Wasei Kingu Kongu tai Gojira

8 Jul

July 8, 2011

I have always loved monster movies, especially old ones. Big apes, giant dinosaurs, ants, I love them all. It is in my blood and if you check this site on Monday you’ll see what I mean.

King Kong and Godzilla are the top of my monster movie list. You’ll find Frankenstein and Dracula there as well, but it is the men in rubber suits, the Japanese Kaiju (“monster” or “strange beast”), as well as their cousins the giant apes, that I hold dear.

I’ve seen every one of those films a few times, most more than a few. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen King Kong to the point that I won’t even estimate. Even the worst Godzilla film (Godzilla’s Revenge) I know backwards and forwards. There isn’t a Reptilicus or Konga that I don’t know.

So it came as a bit of a shock to me when I discovered that there were two King Kong films that I never even heard of, let alone saw. I can be forgiven for not seeing them because they are lost films, likely destroyed in the bombing of Japan during World War II, but how could I have never even heard of a pair of Japanese King Kong films that predate Godzilla by over a decade and a half?

Not much is known about King Kong Appears in Edo, from 1938. This was an unauthorized Kong film in which the giant ape attacks medieval Tokyo (Edo.) Little is known about the film other than what can be gleaned from the movie poster above. It apparently featured the monster fighting samurai. (WHY is this film lost?!) We do know that the man who created the original Godzilla suit (Fuminori Ohashi) worked on the King Kong suit and he claims that many special effects that later became standard in Kaiju films were created for this film. By “special effects” I am sure he means “rubber suits and cardboard cities.”

As amazing as I found all of that, I was more amazed to find that there was an even earlier Japanese King Kong film, Wasei Kingu Kongu. (That translates as Japanese King Kong. Seriously.) This one was a 1933 silent film. It must have been rushed because it was put out the same year as the original. All that seems to remain is a single still. It was released by the same company that distributed the original King Kong in Japan, but it was made without RKO’s permission.

This was only the beginning. Late night research about these movies led to the solution of another King Kong mystery, one that had always bothered me.

King Kong Escapes (1967) is a strange movie. Although like the lost Kong films it is Japanese, this one was authorized. It plays nothing like the American King Kong and Son of Kong, but very much like the Japanese Godzilla movies. However, it has nothing to do with the Japanese King Kong vs. Godzilla of 1962. Confused? This next bit won’t help.

The plot revolves around bad guy Doctor Who, who has nothing to do with the BBC time traveler. However, when you consider the close physical resemblance between this film’s Doctor Who and William Hartnell as Doctor Who, there has to be more to it than mere coincidence.

Plot-wise, Doctor Who is using a robot King Kong (Mechani-Kong) to mine “Element X” but the robot proves unable to function due to the element’s extreme radioactivity. At the same time, a submarine crew finds the real King Kong on an island fighting various rubbery monsters. Doctor Who hypnotizes Kong to work for him mining Element X, Kong gets free, battles Mechani-Kong, and (of course) climbs a tall tower and falls for a girl. If you guessed that Kong wins and goes back to his island, join the crowd.

I have always wondered why this film was so unlike every other Kong film I ever saw, even King Kong vs. Godzilla. After all, they were both made by Toho. I was extremely curious about the blatant William Hartnell rip-off. Well, as I looked into the lost films, I found out that this film was based on the American Rankin/Bass King Kong cartoon, The King Kong Show. As the clip below shows, this was a very strange version of King Kong (but not too far off from the 1978 Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon, strangely enough.) Doctor Who was the bad guy on the show. This cartoon only produced 25 episodes, too short for syndication, so that explains why I never saw it. It finished airing a year before I was born. As you’ll see at the end of this post, the cartoon Doctor Who looked nothing at all like the movie version, strongly implying that the resemblance to the BBC character was intentional. There were two big screen versions of Doctor Who featuring Peter Cushing in 1965 and 1966, so if in 1967 it looked like there was another big screen Doctor Who adventure, would the producers of King Kong Escapes be upset if a few extra people bought tickets thinking they were going to see the TARDIS and Daleks? I doubt it.

