An American production team produced a heavily altered English version that used new scenes, sound and dubbing. The American production was released theatrically in the United States in the summer of 1963 by Universal International.
Mr. Tako, head of Pacific Pharmaceuticals, is frustrated with the television shows his company is sponsoring and wants something to boost his ratings. When a doctor tells Tako about a giant monster he discovered on the small Faro Island, Tako believes that it would be a brilliant idea to use the monster to gain publicity. Tako immediately sends two men, Sakurai and Kinsaburo, to find and bring back the monster from Faro Island.
Meanwhile, the American submarine Seahawk gets caught in an iceberg. Unfortunately, this is the same iceberg that Godzilla was trapped in by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces back in 1955, and the submarine is destroyed by the monster. As an American rescue helicopter circles the iceberg, Godzilla breaks out and heads towards a nearby Arctic military base, attacking it. The base itself is ineffective against Godzilla. He continues moving inland, razing the base to the ground, and sends the tank armory up in flames. Godzilla's appearance is all over the press, making Tako furious.
On Faro Island, a giant octopus attacks the native village. The mysterious Faro monster is then revealed to be the giant gorilla, King Kong and he arrives and defeats the octopus. King Kong then drinks some red berry juice, becomes intoxicated, and then falls asleep. Sakurai and Kinsaburo place Kong on a large raft and begin to transport him back to Japan. Back at Pacific Pharmaceuticals, Tako is finally glad because Kong is now all over the press instead of Godzilla. Mr. Tako arrives on the ship transporting Kong, but a JSDF ship stops them and orders them to return Kong to Faro Island. Godzilla had just come ashore in Japan and destroyed a train, and the JSDF doesn't want another monster entering Japan. Unfortunately, during all this, Kong wakes up from his drunken state and breaks free from the raft. Reaching the mainland, Kong meets up with Godzilla in a valley. Tako, Sakurai, and Kinsaburo have difficulty avoiding the JSDF to watch the fight. Eventually they find a spot. Kong throws some large rocks at Godzilla, but Godzilla shoots its atomic breath at Kong's chest, forcing the giant ape to retreat.
The next morning, King Kong is dumbo-dropped onto the summit of Mt. Fuji from the balloon air-lift, meets up with Godzilla, and the two begin to fight. Godzilla has the advantage at first, eventually knocking Kong down with a vicious drop kick, and battering the gorilla unconscious with powerful tail attacks to his forehead. When Godzilla tries to kill Kong with its atomic breath, an electrical storm arrives and revives Kong, giving him the power of an electric grasp. The two begin to fight again, with the revitalized Kong swinging Godzilla around by its tail, shoving a tree into Godzilla's mouth, and judo tossing it over his shoulder. The brawl between the two monsters continues all the way down to the coastline. Eventually the monsters tear through Atami Castle and Kong drags Godzilla into the Pacific Ocean. After an underwater battle, only King Kong emerges from the water and begins to slowly swim back home to Faro Island. As Kong swims home, onlookers aren't sure if Godzilla survived the fight, but speculate that it was possible.
