuse to get Kong from a place called Pharaoh Island (which is inhabited by Japanese people of whom most are painted to be black. Still not sure what to think of that) to face Godzilla who is causing rampage in Japan once again.

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Since they switched from stop motion animation to costumes, you would think that some money and time would have gone into creating these costumes. Maybe this was the case of course, but unfortunately this doesn’t really seem to be so. Especially Kong’s suit looks kind of ridiculous, with the actor’s arms being shorter than the suit’s most of the time, making them move around like sticks. The Godzilla costume isn’t that impressive either, but I guess it beats Kong’s.

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Then again, this is a B-movie from the special FX monster genre made in the early 60s, so the campiness factor is something that does make the film fun. There is no doubt that some hard work and many working hours went into making this, including the sweat of the two costumed actors throwing each other around.
Also a fun fact is that the movie features Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi, who would both appear 5 years later as Bond girls in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967).

It is all about what you expect when you sit down to watch this motion picture. I expected a campy b-movie and got exactly that. If you aren’t expecting any more than this, this movie will definitely entertain you with its classic clash of these two cinematic titans.

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