So my research solved a King Kong mystery, but brought up even more King Kong/Godzilla connections that I never knew.

Before King Kong Escapes, there was supposed to have been yet another King Kong Toho movie. However, because Godzilla was hugely popular, the world never saw King Kong vs. Ebirah but instead watched Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster. Basically, that title tells you all you need to know about the film. (Eibrah is a giant lobster.) If you saw the film you may have noticed that Godzilla acts out of character. He shows interest in a woman, throws boulders instead of using his fiery breath, and draws strength from electricity. Out of character for Godzilla, those traits were all established for King Kong in King Kong vs. Godzilla. They did almost nothing to alter the script but change the names. (King Kong gaining strength from lightening was added to make him more of a match for Godzilla, who spent much of the film roasting Kong with his breath until Kong amped up.)

Godzilla has a history of pinch-hitting. I also found out that the monster was never meant to be in Godzilla vs. Megalon. That film devotes a lot of screen time to Jet Jaguar, a fairly typical Japanese robot. It was the winning creation of a fan contest and was going to be the star of Jet Jaguar vs. Megalon. However, it was felt, and probably correctly, that the film needed a little more star power so Godzilla was added, and with a second hero (Godzilla was a good guy around this time) came a second villain, Gigan. By the way, if you have never seen the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of that film, I urge you to finish this blog and then look it up on YouTube. It is that good. In fact, do yourself and the economy a favor and buy the DVD. You’ll thank me.

If you are wondering where the King Kong connection is, check out the movie poster for the American release:

Could they be any more blatantly misleading?

So there you have it. A chance peek at a list of lost films at 4am led to a sleepless morning of looking up monster movie trivia. Par for the course, really. One last thing I discovered is that what went on behind the scenes of a Godzilla movie was often more interesting than what went on the screen, especially if you are watching Son of Godzilla or the mind-numbing Godzilla’s Revenge.

Before you go, here is a fantastic 1967 Japanese magazine illustration dealing with the King Kong cartoon and relating to King Kong Escapes. The bald guy is Doctor Who.

31 Responses to “Wasei Kingu Kongu tai Gojira”

  1. bmj2k July 8, 2011 at 12:15 am #

    The seed of all this came from the info feed at flashpulp.com, which can give you obscure facts about the Axeman of New Orleans today.


  2. Mac of BIOnighT July 8, 2011 at 1:24 am #

    Wow, this was like a rollercoaster O__O Amazing post! I cry over the loss of those films we’ll never see 😦
    The Jet Jaguar movie is my favorite Godzilla film among the ones I’ve seen, I just love Jet Jaguar!!!
    For the records, the title in the last picture says “Robot Kong” – but I think everybody guessed that anyway 😉


    • bmj2k July 8, 2011 at 1:45 am #

      For some reason Godzilla vs. Megalon is often picked on as the worst Godzilla film when nothing could be further from the truth. Son of Godzilla and Godzilla’s Revenge are worse by several factors of ten. I think that film is as good as you do. It is my second favorite, number one being Godzilla vs. The Cosmic MOnster (the first Mechagodzilla film.) I love the part when the fake monster sheds it’s skin and is revealed as a robot.

      Listen to the great music here:

      BTW- you translated the text yourself?


