Haruo Nakajima, the man who played Godzilla in the monster’s first 12 movies, has passed away at 88.
Category Archives: Kaiju Movies
Directed by Ishiro Honda.
Written by Ishiro Honda and Takeshi Kimura
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya
Cast: Akira Kubo, Jun Tazaki, Yukiko Kobayashi, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kyoko Ai, Andrew Hughes
Here in Raleigh, we used to have the terrific Cardinal Theatre, a 750-seat curved-screen 70mm paradise — one of the finest places I ever saw a movie.
The Cardinal was the site of a summer movie series when I was growing up. What a marvelous place to see beat-up, sometimes-faded TohoScope prints of things like Destroy All Monsters (1968) and War Of The Garganutas (1966). For monster kids in the mid-70s (such as me and my best friend James Graham), it just couldn’t get any better.
So this is a movie that comes with a great big monster-sized chunk of nostalgia.
The United Nations Science Committee (UNSC) has established Monsterland, an island where the world’s monsters have been gathered up and confined. Here, they go about their monster business, observed by a team of scientists in an underground control center. It’s a perfect set up, until a group of alien women (Kilaakians, from the planet Kilaak) take over the scientists’ minds and unleash the monsters upon an unsuspecting world.
Godzilla (played by Haruo Nakajima) trashes New York City, Rodan attacks Moscow, Mothra (in larva form) hits Beijing, Baragon heads to Paris and Manda destroys London — all under the Kilaakians’ command. This is all a diversion, as the aliens set up their secret base near Mt. Fuji.
It takes some doing, but the monsters are freed from their extraterrestrial mind control by a team from the UNSC. The Kilaakians then dispatch King Ghidorah — and the big monster battle is on!
For my money, Destroy All Monsters is the best Godzilla movie of them all. As a kid, it delivered on everything I was looking for — monsters. There’s a lot of ’em and they tear up tons of stuff. And it’s a huge step up from the previous picture, Son Of Godzilla (1967), which I loathed. Even at 11, I thought it was a juvenile piece of crap.
At this time, the Godzilla series was in decline, and Destroy All Monsters was an attempt to set things right. If you ask me, they did. But it was short-lived — the subsequent films seem to be geared toward younger and younger kids. This should’ve been the last one — allowing the King Of The Monsters to go out with a bang.
Directed by Haruyasu Noguchi
Starring Tamio Kawaji, Yoko Yamamoto, Yuji Okada
Why am I writing about Gappa: The Triphibian Monster (1967), which under its American TV title, Monster From A Prehistoric Planet, is already available from just about every public doman video company there is? Mainly because I get a real kick out of typing the phrase “giant reptilian chicken monster.” Ah, life’s simple pleasures.
The deal with Gappa is this. It’s a Japanese Kaiju film, from Mikkatsu Studios instead of the usual Toho, that never saw theatrical release in the US. American International sent it straight to TV in 1968 as Monster From A Prehistoric Planet. It’s more or less a remake/ripoff of the British (fake Kaiju) monster movie, Gorgo (1961). In it, a sea monster is discovered and brought to London, only to have its angry mother trash the city to get her kid back. In Gappa, the monster is a “bird-lizard” — a giant reptilian chicken with green scales, and both cheesed-off parents come to Japan in search of their offspring.
As a kid, I had the 200′ Super 8mm version from Ken Films. Since it focused on the monster stuff, I was very happy with it. Mill Creek Entertainment has brought it to DVD before, and it’s bringing it around again as part of a five-picture set called “Freak Fest.” Not sure what the source is — hopefully, they used something that preserved the original Scope photography rather than AIP’s panned and scanned TV material. The other films are Killers From Space (1954) with Peter Graves, the Gamera movies Destroy All Planets (1968) and Attack Of The Monsters (1969), and Sound Of Horror (1964).
