The third entry of the Showa Godzilla series. After going on to helm numerous science fiction and kaiju films in the intervening years after the original movie, King Kong vs. Godzilla is the second film to be directed by Ishiro Honda. Known in Japan as Kingu Kongu Tai Gojira.
King Kong vs. Godzilla, is notable for many things. First, it was the first movie to feature both King Kong and Godzilla in color and widescreen. Second, and this is really important, it had both King Kong and Godzilla sharing the screen at the same time. Thirdly, because of how much things had changed in the studio production-wise in the seven years after Godzilla Raids Again, it can be considered somewhat of a "soft reboot" to the franchise as a whole.
Seven years after Godzilla's defeat, Mr. Tako, a television executive bored of a science program show with very low ratings, decides he wants to raise his ratings when he discovers a creature known as King Kong living on a charted island known as Faro Island, and so enlists TTV to find, and capture the creature in order to do so. However, outside of the former Kamiko Island, a nuclear submarine is set to investigate an iceberg with high radiation. To the horror to many, the iceberg contains the radioactive creature Godzilla. With two monsters on the loose, Japan decides King Kong should be the one to defeat Godzilla, but which of these monsters will emerge victorious?
Originally released in 1962, Toho's 30th anniversary, King Kong vs. Godzilla was the most commercially successful film in the franchise until the release of Shin Godzilla in 2016. The Japanese version of the film had a satirical tone, while the American version excised it in favor of a more conventional approach. The biggest difference between the two versions of the movie is the removal of most of Akira Ifukube's score, which is usually regarded today as one of the maestro's greatest works ever. The only pieces of music to survive this alternate edit were the natives' chants and a brief piece that plays during the jungle trek. It was in this film that Godzilla's theme would be properly introduced, although it was first heard by American audiences in 1964 with the release of Mothra vs. Godzilla, although the Godzilla theme in that film was also a modified version of the theme heard here. Fortunately, La-La-Land Records released the original Japanese version of the score, in its original stereo along with two bonus tracks, in America in 2005.
The original idea for the film was actually conceived by Willis O'Brien, although it didn't feature Godzilla at all. It was only through numerous rewrites that Godzilla eventually became King Kong's adversary, and that was only after the script was bought by John Beck, who then sold it to Toho. The differences between the Japanese version of the film and the American version are discussed on the trivia page. The plot description in the synopsis page will cover the Japanese version of the film.
The film was a commercial success back in 1962, and made over 350,000,000 yen at the box office, with a budget of 5,000,000 yen. At the time the movie was made, King Kong was still more popular than Godzilla. The Godzilla suit used in the film, named the KinGoji suit by fans, remains very popular, and the design was used for some of the earliest Godzilla merchandise stateside. In the following installment, the costume was reused for a few "big pool" scenes, namely when Godzilla is seen swimming towards Iwa Island, and later when Godzilla falls into the sea, covered in the webbing of Mothra's larvae.
King Kong vs. Godzilla also remains notorious for being one of the most poorly preserved Kaiju Films from the 1960s and has had a rough history on video. In the 1970s, the film was edited down to 74 minutes for the Toho Champion film festival... on the original negative. As consequence, the cut 24 minutes went missing. In the 1980s, Toho's first video release used an awful 16mm print for all cut shots, but in 1991, the cut portions magically reappeared in 35mm, which Toho used for a marginally better restoration. Then those elements went missing again, somehow, and Toho's DVD is just an upscale of the laserdisc master. For Toho's Blu-Ray release, most of the rediscovered segments were finally integrated again along with footage from the U.S. cut. Finally, in 2014, the uncut version of the film underwent a serious digital 4K restoration that finally used the entirety of the available Japanese camera negative, as the shots from the first reel were uncovered again. The restoration was simulcast on TV and in Toho-owned theaters in the summer of 2016, and was met with very positive reception from audiences.
Followed by Mothra vs. Godzilla.
This film contains examples of the following:
- Adaptational Badass: Justified since the original Kong would stand no chance against Godzilla, barely reaching the height of the average buildings at best and easily killed by regular machine guns. To make it a fair fight, Kong is beefed up to Godzilla's height, immune to bullets, and can harness the power of lightning.
- Adaptational Heroism: While he does kill a few people, Kong is less destructive than Godzilla and most of his rampages were due to confusion over some strange land he doesn't know or aware of. This actually makes his victory over Godzilla easier to swallow, since Godzilla remains a villain until his HeelFace Turn in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster.