      • Mac of BIOnighT July 9, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

        Yep, they had some fantastic soundtracks!
        As to the translation, yes, I did it, but don’t get excited: it’s actually just a translitteration… I know a few katkana symbols, that’s all. In Japanese there are three different alphabets: Kanji (the ideograms that come from Chinese – each symbol is a concept, as opposed to being a transcription of a sound), Hiragana (which is used to “dismantle” kanji Japanese words into phonetic symbols), and Katakana (that’s another phonetic alphabet, but it’s used for writing abstract words or for translitterating foreign words).
        Easier said than done, though, as the words are translitterated based on Japanese phonemes >__<
        For instance, the word translitterated as "DO-RI-MU" (which could also be DO-LI-MU as in Japanese L and R are the same sound and therefore share the same katakana symbol, so there's no way of telling which is which) is the English word "dream". "RA-I-TO" is "light" etc.
        King Kong is KI-N-GU KO-N-GU, robot is RO(or LO)-BO-(non phonetic symbol that indicates the following consonant must be doubled)-TO.
        So if you look at the pic, the writing is RO-BO-(non phonetic symbol that indicates the following consonant must be doubled)-TO = KO-N-GU.
        Listen to this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pP6SH0n6fv0 and at the 20 sec mark you will hear the singer sing "supa lobotto" – that's "super robot" for the rest of the world 😉


        • bmj2k July 9, 2011 at 8:36 pm #

          Interesting. I know about Japanese culture (the real stuff, not just the movies and weird technology I write about) but I know just about nothing of the language. I started to pick up a bit during this blog when trying to translate”Japanese King Kong.” I would get “Nippon” instead of “Wasei” and found out that ‘wasei” has a meaning a bit different from Nippon, about faux-translations of some sort. I also got “kingukongu” as one word quite often. For the sake of this post I just followed the title of the lost movie. I also dropped the word “no” (like “no Kingu Kongu tai Gojira.”) because it didn’t turn up depending on how I began the translation. I stand by this translation if you consider it as “Japanese King Kong (the movie title) vs Godzilla (the movie francbhise.)”

          BTW- My brother has a trip planned to Japan next summer. He was first scheduled to go this year but changed it due to the reactor accident.


          • Mac of BIOnighT July 9, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

            I think it’s a good idea to stay away from Japan for a while… 😉
            In Japanese the word “no” means “of” and it’s used as in the English construction with “‘s”. For instance, “Tom’s story” would be “Tom no monogatari”. I suspect the “no” you were having problems with was actually preceded by something/someone as the “owner”.
            The reason why you get separate words as one is probably that in Japanese you write with no break between words, basicallytheywritelikethis and how they can understand what they write is way beyond me…
            “Wasei” actually means “made in Japan”. What you are referring to is wasei eigo, I think. A nice explanation is here http://www.sljfaq.org/afaq/wasei-eigo.html
            It really is an odd language…


            • bmj2k July 9, 2011 at 10:19 pm #

              Google Translate took “Japanese King Kong versus Godzilla” and gave me “Nippon no kingukongu tai gojira” so by your explanation Google read that as “Japan’s King Kong.” It also didn’t capitalize kingukongu or gojira but it did capitalize Nippon, and as you can see King Kong became one word, which makes sense now that you explained it. But now I wonder why the movie title isn’t one word. Is it due to an American rendering? I have no clue how Japanese material relates it.

              Yep, that explanation is about what I found about wasei, so “Wasei Kingu Kongu” is better translated as “Made in Japan King Kong” or “King Kong Made in Japan” depending on the placement of Japanese adjectives. “Made in Japan” is a subtle but interesting distinction from “Japanese” and I think in the case of Wasei Kingu Kongu more accurate.

              Thanks for all this. I find it fascinating.

              My brother’s trip is now tentative for May 2012.


              • Mac of BIOnighT July 10, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

                The title isn’t one word because kingukingu is (one word) written in katakana, then you have “tai” written in kanji, and then Gojira written, again, in katakana. I’m not sure how wasai was written, but “no” is normally written in hiragana. So you have different alphabets alternating, hence the separate words. However, and this is especially true when they use katakana, the words in titles etc can also be separated for a more spectacular effect, just like they’re often written from left to right and horizontally as in western languages as opposed to being written from top to bottom and right to left as in normal Japanese…
                Crazy language, as I said.


                • bmj2k July 10, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

                  Wow. I guess when you learn Japanese as your first language it is all very natural but from my point of view? Crazy.


