Haruo Nakajima, the man who played Godzilla in the monster’s first 12 movies, has passed away at 88.
Category Archives: Toho
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 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.
Mill Creek has brought out a number of these collections, scooping up stuff from the Columbia vaults (some might say from the dumpster) and bringing them out at great prices — and in their proper aspect ratios! It’s hard to keep up with ’em all. I’m really excited about this one, which gives us another picture from the underrated, overlooked Fred F. Sears.
The Night The World Exploded (1957)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring Kathryn Grant, William Leslie, Tristram Coffin, Raymond Greenleaf, Charles Evans, Frank J. Scannell
The 27th Day (1957)
Directed by William Asher
Starring Gene Barry, Valerie French, George Vaokovec, Arnold Moss, Stefan Schnabel, Friedrich von, Ledebur
Twelve To The Moon (1960)
Directed by David Bradley
Starring Ken Clark, Michi Kobi, Tom Conway, Anthony Dexter, John Wengraf, Robert Montgomery, Jr.
Valley Of The Dragons (1961)
Directed by Edward Bernds
Starring Cesare Danova, Sean McClory, Joan Staley, Danielle De Metz, Gregg Martell, Gil Peerkins
The H-Man (1958)
Directed by Ishirō Honda
Starring Yumi Shirakawa, Kenji Sahara, Akihiko Hirata, Eitarô Ozawa, Koreya Senda, Makoto Satô
Battle In Outer Space
Directed by Ishirō Honda
Starring Ryô Ikebe, Kyôko Anzai, Minoru Takada, Koreya Senda, Len Stanford, Harold Conway