- Aborted Arc: From this film to Terror of Mechagodzilla (or chronologically, Destroy All Monsters), the events of Godzilla are never brought up again (The Heisei series did it as well, except in certain cases). In Honda-specific entries, he always reminds us that Godzilla's a radioactive dinosaur.
- Achilles' Heel: Showa Godzilla's aversion to high-voltage/lightning-based attacks started with this film.
- Adult Fear: You can't find your kid on an island with giant octopus and King Kong on it, of course you're going to quickly freak out when you can't find him.
- An Aesop: After Tako finally gives up his pursuits after all that's happened, Dr. Shigezawa delivers one at the end."All I can tell you is that we humans must change the way we view nature. We still have much to learn."
- A-Team Firing: In the Arctic base scene, the military really missed Godzilla. Only two shells hit him, but to no avail.
- Attack! Attack... Retreat! Retreat!: How the first rampage scene goes. All the tanks hightail back to the hangar after Godzilla roasts just one.
- Behemoth Battle: The entire point of the movie is to get King Kong to fight Godzilla. They both face other obstacles in their path before they meet.
- Big Budget Beef-Up: Production value for special effects films had changed dramatically at Toho in the intervening years between 1955 and 1962.
- The Brigadier: General Masami Shinzo.
- Bumbling Sidekick: Obayashi, Mr. Tako's secretary, who is regularly chewed out by his boss.
- Can't Hold His Liquor: Kong spends the majority of the film literally passed out drunk or feeling the aftereffects of a severe hangover.
- Character Tics: Godzilla's "clap" seen throughout the course of the two battles. It even has its own sound effect. This was improvised by Haruo Nakajima in imitation of the gestures used by professional wrestlers during those days.
- Chekhov's Gun: Fujita's super strong thread comes in useful for lifting King Kong up to Mt. Fuji.
- Chekhov's Skill: During the making of a commercial at the beginning of the movie, Sakurai is playing the drums. This comes in handy later on when rescuing Fumiko fom Kong's clutches.
- Continuity Reboot: On Kong's side. He lives on a place called Faro Island instead of Skull Island, and the events of the original King Kong (1933) are never brought up; other than the tribe, humanity seems to be encountering him for the very first time. Averted on Godzilla's side, as he is introduced escaping from the iceberg that he was trapped in at the end of Godzilla Raids Again.
- Cowardly Sidekick: Furue initially is more confident in going to Faro Island than Sakurai, but immediately loses all courage upon arrival.
- Curiosity Killed the Cast: The crew of the Seahawk's fate after investigating the glowing iceberg containing Godzilla.
- Cut-and-Paste Translation: As mentioned above, Akira Ifukube's score was almost completely removed from the American version and replaced with stock music. It severely downplays any thematic leitmotifs for the two monsters and the excision of Godzilla's first real theme is unfortunate.
- Damsel in Distress: Fumiko, who is menaced by both monsters, each time while on board a train.
- Diabolus ex Nihilo: The Giant Octopus Kong battles on Faro Island.
- Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Harold Conway is seen with one aboard the submarine at one point.
- Dull Surprise: Al, the helicopter co-pilot, in reaction to Godzilla.
- Early Installment Weirdness: A small example, but this is the only known Godzilla film where the English speaking cast pronounces Godzilla as the way its spelt in Japan (Gojira). Later entries would keep his name as Godzilla.
- Eleventh Hour Super Power: Kong's ability to harness electricity against Godzilla. Ironic, as Godzilla would gain an electricity based power in a later film.
- The End of the World as We Know It: General Shinzo at one point mentions that according to the U.N., Godzilla's continued existence would eventually lead to this.
- Establishing Character Moment: Kong and Godzilla both have one. Godzilla trashes a nuclear submarine and attacks a military base, where he melts tanks and sets the entire complex ablaze with his heat-ray. Kong battles a giant octopus that is terrorizing a native village, which sets him up as the "hero" but also shows that he is indeed powerful, but clearly outmatched by Godzilla.
- Eureka Moment:Co-worker: Say, which one is stronger between Godzilla and King Kong?Obayashi: That's stupid. It's not a wrestling match.Tako: Fantastic! There's an idea. King Kong versus Godzilla...