- Tadao Takashima as Osamu Sakurai
- Kenji Sahara as Kazuo Fujita
- Yu Fujiki as Kinsaburo Furue
- Ichiro Arishima as Mr. Tako
- Mie Hama as Fumiko Sakurai
- Jun Tazaki as General Masami Shinzo
- Akiko Wakabayashi as Tamiye
- Akihiko Hirata as Prime Minister Shigezawa
- Shoichi Hirose as King Kong the primary protagonist
- Haruo Nakajima as Godzilla the primary antagonist
The film had its roots in an earlier concept for a new King Kong feature developed by Willis O'Brien, animator of the original stop-motion Kong. Around 1960, O'Brien came up with a proposed treatment, King Kong vs. Frankenstein, where Kong would fight against a giant version of Frankenstein's monster in San Francisco. O'Brien took the project (which consisted of some concept art and a screenplay treatment) to RKO to secure permission to use the King Kong character. During this time the story was renamed King Kong vs. the Ginko when it was believed that Universal had the rights to the Frankenstein name (they actually only had the rights to the monster's makeup design). O'Brien was introduced to producer John Beck who promised to find a studio to make the film (at this point in time RKO was no longer a production company). Beck took the story treatment and had George Worthing Yates flesh it out into a screenplay. The story was slightly altered and the title changed to King Kong vs. Prometheus, returning the name to the original Frankenstein concept (The Modern Prometheus was the alternate name of Frankenstein in the original novel). Unfortunately, the cost of stop animation discouraged potential studios from putting the film into production. After shopping the script around overseas, Beck eventually attracted the interest of the Japanese studio Toho. Toho had long wanted to make a King Kong film and decided to replace the Frankenstein creature with their own monster Godzilla. They thought it would be the perfect way to celebrate their thirtieth year in production. John Beck's dealings with Willis O'Brien's project were done behind his back, and O'Brien was never credited for his idea. In 1963, Merian C. Cooper attempted to file a lawsuit against John Beck claiming that he outright owned the King Kong character, but the lawsuit never went through as it turned out he was not Kong's sole legal owner as he had previously believed.
Special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya was planning on working on other projects at this point in time such as a new version of a fairy tale film script called Kaguyahime (Princess Kaguya), but he postponed those to work on this project with Toho instead since he was such a huge fan of King Kong. He stated in an early 1960s interview with the Mainichi Newspaper, "But my movie company has produced a very interesting script that combined King Kong and Godzilla, so I couldn't help working on this instead of my other fantasy films. The script is special to me; it makes me emotional because it was King Kong that got me interested in the world of special photographic techniques when I saw it in 1933."
Toho had planned to shoot this film on location in Sri Lanka, but had to forgo that (and scale back on production costs) because they ended up paying RKO roughly $200,000 (US) for the rights to the King Kong character. The bulk of the film was shot on Oshima (an island near Japan) instead. The movie's production budget came out to ¥5,000,000.
Suit actors Shoichi Hirose (King Kong) and Haruo Nakajima (Godzilla) were given a mostly free rein by Eiji Tsuburaya to choreograph their own moves. The men would rehearse for hours and would base their moves on that from professional wrestling (a sport that was growing in popularity in Japan), in particular the movies of Toyonobori.
During pre-production, Ishirō Honda had toyed with the idea of using Willis O'Brien's stop motion technique instead of the suitmation process used in the first two Godzilla films, but budgetary concerns prevented him from using the process, and the more cost efficient suitmation was used instead. However, some brief stop motion was used in a couple of quick sequences. One of these sequences was animated by Koichi Takano who was a member of Eiji Tsuburaya's crew.
The King Kong suit for this film has widely been considered to be one of the least appealing and insipid gorilla suits in film history Sadamasa Arikawa (who worked with Eiji Tsuburaya) said that the sculptors had a hard time coming up with a King Kong suit that appeased Tsuburaya. The first suit was rejected for being too fat with long legs giving Kong an almost cute look. A few other designs were done before Tsuburaya would approve the final look that was ultimately used in the film. The suit was given two separate masks and two separate pairs of arms. Long arm extensions which contained poles inside the arms for Hirose to grab onto and with static immovable hands was used for long shots of Kong, while short human length arms were added to the suit for scenes that required Kong to grab items and wrestle with Godzilla. Besides the suit with the two separate arm attachments, a meter high model and a puppet of Kong (used for closeups) were also built. As well, a huge prop of Kong's hand was built for the scene where he grabs Mie Hama (Fumiko) and carries her off.
For the attack of the giant octopus, four live octopi were used. They were forced to move among the miniature huts by having hot air blown onto them. After the filming of that scene was finished, three of the four were released. The fourth became special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya's dinner. Along with the live animals, two rubber octopus props were built, with the larger one being covered with plastic wrap to simulate mucus. Some stop motion tentacles were also created for the scene where the octopus grabs a native and tosses him.
