Jul 5, 2014

Review: Kingu Kongu no gyakushû [King King Escapes] (1967)

King Kong Escapes is yet another Ishirô Honda kaiju film that features the licensed Universal Studios character of King Kong. King Kong was pretty beloved by Japan and was essentially the inspiration for kaiju films as a genre. There's even a 1938 Japanese King Kong film that was produced without the permission of RKO who owned the rights of King Kong at the time. That's sixteen years before Honda's Godzilla in 1954. King Kong Appears in Edo is sadly a lost film and King Kong Escapes is the final Japanese production to feature King Kong.

King Kong Escapes is interesting in the sense that it's a Japanese/American production that has Toho and Rankin/Bass teaming up. The movie is meant to be a remake of Rankin/Bass' animated TV show that is itself a remake of the original film. There are Japanese and American actors playing roles and the version I watched was the Universal Pictures version with the English dubbing. All I'll say is that the dubbing is a little bit better than what I was expecting (there's no love lost between me and dubbing).


Genre: adventure, sci-fi
Directed by: Ishirô Honda
Produced by: Tomoyuki Tanaka, Arthur Rankin Jr.
Written by: Takeshi Kimura
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Running time: 104 minutes
Production company: Toho Company, Rankin/Bass
Distributed by: Toho Company, Universal Studios
Country: Japan, United States
Language: Japanese, English
Budget: N/A
Box office: $1,000,000 (North America)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Rhodes Reason, Mie Hama, Linda Miller, Akira Takarada, Hideyo Amamoto, Ryûji Kita, Yasuhisa Tsutsumi



Dr. Who (Eisei Amamoto) has built Mechani-Kong, a robotic version of King Kong to mine Element X out of the ground. It's extremely rare and can only be found in the North Pole. Madame Piranha (Mie Hama) is with him to oversee his efforts as it is her country (unnamed) which is funding his entire project. Meanwhile, Commander Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason) must dock the submarine he commands at Mondo Island to make some repairs. Nelson and his crew run into King Kong and report their discovery to the world. In the North Pole, Dr. Who is having trouble getting Mechani-Kong to work properly and sets his sights on the real King Kong to finish what Mechani-Kong couldn't.


I have to say that King Kong Escapes is pretty up there in the silliness department. Dr. Who is a completely laughable villain with his Dracula cape and bad teeth. It's a little difficult to imagine that Dr. No and Ernst Stavro Blofeld of James Bond fame are supposed inspirations for his character. For Mie Hama, this film is pretty at odds with her other appearance in the same year in You Only Live Twice as a Bond girl. I never really liked her that much in YOLT but it's definitely strange seeing her here. Clearly, KKE is trying to take a page out of the popular spy genre.

The story if you ask me is just a little too similar to the original King Kong. (Spoilers) Kong fights a dinosaur-like thing, he falls in love with a woman that he enjoys picking up, he fights some sort of snake and he climbs a tall building near the finale. (End Spoilers) Yes, there are some additional elements like Mechani-Kong for example who is sort of fun in his own way but I feel like this is too much of a remake without really being one. I would've just wanted a Mechani-Kong vs. King Kong movie without the copy cat references to the 1933 classic. 

The production itself is pretty well done though. The miniatures are amazing as they always are in Honda kaiju movies and I like all the sets as well. The King Kong suit is pretty silly looking, especially when it gets wet. Mechani-Kong on the other hand is actually pretty cool but his "powers" are maybe a little disappointing. I would've expected some goofy special weapons in Mechani-Kong but there was nothing of the sort.

Besides copying King Kong, KKE unfortunately has a pretty dumb story full of awful dialogue. Conversations are flimsy and sound like they're from some sort of outdated comic book which the dubbing certainly doesn't help. It's especially hard not to avert your eyes (or your ears?) when things get a little suggestive. Besides the cool sets and miniatures, King Kong Escapes does nothing more than tack on some additional material to the original King King without much effort. I wasn't expecting some sort of cinematic masterpiece but I expected something a little fresher out of this kaiju entry. 



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