- Evasive Fight-Thread Episode: The reason why this movie exists is to show the two most famous giant movie monsters from America and Japan duking it out. In terms of who is actually stronger, Godzilla's atomic breath gives him a ranged edge and he holds the upper hand in most of the slugfests the two engage in, Kong's intelligence and use of Godzilla'a kryptonite factor helps turn the tide. While the ending is ambiguous to a degree, Kong is officially the victor.
- Everybody Smokes: In an effort to win over the tribe, Sakurai hands out cigarettes to all in reach, even handing two to a persistent boy. His mother grabs one away, seeking to light it up.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The plot of the film is, sure enough, King Kong having a fight with Godzilla.
- Executive Meddling: In-universe. Mr. Tako enlists TTV to replace the boring low viewer count science show with a documentary program about Faro Island and Kong to gain his competitive pharmaceutical company more advertising revenue and publicity, and he wants Kong brought back to Japan as a mascot...
- Final Battle: Godzilla and King Kong battle it out in one of the most physically taxing and carefully choreographed fights of the series.
- Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Fumiko and Osamu Sakurai, somewhat.
- Fun with Homophones: Furue is puzzled when Sakurai alerts him about the octopus (tako) during the village attack.
- Global Warming: The reason the Seahawk was sent to investigate the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas and the initial focus of the Pacific Pharmaceuticals sponsored Wonderful World Series. Everyone at the beginning of the film is in a tizzy from the bizarre temperature changes occurring there.
- Godzilla Threshold: Crossed the first time in the series when the JSDF effectively uses Kong to finish off Godzilla.
- Gratuitous Panning: Being a relatively early, pre-Dolby film, the theatrical stereo mix has sparse centered dialogue or sound effects. Everything is directional. The monaural mix has a different center focused recording of the score and a few less sound effects (Godzilla doesn't growl when he gets the tree down his throat, for instance).
- Harmless Freezing: Godzilla breaks free of the "iceberg" he was trapped in (originally Kamiko Island) at the end of Godzilla Raids Again and immediately resumes his rampage like nothing happened.
- Heads or Tails?: Mr. Tako habitually does this to make decisions. He even does it when the two monsters first confront each other in an attempt to predict the winner.
- Helicopter Flyswatter: Although he doesn't actually touch it, Godzilla does down a helicopter with his heat-ray.
- Hollywood Natives: The Faro Islanders.
- Hong Kong Dub: The ADR for the helicopter pilots is not particularly well done. The U.S. version appears to be more close to what was said on set.
- Indecisive Parody: The film contains numerous, humorous homages to the original Godzilla and King Kong, but at the same time tries to plays itself as its own thing.
- An example of this is the scene where Kong ascends the Diet Building, Fumiko in tow, which is an obvious reference to the climax of King Kong, but Kong's performance is more in the vein of a confused animal instead of a jungle king asserting its dominance.
- Jerkass: Godzilla, or at least the closest thing the movie has to one. Has good fun taunting Kong with his superior firepower.
- Kaiju Popsicle: Godzilla.
- Large Ham: Mr. Tako. Godzilla's goofy theatrics can qualify him as one too.
- Lighter and Softer: The first two films, Godzilla (1954) and Godzilla Raids Again, were more or less intended to be Horror films, with the former having a greater emphasis on tragedy of post-war Japan, the aftermath of Hirohima and Nagasaki's destruction of two nuclear bombs, and victimizes Godzilla as a victim of the same nuclear warfare Japan did. This film whisked the series off in a more whimsical, fantasy driven direction, and fewer moments of entirely serious drama are seen throughout the film. Godzilla himself has moved from being a tragic monster villain to just more of a general jackass.
- Lost World: Although it's easily accessible and has been mapped and charted, Faro Island is certainly one.
- Market-Based Title: Was released in Germany during 1974 as Die Rückkehr des King Kong, while Mechagodzilla was released as King Kong gegen Godzila later in the same year (in which Mechagodzilla actually is called King Kong). Italy similarly changed the title to Il Trionfo Di King Kong to avoid confusion with the earlier King Kong contro Godzilla (Gamera vs. Guiron...)
- Mobile Shrubbery: Sakurai and the others attempt to sneak past the JSDF to film King Kong and Godzilla by hiding in the grass and holding branches over their heads.
