And You Thought It Was Safe(?)


King Kong Escapes (1967)
"Damn giant, mutant therapods just don't learn, do they?"

“Damn giant, mutant therapods just don’t learn, do they?”

Why yes, this is my favorite King Kong movie. Is my enthusiasm showing? Well, I’ll do my best to tuck it back as we explore this rarely-mentioned, esoteric bit of late-60s kaiju eiga. It’s about as far from Kong’s first adventure as you can get without being Mighty Joe Young…but that just means this movie’s escaped its prequel’s shadow…right? As far as my inner-twelve-year-old’s concerned, King Kong Escapes kicks ass. The rest of me would still recommend it to you…with the following 3000 words of reservation.

I mentioned how Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster began life as a King Kong movie, similar to how King Kong vs. Godzilla began life as King Kong vs. Frankenstein (which instead spawned Frankenstein Conquers the World). Behind Sea Monster and tonight’s film you’ll find a 1966 collaboration between Japan’s Toei Animation studio and America’s Rankin/Bass productions, The King Kong Show. As its title and production company credits suggest, the Show was a half-hour animated series reboot of Kong’s origin for an audience of mid-60s kids. So they replaced the ship full of filmmakers with a family of scientific adventures named…Bond…just not that Bond. Continue reading



Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster (1966)
"A giant turtle? That flies?! HA! That's the stupidest thing I ever heard!"

“A giant turtle? That flies?! HA! With jets that shoot out of his ass? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”

Twelve years after his debut, Godzilla found himself riding an international wave of giant monster movies, Japanese or otherwise. The previous three films flooded Toho Studios with an admirable amount of cash and an (arguably) even larger amount of prestige. Rival studios began fielding their own monstrous challengers to Godzilla’s crown, but no one really cared about them yet. Why settle for second, third, or even fourth-best when the King of Monsters’ still going strong?

Hoping to cement their market dominance, Toho shook things up behind the scenes, turning director Ishiro Honda’s years of daikaiju movie-making experience towards creating new kaiju with familiar, and thus internationally marketable, names (like “Frankenstein“). Special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya, his work now in high demand, founded the production company that bears his name and set to work creating the next  generation of fans through the then-new medium of television…and a little superhero show called Ultraman. You might’ve heard about it.

Then someone got a hot idea: resurrect King Kong and team him up with Mothra for a rollicking kaiju adventure on a (budget-conscious) South Sea island. Then something happened. I’ve heard too many stories to tell you the truth. A dispute erupted over the rights to Kong’s name. Or the rights were all secure and the major sticking point became a cost-effective foreign distribution strategy. Or maybe someone, somewhere, mentioned the idea the became King Kong Escapes. Continue reading



Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965)
I don't feel a caption's nesessary.

I don't feel a caption's necessary.

There is no human achievement more complex, daunting or inspirational than the “conquest” of outer space. I put “conquest” in sarcastic quotes because we really haven’t conquered jack shit. We’ve played golf on our nearest satellite and left a plaque for the cockroaches to find. By the standards of SF in the mid-60s, we’re way behind schedule.

We should’ve discovered our tenth planet by now. Instead we’re down one and the space shuttle’s been mothballed. Robots do all our exploring for us because it’s cheaper and “safer.” As if anyone said space would be “safe.” We’ve known there were monsters out there since before we knew how out there could really be. Martians invaded in 1898, 1938 and 1953. Earth itself faced off against (not just any ol flying saucers but) the Flying Saucers in ’56. The Mysterians came for our women in ’57, Krankor came for our rocket fuel in ’59, and in ’61 the Neptune Men came for…umm…yeah…something…I forget because that movie was so boring. King Ghidorah’s arrival in 64 was only the icing on the cake. And in 196X, we discovered Planet X. Continue reading



Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
One of the most famous shots of the movie. Yes, the suit's head actually caught fire. Yes, it was an accident. But it was the coolest fucking accident they could've had.

One of the most famous shots of the movie. Yes, the suit’s head actually caught fire. Yes, it was an accident. But it was the coolest fucking accident they could’ve had.

The international success of King Kong vs. Godzilla ensured it would be a major moment in the careers of its two top-billed stars and the director behind both of them,  Ishirô Honda. Prior to directing the original Gojira ten years earlier, Honda specialized in slice-of-life dramas with the occasional break into that new, Hot Genre of the 1950s: the Workplace Comedy. No matter the story, these films were usually quiet pieces set on a slow boil, focused (like his much more famous monster movies) on small groups of ordinary people overcoming something or other through their unwavering hope for a better tomorrow.

These films were a refuge for Honda: small-scale, relatively everyday productions he could always escape to in between monster movies. Then he made the mistake of directing a workplace comedy/daikaiju eiga hybrid. After that, his professional goose was cooked. And thank God. Because, after three mediocre-to-shit sequels, Honda and the metric tons of talent he brought with him finally gave us a Godzilla film I can unconditionally rave about.

Well…maybe not “unconditionally.” But next to Godzilla Raids Again, this fourth entry in original (or Showa) series looks like Casa-fucking-blanca. Continue reading



Godzilla (1954)

He's his own reading light.On March 1, 1954, fallout from the United States’ Castle Bravo nuclear test on Bikini Attol rained down on the  140-ton tuna boat  Daigo Fukury Maru contaminating its twenty-three man crew. All suffered from acute  radiation sickness and one eventually succumbed. According to the Japan Times, his last words were, “I pray that I am the last victim of an atomic or hydrogen bomb.”

Movie producer Tomoyuki Tanaka considered all this on a plane ride home from Indonesia. His latest picture having fallen through, he flew home facing a hole in Toho Studio’s winter release schedule (which used to be what the summer schedule is today) and, in all likelihood, a clutch of manic bosses looking for a hit, fast. The American monster picture King Kong enjoyed a international re-release the previous year, mulching a bumper crop of American giant monster films with all that lovely money it brought in, including The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. In that film a giant dinosaur, awakened by fictional nuclear testing in the Arctic Circle, attacks New York City. What if, Tanaka wondered, a giant monster, awakened by the actual American nuclear tests going on in the Pacific Rim, awoke from its prehistoric slumber and attacked Japan? {More}