Direction: Ishiro Honda (U.S. scenes directed by Thomas Montgomery)
Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa (U.S. scenes written by Paul Mason and Bruce Howard)
Music: Akira Ifubuke (U.S. music supervisor Paul Zinner)
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya
Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka (U.S. scenes produced by John Beck)
Many G fans remember this as one of their favorite childhood movies. Even those too
young to have seen it during its 1960’s theatrical run might have caught it on
TV at the age of five or six and fallen in love with it. Although I was six
years old in 1963 when the film played North American theatres, I didn’t finally
see the film until May of 1972 when it popped up on a cable TV station!
But I still recall – and always will – that wonderful King
Kong vs. Godzilla movie ad that appeared in newspapers across the country
during the summer of ’63. That one ad alone hooked me on The Big G big time,
even though I’d never seen a Godzilla movie. It promised so much in terms of
spectacle and monster bouts and city razing that the ad practically reads like
the recipe for the perfect kaiju eiga.
Of course, we all know that the ad “stretched” the facts. Despite the poster’s
promises, Godzilla didn’t knock jet bombers from the sky or attack Tokyo, nor
were ocean liners capsized or the earth flooded by tidal waves. (At the time,
my older brother Frank told me these calamities were caused by Kong and
Godzilla’s literally earth-shaking battle.)
But I won’t pillage the movie for what the ad said it would be. After all, ads for
sci-fi and monster movies frequently fibbed during the fifties and sixties.
That doesn’t make it right, of course, but it was often standard practice.
King Kong vs. Godzilla is, in this G fan’s eyes, a missed opportunity. Instead
of two colossal clowns cavorting about the screen, the film could have featured
two colossal kaiju fighting it out tooth and nail. Of course, Eiji Tsuburaya
apparently came up with the film’s admittedly ground-breaking monster tactics
that parodied Sumo wrestling and anthropomorphized the monsters. Mr. Tsuburaya
apparently felt lightweight “creature comedy” would be good for the small
children in the audience. Maybe it was. But I’ve read that “The Old Man’s”
assistant technicians couldn’t believe the outlandish things he was having Kong
and Godzilla do. For example, cameraman Teisho Arikawa said he thought
Tsuburaya had gone “overboard.”
But that said, as every good Godzilla fan knows, King Kong vs. Godzilla
remains the highest-attended Big G film of all time; in 1962, some 11.2 million
Japanese moviegoers flocked to the film, making the movie a hit and catapulting
Godzilla to “star” status. The film’s enormous popularity proves that, for
many Japanese, the light-hearted approach worked. After all, without Toho Kong
slugging it out with Godzilla midst a plethora of intricate miniatures and painted
backdrops, there probably would have been no Godzilla series at all.
And there’s probably no need to heap further insult upon Kong’s unique (ahem)
design. Nevertheless, the getup of Toho Kong (as I prefer to call him) remains
one of the strangest and least convincing of all ape costumes worn in the
movies. The close-ups of the articulated puppet head aren’t much better than
the full suitmation costume.
Godzilla, however, fares much better. Indeed, “King-goji” became the iconic symbol for
Godzilla during the sixties. Its massive body, pronounced dorsal plates, and
distinct reptilian head and snout give the King of the Monsters a powerful,
dinosaurian look. Aurora used this very design to fashion its Godzilla model
kit that came out in 1964.
And yes, this movie includes some decent scenes. Maybe the most effective is that
of the submarine Seahawk discovering Godzilla in an iceberg and the crew subsequently
wishing they hadn’t. The miniature of the sub is first-rate, and an overhead
shot shows Godzilla impressively breaking free from his icy prison.
Other on-target moments:
- The giant octopus attack on Faro Island.
- Kong emerging from the sea after his imprisoning raft has
- Godzilla’s bouts with the Japanese military.
- Kong toppling electrical towers and making short work of a
Even much of Kong and Godzilla’s battle is well-filmed. Their stomping through a
cluster of Japanese houses as they grapple with one another is effective. But
the best scene in the movie occurs when Kong and Godzilla square off on
opposite sides of Atami Castle. The quick, back-and-forth close-ups of Kong and
Godzilla as they plow through the crumbling tourist attraction are first-rate,
and their subsequent slow-motion tumble into the sea is likewise noteworthy.
But as for Godzilla’s foolish arm-waving and inane “laughing” and Kong’s silly
little leaps, well . . . I hope the kids liked it.
Much of the “human comedy” is just as painful, of course. After all, who can forget
one of the characters complaining about his corns and hamming it up while
flinging away an obvious rubber lizard? Such “comedy relief” stands in stark
contrast to the more serious scenes involving the Japanese military and
In addition, the quality of the miniatures and special
effects varies from good to awful to everything in between. Of course, one of
the things that hampers most of the monster scenes is the fact that almost all
of them are filmed in real-time; very rarely is the camera over-cranked. This
is a shame, because scenes such as Godzilla confronting the array of electrical
towers and Kong loping through Tokyo would have been so much more convincing if
they had been filmed in high-speed, which adds mass and greater realism not
only to suitmation monsters, but to crumbling miniatures as well.
Yet despite everything I’ve said or haven’t said, I admit I have a certain grudging
fondness for King Kong vs. Godzilla. And in the film’s defense, it
didn’t ask to be saddled with the tedious and often ludicrous American-made “U.N.
news” scenes that periodically drive a stake into the pacing’s heart. Nor did
it ask to have the American producers almost totally remove Akira Ikubuke’s
fine music score, only to replace it with old Universal horror and monster movie
motifs, most prominently the theme from The Creature from the Black
I have seen the Japanese version of the film minus English subtitles, and it
obviously flows better than its Americanized counterpart. In addition, you can
tell that the Japanese version is intended to be a satire of corporate greed
and television, which might somewhat explain the kaiju spoofing. The color is
vibrant, and the inferior matte work looks better than it does in the
Americanized version. Still, in an early 1990’s interview, director Ishiro
Honda himself expressed regret that the movie treats Godzilla in a basically
For me, the best aspect of King Kong vs. Godzilla
is the concept itself: that of having the most famous Western giant monster
clash with the most famous Eastern giant monster, the two battling behemoths
toppling buildings and pagodas in their wake as hundreds of panicked citizens
flee before them. Maybe someday, in another world or another century, this
pivotal kaiju eiga will be remade to realize its potential as the
greatest monster meet spectacle of all time. In the meantime, we still have
the entire Godzilla movie canon to keep us company. Think that’ll be enough?