- Monumental Battle: Kong and Godzilla duel to the death atop Mt. Fuji before working their way to the Pacific.
- Monumental Damage: Godzilla and Kong do their best to smash the Atami Castle to rubble.
- Kong crushes the front entrance of the National Diet Building in his drugged descent from the structure.
- Mr. Exposition: Dr. Shigezawa, played by Akihiko Hirata. Eric Carter, Yutaka Omura and Dr. Arnold Johnson in the U.S. version also count.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: Kong conveniently gains the ability to harness electricity to put him more on par with Godzilla, who severely outclasses him otherwise. At the same time and just as conveniently, electricity becomes Godzilla's Achilles' Heel in this film.
- No Animals Were Harmed: Averted, one of the four octopuses that played Oodako became the special effects director's dinner.
- Non-Malicious Monster: King Kong is disoriented from being thrust into civilization and in the end mainly just wants to go home.
- Off-Model: The stop-motion model used for Godzilla's infamous dropkick only resembles the suit very slightly. Kong's puppet used for closeups also qualifies, being largely different from the costume.
- Opening Monologue: Parodied. It's revealed the ominous narration was only part of the show Tako was sponsoring and the host laughs before shifting focus to the Arctic Ocean. Played straight in the U.S. cut, complete with the same fake spinning globe and a stock quote from Hamlet. Averted in the Champion Festival edit, which begins with Tako watching the show on TV instead.
- Pit Trap: The Self-Defence Force's plan to defeat Godzilla, coupled with Stuff Blowing Up and Deadly Gas. Naturally, neither the explosives or the gas work and he simply climbs out of it.
- Primate vs. Reptile: The Trope Codifier.
- Product Placement: Kong walks past a conspicuously placed Bireley's Orange Drink sign. This kind of sponsorship was something Toho started doing around Mothra.
- Punny Name: Tako is a homophone of Octopus in Japanese and Furue literally means "trembling".
- Screaming Woman: Fumiko, although Mie Hama's Japanese performance is considerably subdued compared to the English version and dubs based on it.
- Sealed Badass in a Can: Godzilla.
- Shout-Out:Sakurai: The storm will awaken Kong's inner strength. You'll see.Fujita: Like spinach does for Popeye?Sakurai: Exactly.
- Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: On European posters for the film, Godzilla was often greatly reduced or completely absence, and even the titles were changed to omit mention of Godzilla completely, becoming The Return of King Kong in Germany, and The Triumph of King Kong in Italy.
- Spell My Name with an "S": In the Japanese version of the film:(After Godzilla breaks free) Helicopter pilot: IT'S GOJIRA!!!
- To note this, he says this in English.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Kazuo and Fumiko.
- Stating the Simple Solution: A soldier points out when the military is preparing to fight Kong that their attack isn't going to work and will do nothing but make him mad. He's unfortunately ignored by his superior.
- This Is My Boomstick: Sakurai's transistor radio and cigarettes serve this purpose.
- Title Drop: Mentioned above when Mr. Tako's trying to gain publicity. In the U.S. version, Prof. Onuki is the one who drops it much later during the third act.
- Translation Trainwreck: The common old bootleg subtitles convey about 0% percent of what the characters are actually saying. Half of it seems to have been made up on the spot.
- Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny: King Kong and Godzilla are quite possibly the two most famous giant cinema monsters ever, and this is a movie about them fighting.
- Unbuilt Trope: While not the first it popularized movies with giant monsters fighting each other and one of the earliest examples of two popular icons duking it out. but the movie feels like a parody of these two tropes. The entire joke of the movie's crossover is a greedy businessman by the name of Mr. Tako brings King Kong to Japan to fight Godzilla for ratings but when Kong and Godzilla first meet Godzilla just shoots Atomic breath at King Kong, and the ape leaves seeing no point in fighting another strong monster for no reason, like most animals would. The only reason they do fight is that humanity slides King Kong down a hill into Godzilla. Also unlike most crossovers fights, there's an actually winner, King Kong
- Where's the Kaboom?: A classic example occurs during a scene aboard the ship, when Tako tries to wrestle Sakurai free of the plunger before accidentally operating it himself, to no avail as the wires had already been cut. So when that doesn't work, Sakurai and Kinsaburo try blowing up the charges with rifle fire, and succeed.
- Widescreen Shot: King Kong and Godzilla first share the same frame in such a composition.