King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

Written by Nick McCann

69/100

King Kong ushered in a new era of special effects driven American filmmaking back in 1933. Godzilla, 21 years later, took that effects film formula and wove in a palpable social commentary for Japanese audiences. Not to mention the big dinosaur was well on the way to starting a profitable franchise. So given both monsters’ popularity, it seemed only a matter of time before they clashed. Lo and behold, 1962 was the year that brought us an enjoyable proving ground for the future of the series.

Although the previously released Godzilla Raids Again saw the first monster battle of the series, this film sets the standard for how this template is to be executed. Ishiro Honda once again directs with efficient speed and touches on relevant themes once again. All the jabs at commercialism and the advertising industry give the movie a light and satirical tone that makes it the right kind of cheesy. It also does an okay job at rebooting Kong into Godzilla’s follow up adventure, though I feel some of the Kong iconography feels slightly like an afterthought. Also certain details can still come off as hokey for sake of the plot. Even with that, it’s reliably exciting and quick-paced as it builds to the ultimate showdown of its era.

Speaking of which, Kong and Godzilla themselves give me mixed feelings here. Godzilla still looks good with a decent suit design and his continuing relentlessness. Kong’s suit on the other hand doesn’t hold up very well through his dopey face and fur pulled right off a living room floor. But to bring it back positive, the body language in both suit performances are defined well between Kong’s problem solving and Godzilla’s near-constant forward momentum. If there were more non-confrontational moments where the monsters could interact with each other, it’d make this all the more delightful.

When they fight, it’s a great spectacle. The special effects show great improvement from the prior films with lots of model buildings, RC vehicles and even okay blue screening. The fights have funny highlights through the actual excitement, like one shot of rough-looking stop motion and Kong force feeding Godzilla a tree. It’s what you expect from one of these movies. Camera work is energetic, the editing is tight and Akira Ifukube’s score hits with great numbers throughout. In particular, the new islander Kong chant is a strong musical presence.

On the flip side, the human characters are not too shabby this time around. Even though actual character development is still thin, everyone hits the material with personality and clear distinction from one another. Ichiro Arishima stands out greatly as a slapstick-oriented business agent. I couldn’t help but cheekily laugh at this guy, he nails the part. Kenji Sahara, Tadao Takashima, Yu Fujiki and Mie Hama also make up a spry and witty cast. Other supporting players fulfill their job in the plot fine without much time spent on giving them dimensions.

Any casuals looking for a solid Godzilla movie to either start with or get the general idea of the series should consult this one. It’s importance goes beyond just two of the most famous movie monsters together in one package. King Kong vs. Godzilla lays a nice foundation for the series with it’s fast pace, decent characters and charming set pieces. Although flawed, it satisfies all the same. Here’s to Legendary Pictures and what they have in store for their take.

You can connect with Nick on his social media profiles: Facebook and Letterboxd.

Gojira (1954)

Written by Nick McCann

91/100

Pretend, reader, that you were a citizen of Japan in mid-summer of 1945… yeah that sucked. The atom bombings of World War 2 left a permanent stain on that country and the world. The nuclear age was born and affected everything that followed. Cinema of course took notice. While America was taking advantage of this themselves, the land of the rising sun was brewing something straight from the heart at Toho Studios. That turned into one of the greatest monster movies ever.

This first outing in the long running series does not mess around. Instead of tongue-in-cheek fun as seen in most American sci-fi, “Gojira” tells a grim tale with a blunt real-world parallel. There is suspense from the start and director Ishiro Honda maintains a solid pace throughout. Frankly it can get horrifying! As a viewer, you are always reminded of the gravity of the situation. It leaves little room for respite and earns its tone. Even when the message is dead obvious, it never feels intrusive. It works both as a monster movie and a stern warning for what destructive power awaits us in our future.

That power is encapsulated in Godzilla himself. He still looks threatening to this day. His design iconic and the performance by the suit actor–great. He may be a guy in a rubber suit but he always feels like a looming presence, on and off screen. The special effects are of course dated in spots. Yet Godzilla’s rampages still have a dark and explosive quality, be it a collapsing model building or raging fire. Sound design is also intense, between Godzilla’s mean, echoing roar and a barrage of cannon and machine gun fire.

Accentuating this is some gritty camera work. The low angle coverage and overall look of the black and white film stock makes it all the more foreboding to watch. It’s directed as if this were an actual event, capturing all aspects of the chaos and subsequent aftermath. Lain over top is a grim score by Akira Ifukube. With it’s brash sound, it gives everything heightened power. Not to mention the times when it doesn’t play and lets sound effects take over are quite effective.

Last of note is the cast. They may not have the most deep personalities or dynamics, but they are well on the money in their performances. Akira Takarada is a dependable leading man while Momoko Kochi is a good emotional center as she takes in more of the situation. Two standouts though are Takashi Shimura and Akihiko Hirata. Shimura as the paleontologist Yamane has a wise presence and shows heartfelt sorrow for Godzilla’s scientific potential. Then there’s Hirata as Dr. Serizawa, a man troubled by his creations and feels guilt at the possibility of what it could entail. As he becomes more involved, you can track how much everything weighs on him.

Anyone who says monster movies are trite need only look to this movie for proof of a quality execution. “Gojira” is just as much of an eye-opener of social commentary as it is a thrilling monster movie. Through its titular creature and blockbuster filmmaking, it’s dour story is a stern warning as to what nuclear power means for humanity. It also laid the stepping stone for what has now become a legendary franchise. Don’t miss out.

You can connect with Nick on his social media profiles: Facebook and Letterboxd.