Since King Kong was seen as the bigger draw (at the time, he was even more popular in Japan than Godzilla), and since Godzilla was still a villain at this point in the series, it led to the decision to not only give King Kong top billing, but also to present him as the winner of the climactic fight. While the ending of the film does look somewhat ambiguous, Toho confirmed that King Kong was indeed the winner in their 1962/63 English-language film brochure Toho Films Vol. 8, which states in the film's plot synopsis, A spectacular duel is arranged on the summit of Mt. Fuji, and King Kong is victorious. But after he has won...
Universal-Internationals theatrical poster for the 1963 U.S release for King Kong vs Godzilla.
When John Beck sold the King Kong vs. Prometheus script to Toho (which became King Kong vs. Godzilla), he was given exclusive rights to produce a version of the film for release in non-Asian territories. He was able to line up a couple of potential distributors in Warner Bros. and Universal-International even before the film began production. Beck, accompanied by two Warner Bros. representatives, attended at least two private screenings of the film on the Toho Studios lot before it was released in Japan.
John Beck enlisted the help of two Hollywood writers, Paul Mason and Bruce Howard, to write a new screenplay. After having discussions with Beck in regards to how the film would be handled, the two wrote the American version and worked with editor Peter Zinner to remove scenes, recut others and change the sequence of several events. Mason and Howard, in order to give the film more of an American feel, came up with the idea of inserting newly-shot footage of stage and television actor Michael Keith playing newscaster Eric Carter, a UN reporter who spends much of the time commenting on the action from the UN Headquarters via an International Communication Satellite (ICS) broadcast, and Arnold Johnson, the head of the Museum of Natural History in New York, who tries to explain Godzilla's origin and his and Kong's motivations. The new footage was directed by Thomas Montgomery and shot in three days.
Beck and his crew were able to obtain library music from a host of older films (music tracks that had been composed by Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, and even a track from Heinz Roemheld). These films include Creature from the Black Lagoon, Bend of the River, Untamed Frontier, The Golden Horde, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Man Made Monster, While the City Sleeps, Against All Flags, The Monster That Challenged the World and music from the TV series Wichita Town. Cues from these scores were used to almost completely replace the original Japanese score by Akira Ifukube and give the film a more Western sound. They also obtained stock footage from the film The Mysterians from RKO (the film's US copyright holder at the time) which was used to not only represent the ICS, but which was also utilized during the film's climax. Stock footage of a massive Earthquake from The Mysterians was employed to make the earthquake caused by Kong and Godzilla's plummet into the ocean much more violent than the tame tremor seen in the Japanese version. This added footage features massive tidal waves, flooded valleys, and the ground splitting open swallowing up various huts.
Beck spent roughly $15,500 making his English version and sold the film to Universal-International for roughly $200,000 on April 29, 1963. The film opened in New York on June 26 of that year.
Starting in 1963, Toho's international sales booklets began advertising an English dub of King Kong vs. Godzilla alongside Toho-commissioned, uncut international dubs of movies such as Matango and Atragon. By association, it is thought that this King Kong vs. Godzilla dub is part of an uncut, English language international version never released on home video.
This film was released in Germany as Die Rückkehr des King Kong (The Return of King Kong) and in Italy as Il Trionfo Di King Kong (The Triumph of King Kong).
In Japan, this film has the highest box office attendance figures of all of the Godzilla series to date. It sold 11.2 million tickets during its initial theatrical run accumulating ¥350,000,000 in grosses. After 2 theatrical re-releases in 1970 and 1977 respectively, it has a lifetime figure of 12,550,000 tickets sold.
In North America, King Kong vs Godzilla accumulated $1.25 million worth of theatrical rentals.
The Japanese version of this film was released numerous times through the years by Toho on different home video formats. The film was first released on VHS in 1985 and again in 1991. It was released on Laserdisc in 1986 and 1991, and then again in 1992 as part of a laserdisc box set called the Godzilla Toho Champion Matsuri. Toho then released the film on DVD in 2001. They released it again in 2005 as part of the Godzilla Final Box DVD set, and again in 2010 as part of the Toho Tokusatsu DVD Collection. This release was volume #8 of the series and came packaged with a collectible magazine that featured stills, behind the scenes photos, interviews, and more. In the Summer of 2014, the film was released for the first time on Blu-Ray as part of the company releasing the entire series on the Blu-Ray format for Godzilla's 60th anniversary.
