A US nuclear submarine looses Godzilla from ice that entombed the monster in Godzilla Raids Again. Then, King Kong is brought over to Japan thanks to a ravenous capitalist. In brief, King Kong vs. Godzilla exposes the influence of western society, and spends 90-minutes mocking it.
It’s certainly a busy film, opening on an educational TV show that an executive admonishes for its lack of ratings. Never mind someone might learn something. King Kong vs. Godzilla’s heart is that executive, Mr. Tako (Ichiro Arishima), as lively a corporate caricature as this series ever found. Future Godzilla films lashed out at profit-driven motives too; none did so better than King Kong vs. Godzilla and Mr. Tako.
Partway through, Tako slams newspapers and magazines, irritated by media covering a possible catastrophe rather than Tako’s pharmaceutical company. There’s a comical blindness to Tako, so ensnared by exposure and marketing, human lives no longer matter. King Kong vs. Godzilla appears almost depressed by what’s become of Japan during its economic expansion. Rather than togetherness, the ideal became selfishness. Director Ishiro Honda’s work often considered international cooperation; King Kong vs. Godzilla deals with national isolation instead.
Played for laughs, King Kong vs. Godzilla delivers an early example of horror comedy. Godzilla marches over a train at night, eerily shadowed and dramatic. Akira Ifukube’s dead serious score enhances scale and power. Then Kong, a drunkard, under control of the feeble Tako who never thinks beyond possible headlines. When Kong escapes, there’s more panic over the ape losing instead of the devastation.
King Kong vs. Godzilla brings numerous firsts. It’s widescreen. It’s color. It’s also the first to add kooky mannerisms to the monsters, who engage in a wacky, cartoon-like brawl. Tonally weird as this seems after Toho’s monster output prior, the genre as much as the country started to transform. Rather than nuclear fears, here Kong represents those hardened capitalist values, and Godzilla an older Japan before post-war recovery.
The duel plays like a pro wrestling match. By the end, both sides look idiotic (although the pitiful Kong suit doesn’t help). Importantly, no one wins. Instead, the arguing and in-fighting leaves behind rubble. No one learns anything from this fiasco; Tako looks mournful as Kong swims home, as if his entire ad campaign ran out on him. In parodying then popular Japanese salaryman comedies, King Kong vs. Godzilla laughs at the dedication employees feel to their brand. Through a surreal lens, the suggestion seems to be none of this is worth it. This all ends in more fighting anyway.
King Kong vs. Godzilla’s awful, malformed US cut shows up alongside Godzilla Raids Again. This version, marking the first time the Japanese edition is available officially Stateside, is included as a bonus feature on the Showa Era Collection’s final disc.
In the first reel, the transfer struggles. While Criterion includes restoration notes alongside their releases, only the US version does here. That means the dismal, spliced-in pieces (that appear to be culled from a Laserdisc version) don’t have an explanation. It’s impossible not to notice, but thankfully, only makeup a fraction of the runtime.
The rest is touch and go in spots. In general, grain reproduction holds, capturing stellar definition. Facial texture becomes visible and small details in miniatures stand out. Minimal damage (outside of effects shots) keeps imagery pristine. Enough resolution pours out to make this a sizable upgrade.
Where loss occurs is shadows. Black levels fail in firmness, maintaining murky, loose grays. In those, detail sinks, sucked into darkness. Vertical banding shows up here too, most apparent as Godzilla nears the train. Bummer.
Color soaks up sun, now warmer than any prior release with a definite digital slant. That said, the years of fading, often yellowing presentations make this acceptable. Finally, King Kong vs. Godzilla splashes dynamic hues, excelling at bringing out vibrancy. Feathers worn by Faro Island natives leap from the dark, and that’s just one example. Some yellowing still stains the final moments, if not enough to knock this effort down.
Note: The US version uses the same transfer as Universal’s stand-alone disc, reviewed previously.
Isolated scores need to make a comeback, if only for King Kong vs. Godzilla. DTS-HD 4.0 does musical wonders, from the boominess of native drums to the brass making up Godzilla’s theme. Utterly enveloping, the soundstage engages in total. It’s equivalent to being at a classical concert.
Strong stereo separation follows dialog and effects. Listen for the radio played on Faro to spread to the left when off camera. In the submarine, iceberg chunks fall in rear channels. Monster roars swell into each speaker. If anything, those roars push range too aggressively. It’s loud, piercingly so. A few volume adjustments are likely.
Given this is considered a bonus unto itself, there’s nothing specific to King Kong vs. Godzilla. However, the Showa Era Collection’s extras reside here. A conversation with director Ishiro Honda runs an hour. It covers his entire career. Toho’s Special Effects and Outtakes is a documentary that also runs about an hour, covering more than Godzilla, but includes a number of goofs worth seeing. Filmmaker Alex Cox chats briefly about his love of these films. An interview with composer Akira Ifukube from 1999 runs a little over 14-minutes.
Godzilla vs Megalon’s Jet Jaguar suit actor Tsugotoshi Komada speaks about his part for five minutes, and Bin Furuya (bit player at Toho, but known for Ultraman) chats for seven minutes. A trailer for each film closes things out.
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King Kong vs. Godzilla
Using the country’s kaiju popularity for its base, King Kong vs. Godzilla has a blast comically turning western capitalism on its head.
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