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KINGKONGU TAI GOJIRA (KING KONG VS. GODZILLA) (1963)

"The atomic bomb is out of the question. Our only chance is somehow to bring them together. Kong versus Godtilla. If we are lucky, both will die."

Director:.. Inoshiro Honda, Thomas Montgomery
Starring: Michael Keith, James Yogi, Harry Holcombe, Tadao Takashima, Yu Fujiki, Akiko Wakabayashi, Kenji Sahara, Akihiko Hirata, Ichiro Arishima Screenplay.. Shinichi Sekizawa, Paul Mason, Bruce Howard

Synopsis: The world is shaken by terrible earthquakes. Icebergs are breaking up in the Bering Strait, which is unusually warm. An American nuclear-powered submarine is sent to investigate. Meanwhile, a Japanese scientist announces that he has discovered on one of the Solomon Islands a berry with great medicinal properties. However, the natives will not let him have many of them, as they give the berries'juice to a "mysterious god". The Pacific Pharmaceutical Company sends an expedition to the island. In the Bering Strait, the US submarine sees a strange light coming from an iceberg, which begins to break up, severely damaging the vessel. The crew sends off a distress signal, but the submarine is destroyed. A helicopter team responding to the signal sees Godzilla. He is heading for Japan. On the island, the expedition team is captured by the natives, but manage to make friends with them. A giant octopus attacks the village, but is defeated by King Kong, who drinks the pots of berry juice the natives have left for him and falls into a heavy sleep. The expedition team captures him, towing him towards Japan. Hearing of this, the government dispatches the coast guard to prevent Kong entering the country. Godzilla attacks Japan, destroying a train. An attempt is made to destroy Kong, but he escapes, immediately setting out to find and battle Godzilla.

Comments: In the early days, Godzilla was a "bad" monster, perpetually trying to destroy Japan, and waging war with "good" monsters trying to defend the country. In this case, the fable is given a harder edge than usual by having King Kong the resident of the Solomon Islands, which were occupied by the Japanese and then captured by the Americans, and the site of some horrendously bloody conflict during World War II. In this context, the original ending of the film, the defeat of the "natural" Kong by the "unnatural", atomic bomb created Godzilla, takes on very grim overtones. However, the intended subtext of the story has, not surprisingly, been almost entirely jettisoned by worse than usual Americanisation. It is fitting, then, that the funniest moments in the film come about in the English language inserts. We are introduced at the beginning to Eric Carter, a news broadcaster for the UN (the "UN Channel" -I wonder if you have to pay extra for that....), who seems to work twenty-four hour shifts. When Godzilla appears, Carter announces that, "The world is stunned to learn that prehistoric monsters exist in the twentieth century!" Obviously, he hadn't been paying attention for the preceding ten years. (Question: if he doesn't know who Godzilla is, how does he know he's called Godzilla?) The prior battles with Godzilla, Gigantis, Rodan and Mothra are conveniently ignored as the Japanese are forced to turn to the Americans for help. Or at least to Eric Carter, who calls in Arnold Johnson, the curator of the New York Museum of Natural History. Johnson lectures the audience from his Big Book Of Dinosaurs, and announces that Godzilla is a cross between a tyrannosaurus and a stegosaurus (well, if the dinosaurs were carrying on like that, it's no wonder they died out). When Kong appears, we again turn to Johnson for help. He informs us that Godzilla has a brain the size of a marble, but that Kong is a thinking animal. That might be so, but you wouldn't know it from what follows, one of the most knock down, drag 'em out, dirty tactic slugfests ever committed to film. No holds barred between these two: tail pulling, tree stuffing, rock throwing, kidney punching, dirt kicking, stomping and obscene hand gestures, it's all here. Unfortunately, quite a lot of this is lost through some truly terrible pan-and-scanning - or rather, the lack of any - which leaves the audience to gaze at an expanse of blue sky while the two out of shot combatants shout abuse or chuck rocks at each other. Godzilla wins the first two rounds, and should have won the last, except that for some peculiar reason the Americans decided that people wanted King Kong to win. Earlier, Arnold Johnson (apparently an expert on island gods as well as prehistoric monsters) had told us that electricity makes Kong stronger, "for some reason we do not as yet understand", and we were treated to a shot of Kong chowing down on high tension wires. So while he's lying dead, having had the crap stomped out of him by the big G, Kong is mysteriously revived by a bolt of lightning. And then it's into the final round. The two slug it out some more, take time out to wreck a pagoda (old habits dying hard), then wrestle each other off a cliff and get buried by an earthquake. There's no sign of Godz after this, but Kong heads off back to his island. Inevitably, the ubiquitous Eric Carter gets the final word: "We wish him well on his long, long journey home." Since Kong has done far more damage than Godfilla this seems a little strange to me, but never mind. All in all, King Kong Versus Godzilla is one of the funnier Japanese monster movies, dispensing with its serious overtones at quite an early stage and letting its stars get down to business. The only darker notes are sounded in the Japanese government and military's reiterated refusal to consider using the atomic bomb against Godzilla, and in a tasteless sequence in which the members of the island expedition win over the natives by giving cigarettes to everyone in the village, including the children. After that, Japan - or at least, the Pacific Pharmaceutical Company deserves anything it gets.