        • bmj2k July 9, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

          “… in Japanese L and R are the same sound and therefore share the same katakana symbol, so there’s no way of telling which is which…”

          So is that the origin of the stereotype cliche about Japanese people speaking English and mixing up their L’s and R’s? Very interesting.


          • Mac of BIOnighT July 9, 2011 at 10:02 pm #

            Exactly. Like the very nice “I crap my hands” a guy from Japan wrote me a few years ago ;-D


  3. Thomas Stazyk July 8, 2011 at 1:26 am #

    Fantastic post! I love those movies and enjoy reading about them (and your pithy insights). It would be interesting to have a little poll about the hokiest creature. King Kong and Gozilla are untouchable but Mothra, Gamera and Rhodan are all competitors for the most bizarre character with conflicted history/motives/powers, etc.


    • bmj2k July 8, 2011 at 1:39 am #

      The weird thing (well, one of them) is that Mothra was a giant moth. Pretty simple. But then the giant moth died and was replaced by two larvae that looked more or less like brown garbage bags. One of those died and Mothra for many years was just… OK, I have to be graphic. the larva looked like a long turd. In neither form was Mothra particularly powerful or effective. In one of the films all it really does is bite Ghidrah’s tail.


  4. JRD Skinner July 8, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    Fantastic post.Not sure if you’e seen it before, but this site: http://www.kaijukits.com/htm/god_gam_library.html has a great listing of kaiju models, from bad to brilliant.

    For my money, the ’70s Kong is just as terrible as anything Toho or Daiei put out.


    • bmj2k July 8, 2011 at 10:59 am #

      Wow, I wish I had more time right now to go through all of that. I’ve only looked at a few but so far “Football Stance Godzilla” is a favorite: http://www.kaijukits.com/library/alpha/godzilla_2005/godzilla2005.htm

      The 70’s King Kong is pretty lousy for so many reasons, but I still remember DeLaurentis looking for “a tall, well-built black man” to play the ape.

      And here is a great article I found on the ’76 movie’s “special effects:” http://www.kongisking.net/kongfiles/022205.html

      I still have a special place in my heart for that film because my Dad worked in the WTC when they were filming the movie and literally watched them build the giant prop and film some crowd scenes. You may have seen on Facebook where I posted the rare newsletters they sent to the WTC workers during filming.


      • JRD Skinner July 8, 2011 at 11:30 am #

        That football stance model is fantastic – having recently put together some kits with Mr Eight, I’m quite tempted to pick up one of these kaiju for my shelf.

        Hmm, no, I don’t think I did see that WTC notice – going to go poke around your page now to see if I can find it.


      • Thomas Stazyk July 8, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

        Great stuff!

        As far as the 70s Kong, yeah it was pretty bad. I wonder if it was bad because it was intended to be a 70s blockbuster like Towering Inferno, Poseidon Adventure, Airport, etc. or because of DeLaurentis or both. I remember DeLaurentis saying “When other Kong die, nobody cry. When my Kong die, everybody gonna cry.” Well there’s your problem right there.

        Plus I thought there was a lot of BS like whats her name calling Kong a male chauvinist pig.

        I wasn’t particularly impressed with the Peter Jackson King Kong either come to think of it.


        • Thomas Stazyk July 8, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

          I forgot to mention, check out the Mothra larva on the kaiju shop site–proves your earlier point!


        • bmj2k July 8, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

          One problem with 70’s Kong is I think that it is too rooted in the 70’s. They tried to make it contemporary at the expense of timelessness. The two are not mutually exclusive. Big oil as a baddie, oil shortage, “Dwan” and her whole flaky character, even Jeff Bridges’ bushy beard, and as you pointed out, the male chauvanist pig line. Compare it to The Warriors, a film that screams 70’s, or The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (The original, not the poor remake.) Those films are clearly of their time but also have a timeless quality. They stand up.

          Peter Jackson’s Kong I happen to love but it does have flaws. It is too long and PJ was clearly in love with the production more than the story. At some points he is making art at the expense of story. Long beautiful souflful shots that slow the film and add nothing to the narrative. On the other hand it is filled with great touches, like the Kong stage show that is really a restaging of the sacrifice sequence from the original film, right down to the set and costumes.