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Written by Takashi Kimura
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya
Cast: Rhodes Reason (Commander Carl Nelson), Akira Takarada (Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura), Linda Miller (Lt. Susan Watson), Hideyo Amamoto (Dr. Who), Mie Hama (Madame X), Susumu Kurobe (Henchman)
The highly-radioactive Element X can only be found at the North Pole. Madame X (Mie Hama) wants the element for her country, so she enlists the evil genius Dr. Who (Hideyo Amamoto) to retrieve it. Dr. Who knows the only creature capable of digging up the dangerous element is the mighty King Kong, so Dr. Who builds a robot Kong that he can control. The mechanical ape’s circuitry gets zapped by the radiation, leaving Dr. Who with no alternative but to journey to Mongo Island and capture the real King Kong — much to the dismay of the increasingly impatient Madame X.
Dr. Who’s plan becomes even more complicated when Cmdr. Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason), Lt. Susan Watson (Linda Miller) and Lt. Jiro Nomura of the UN become involved. You see, Kong has a thing for Lt. Watson. Only she can control the beast — which makes her a valuable asset to Dr. Who and his scheme. So he kidnaps her and her cohorts. Before it’s all over, King Kong and Mechani-Kong battle it out atop Tokyo Tower.
King Kong Escapes (1967) is a crazy movie, even by Japanese Kaijū (“strange beast”) movie standards. From the logic of using King Kong to mine radioactive material to the mad scientist and his nagging sponsor, it’s just plains nuts. But these movies exist in a world all their own, where the laws of reason and science are of very little concern.
The story of how the movie came to be is almost as crazy. Toho had been very successful with King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962), which was released (heavily modified) in the States by Universal in 1963. In 1966, Rankin/Bass, the stop-motion Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer people, produced a King Kong cartoon, The King Kong Show, animated in Japan. The cartoon featured both Dr. Who and Mechani-Kong. Rankin/Bass entered into a joint venture with Toho, combining story elements from the Rankin/Bass Kong series with Toho’s outstanding technical people and mangy-looking gorilla suit.
Rhodes Reason, who plays the American commander, is the younger brother of Rex Reason from This Island Earth (1955). Reason dubbed his own voice for English-language prints, while the American model Linda Miller was upset that hers was not used. The great Paul Frees (of Disney’s Haunted Mansion fame) provided the voice of Dr. Who and a number of other characters.
Mie Hama, who plays Madame X, had just appeared with Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice (1967), the fifth James Bond movie, which was filmed in Japan. Hama, Hideyo Amamoto and Susumu Kurobe can also be found in Key Of Keys (1965), the Japanese spy movie Woody Allen re-worked for What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966).
In theaters, Universal paired the picture with The Shakiest Gun In The West (1968), a remake of The Paleface (1948) starring Don Knotts. That’s a double feature I would’ve loved as a kid — I was precisely the demographic Universal had in mind. Incidentally, the Japanese version of King Kong Escapes (called Kingu Kongu No Gyakushû) is longer than the US cut.
What is it about these movies? They’re ludicrous and obviously aimed at kids. The special effects are both accomplished and pitiful at the same time (consider that Kubrick’s 2001: a space odyssey was in theaters that same summer). The Technicolor and TohoScope cinematography is gorgeous, and some might say it’s wasted on something like this. There’s a sense of wonder to these movies that I attribute to the director, Ishiro Honda, and the special effects crew headed by Eiji Tsuburaya. As a kid, I really liked this one because the monsters had a sizable amount of screen time — back then, my enjoyment of such things was often based on the monster-to-people footage ratio.
By the conventional idea of what constitutes a good movie, King Kong Escapes is way off the mark. But there’s nothing about it that’s conventional. Japanese monster movies are their own thing, and that thing can be pretty wonderful.
Here in the States, you’ll find King Kong Escapes available on both DVD and Blu-Ray, sometimes paired with King Kong Vs. Godzilla. It always looks splendid. The color is eye-popping and it’s sharp enough to reveal every wire on every toy helicopter. For those attuned to this type of nonsense, it comes highly recommended.