The American version was released on VHS by GoodTimes Entertainment (which acquired the license of some of Universal's film catalogue) in 1987, and then on DVD to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the film's U.S release in 1998. Both these releases were full-frame. Universal Studios itself released the English-language version of the film on DVD in widescreen as part of a 2-pack bundle with King Kong Escapes in 2005, and then re-released the film on Blu-Ray on April 1, 2014, along with King Kong Escapes.
Goodtimes Home Video - 35th Anniversary Edition
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 (Non-Anamorphic) [NTSC]
Soundtrack(s): English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Extras: Cast & Crew & Toho Film Credits
Notes: This is now OOP (out of print). Originally released in a Snapper case, more recent pressings came in a Keep case.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (Anamorphic) [NTSC]
Soundtrack(s): English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Notes: Also available in a double feature 2-pack (separate Keep cases) with King Kong Escapes.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35.1 (High-Def Widescreen)
Soundtrack(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, Francais
This Japanese version of this film is infamous for being one of the most poorly preserved tokusatsu films. In 1970, director Ishiro Honda prepared an edited version of the film for the Champion Festival, a children's matinee program that showcased edited re-releases of older kaiju films along with cartoons and then-new kaiju films. In total, Honda edited out twenty-four minutes. Unfortunately, the cuts were done to the film's original negative for the Champion version, and as a result, the highest quality source for the cut footage was lost. For years all that was thought to remain of the uncut 1962 version was a faded, heavily damaged 16mm element from which rental prints had been made. 1980s restorations for home video integrated the 16mm deleted scenes into the 35mm Champion cut, resulting in wildly inconsistent picture quality.
In 1991, Toho issued a restored laserdisc incorporating rediscovered 35mm trims of the deleted footage. The resultant quality was far superior to previous reconstructions but not perfect; an abrupt cut and missing frames are evident whenever the master switches between the Champion cut and a 35mm trim within the same shot. This laserdisc master was utilized for Toho's 2001 DVD release with few changes.
Due to this film's great box office success, Toho planned to do a sequel almost immediately. The sequel was simply called Continuation: King Kong vs. Godzilla. Apparently though, the project never evolved past that announcement.
Also due to the great box office success of this film, Toho was convinced to build a franchise around the character of Godzilla and started producing sequels on a yearly basis. The next project was to pit Godzilla against another famous movie monster icon: a giant version of the Frankenstein monster. In 1963, Kaoru Mabuchi (a.k.a. Takeshi Kimura) wrote a script called Frankenshutain tai Gojira. Ultimately, Toho rejected the script and the next year pitted Mothra against Godzilla instead, in the 1964 film Mothra vs. Godzilla. This began an intra-company style crossover where kaiju from other Toho kaiju films would be brought into the Godzilla series.
Toho was eager to build a series around their version of King Kong but were refused by RKO. They worked with the character again in 1967 though, when they helped Rankin/Bass co produce their film King Kong Escapes (which was loosely based on a cartoon series R/B had produced). That film, however, was not a sequel to King Kong vs. Godzilla.
Henry Saperstein (whose company UPA co-produced the 1965 film Frankenstein Conquers the World and the 1966 film War of the Gargantuas with Toho) was so impressed with the octopus sequence that he requested the creature to appear in these two productions. The giant octopus appeared in an alternate ending in Frankenstein Conquers the World that was intended specifically for the American market but was ultimately never used. The creature did reappear at the beginning of the films sequel War of the Gargantuas this time being retained in the finished film.
Even though it was only featured in this one film (although it was used for a couple of brief shots in Mothra vs. Godzilla), this Godzilla suit was always one of the more popular designs among fans from both sides of the Pacific. It formed the basis for some early merchandise in the US in the 1960s, such as a popular model kit by Aurora Plastics Corporation, and a popular board game by Ideal Toys.