  5. elmediat July 10, 2011 at 12:36 am #

    To be linguistically technical, if you make the “r” sound and then the “l” sound you will notice that the tongue placement is the only distinction. Linguistically they are very similar phonemes. In many Asian languages there is no meaningful difference in those phonemes. It is the same way in English when we use to represent two different phonemes. Compare the this and thing. Not the same sounds.
    On a geeky note,…… is this Dr. Who the Valeyard – the personification of all that was evil within the Doctor ?


    • bmj2k July 10, 2011 at 1:53 am #

      Very intersting. Really good point. I never thought to connect that up. When I was very young I worked with a speech therapist whom I really didn’t need but I did pick up a lot of info about tongue placement that I didn’t think about until I read your comment. This also reminds me of a random fact that babies are born making the sounds of all languagues but lose much of that when they are taught language.

      The Doctor Who point? Brilliant. I wish I thought of it.

      I am loving this comment section!


      • Mac of BIOnighT July 10, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

        There’s more: every language uses a particular range of frequencies (as well as a limited set of phonemes). While growing up, the brain learns to “filter out” the frequencies that do not belong to the native language – or maybe it would be better to say that it learns to focus strictly on the frequencies that belong to the native language – when somebody is talking. Basically, the brain specializes in recognizing and interpreting those frequencies. That doesn’t of course mean that one becomes deaf to those frequencies, it’s just that the brain can’t think of them as language…
        For example, you’ll have noticed that most Italians butcher the English “th” sound (both as in “that” and in “thing”). That’s because to their brains, and according to the region they come from, that sound is an S, or a Z, or an F, or a FT, or a D, or a T. And that’s the way they pronounce it.
        I call this effect “the canary and the eagle” (works for everything, not just languages). Imagine an island where the population is totally isolated from the rest of the world. Imagine that on this island the only birds that ever existed were canaries. Nobody’s ever seen any other winged creature. One day an eagle flies over the island; the ones who see it will be amazed and will relate the event to the others. The most likely description will be “I saw a huge, dark canary”. That’s the way the brain works, it looks for the closest comparison and holds that as true and real.


        • bmj2k July 10, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

          It seems to me that it is similar to the way people often see faces in random patterns, like smoke. The brain tries to make sense out of disorder and connects to the closest thing it knows. Similar to a Rorshach test or looking at clouds. This is all very interesting to me as I never looked at language acquisition in these terms.


          • Mac of BIOnighT July 10, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

            The random patterns/looking at clouds thing is a perfect example, yes 🙂 Except that convincing somebody a cloud is not a little pony is easy, while convincing an Italian that “th” is not an f (like I have to do all the time with my clients) is a lot harder… :-/


            • bmj2k July 10, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

              It is as bad as Old English words like “ye,” as in “Ye Olde Fish Shoppe.” That word never existed. In Old English the “th” sound was represented by a letter (“thorn”) that looked like a y so what we think is “ye” is still pronounced “the.” But everyone pronounces it with a y sound.


              • Mac of BIOnighT July 10, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

                This is interesting, I didn’t know O___O
                What about the same word used in especially British dialects meaning “you” – is that derivative of the ye/the that somehow got distorted along the years or is it just a local pronunciation that has no relationship with it?


                • bmj2k July 10, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

                  I had to double check this to be sure because this is taking me back to my college days. This “ye” is an unrelated word that actually uses the y sound- so this is a correct spelling and pronunciation. In Old English it was spelled “ge” but I can’t be sure of the pronunciation.

                  So to be clear, “ye” in place of “the” is nonsense, but “ye” as in “you” is correct and goes back to Old English.


  6. jim December 4, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    the g vs m ad
    image wasn’t even remotely suggested in the actual film.


    • bmj2k December 4, 2011 at 8:42 pm #

      That’s another reason it’s so good.


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