The King Kong suit from this film was redressed into the giant monkey Goro for episode 2 (GORO and Goro) of the television show Ultra Q. Afterwards it was reused for the water scenes (although it was given a new mask/head) for the film King Kong Escapes.
Scenes of the giant octopus attack were reused in black and white for episode 23 (Fury of the South Seas) of the television show Ultra Q.
A scene from this film was reused as stock footage in the 1972 film Godzilla vs. Gigan. The scene of the construction vehicles digging the giant pit to trap Godzilla, was reused to portray the construction vehicles building the World Children's Land theme park in Godzilla vs Gigan.
In 1992 (to coincide with the company's 60th anniversary), Toho wanted to remake this film as Godzilla vs. King Kong as part of the Heisei series of Godzilla films. However, according to the late Tomoyuki Tanaka, it proved to be difficult to obtain permission to use King Kong. Next, Toho thought to make Godzilla vs. Mechani-Kong but, (according to Koichi Kawakita), it was discovered that obtaining permission even to use the likeness of King Kong would be difficult. Mechani-Kong was replaced by Mechagodzilla, and the project eventually evolved into Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II in 1993.
In making Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, the special effects crew was instructed to watch the giant octopus scene to get reference for the Kraken.
Through the years the film has been referenced in various songs, advertising, television shows and comic books. It was referenced in Da Lench Mob's 1992 single "Guerillas in tha Mist". It was spoofed in advertising for a Bembos burger commercial from Peru, for Ridsect Lizard Repellant, and for the board game Connect 4. It was paid homage to in comic books by DC Comics, as well as Bongo Comics, and it was even spoofed in The Simpsons episode Wedding for Disaster.
Dual ending myth
For many years a popular myth has persisted that in the Japanese version of this film, Godzilla emerges as the winner. The myth originated in the pages of Spacemen magazine, a 1960s sister magazine to the influential publication Famous Monsters of Filmland. In an article about the film, it is incorrectly stated that there were two endings and "If you see King Kong vs Godzilla in Japan, Hong Kong or some Oriental sector of the world, Godzilla wins!" The article was reprinted in various issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland in the years following such as issues 51, and 114. This bit of incorrect info would be accepted as fact and persist for decades, transcending the medium and into the mainstream. For example, decades later in the 1980s the myth was still going strong. The Genus III edition of the popular board game Trivial Pursuit had a question that asked "Who wins in the Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla?", and states that the correct answer is "Godzilla". As well, through the years, this myth has been misreported by various members of the media, and has been misreported by reputable news organizations such as The LA Times. Since seeing the original Japanese-language versions of Godzilla movies was very hard to come by from a Western standpoint during this time period, it became easily believable.
However, as more Westerners were able to view the original version of the film (especially after its availability on home video during the late 1980s), and gain access to Japanese publications about the film, the myth was dispelled. There is only one ending of this film. Both versions of the film end the same way: Kong and Godzilla crash into the ocean, and Kong is the only monster to emerge and swims home. The only differences between the two endings of the film are extremely minor and trivial ones:
In the Japanese version, as Kong and Godzilla are fighting underwater, a very small earthquake occurs. In the American version, producer John Beck used stock footage of a violent earthquake from the film The Mysterians to make the climactic earthquake seem far more violent and destructive.
The dialogue is slightly different. In the Japanese version onlookers are wondering if Godzilla might be dead or not as they watch Kong swim home and speculate that it's possible he survived. In the American version, onlookers simply say, "Godzilla has disappeared without a trace" and newly shot scenes of reporter Eric Carter have him watching Kong swim home on a viewscreen and wishing him luck on his long journey home.
As the film ends and the screen fades to black, owari (the end) appears on screen. Godzilla's roar followed by Kong's is on the Japanese soundtrack. This was akin to the monsters' taking a bow or saying goodbye to the audience as at this point the film is over. In the American version, only Kong's roar is present on the soundtrack.