Kong count #18 – Universal Studios

Growing up a mere two hours from Orlando, Universal Studios was a regular attraction. There was a lot of cool stuff there, all rides for movies older than I was: ET, Back to the Future, Earthquake, Jaws, and of course King Kong. The Kongfrontation ride was a magnificent, quite the feat of animatronic engineering, but what gets less credit is how perfectly they replicated the look, feel, even smell of New York; while waiting in line you could psych yourself up by pretending you were actually waiting for an evacuation tram during a monster attack…provided your fellow tourists didn’t spoil the atmosphere.

When I later visited Universal Studios in Hollywood, I assumed that their “Back Lot Tram Tour”, taking patrons across the studio while also encountering earthquakes, Jaws, and Kong, was some sort of “best of” rides from Orlando, but actually, it came first; the Hollywood King Kong Encounter hit in 1986, in anticipation of King Kong Lives, a weird result of Universal winding up with King Kong merchandising rights despite not making any of the movies (at that point).

Both of those attractions are now sadly gone, along with most of the stuff I have nostalgia for at the park. At least Kong stuff has resurfaced recently across the Universal Studios brand. Universal Studios Hollywood has King Kong 360 3D now, featuring a CGI creature based on the Peter Jackson film projected onto a screen that surrounds the visitors, taking them across Skull Island. It’s okay, I suppose, but nostalgia or no, I think the old robots were simply more engrossing….will they ever make another one of those?

Well, Universal Florida has come to the rescue with the best of both worlds, with CG and animatronics at Skull Island: Reign of Kong! The ride starts out rather similarly to the Hollywood one, but at the end the a glorious animatronic confronts you, a creation of the same folks who did that King Kong stage musical a few years back.

So, yeah, Universal remains the home of King Kong. Heck, even Universal Studios Japan has something:

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Kong count #19 – Mytek the Mighty

Another British Kong imitator is Mytek the Mighty, who first graced the pages of Valiant in 1964 (as the Konga comic was dying down… coincidence?).

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Mytek is a human-piloted-robot (pre-Mazinger!) that happens to look like a gorilla, built by a scientist with the intent of fooling African ape-worshipers…. that scientist is the hero, by the way. The early plot has Mytek getting stolen by the scientist’s evil dwarf assistant, eventually getting reclaimed by the heroes, and fighting various other robots and creatures. Mytek does get a brain of his own (though it sounds like the series goes back and forth on that), as well as a suite of powers , including freezing breath, light projection, and (call Toho’s lawyers) projection of electricity through his fingers, though his weakness would be reliance on solar power.

mytekThe serial got 271 installments in Valiant, running until 1976, after which it ran colorized reprints in Vulcan for a few years. While it never really made any impression stateside, Mytek stories were released across Europe, most notably as King Kong the Robot  (sometimes without the epithet) in France. The character later resurfaced in the pages of 2000 AD in 1992 (that story I’ve heard was pretty bad), and lastly appeared in a couple issues of Alan Moore’s Albion along with other British heroes of yesteryear. The rights are currently with DC, so that’s who to ask for reprints!

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Weekly news recap for 2/19

A quick rundown of some of the stuff that caught our eye this week:

  • Aura Battler Dunbine is my go-to example of “anime that are hilariously out-of-print”, so it’s cool that Daisuki put it up on streaming. Also, L-Gaim!

  • Gantz:O is up on Netflix!

  • Looks like Bandai will be doing the toy lines for Pacific Rim: Uprising. Hopefully they won’t break our wallets too badly.
  • There was a lot of X-Plus stuff at WonFes, but what most caught my eye was a figure of Evangelion‘s Rei as Miss Namikawa:

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  • The Dragon Dentist may not be streaming on the US version of Crunchyroll, but it will be on NHK World next month.

  • A trailer for the upcoming movie Snow Woman:

Finally, it was just announced that Keita Amemiya and Mizuho Yoshida will be attending Monsterpalooza. Time to start looking into available tickets!

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Kong count #20 – Konga

“Gentlemen, I don’t know how much experience you’ve had with scientists, but they rarely quarrel. They have a way of expunging the personal and the emotional in the interest of truth.”

The mad doctor in Konga says a lot of crazy things, but that one certainly takes the cake. Taking a cue from Hammer’s Frankenstein films, the 1961 British flick features an unrepentingly evil protagonist excusing his literal kitten-murder in the name of science. There’s certainly a lot going on with the film, starting with Dr. Decker (Michael Gough) returning from a year in Uganda, where he just sort of hung out after a plane crash instead of notifying anyone that he’d survived. As if that wasn’t premise of a movie in its own right, Decker has brought carnivorous monster plants with him, starting experiments in secret along with his woefully friendzoned secretary. While the premise at this point seems to be that of animal-plant hybrid monsters, things go a step farther with the incorporation of the chimpanzee Konga, who, upon getting a shot of plant fluid that looks like it’d come out of Herbert West’s refrigerator, grows to the size of a gorilla and begins knocking off Decker’s academic rivals, under the professor’s psychic command.

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As if that weren’t sleazy enough, Decker is also intent on sleeping with one of his students, and has Konga murder her boyfriend. That makes the secretary jealous, so she gives Konga more of the green stuff, leading to kaiju-scale growth and the rampage  at the end, distinguishing it from your run-of-the-mill killer gorilla flick. Everyone dies horribly at the end, giving it a quite melancholic twist compared to a lot of the Kong clones.

Performances in the film are pretty good (particularly Gough), and while the special effects don’t quite match what Toho was doing at the time, they are competent for an early color giant monster flick. The miniatures are quite good, but the gorilla suit always feels like a suit (that’s a common problem with ape costumes, though), and the compositing is rough (like, Konga’s feet are cut off in one shot). The end result is a quite-watchable Kong-knock off, likely second only to Gorgo in the scope of British daikaiju cinema.

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As a bit of trivia, while the working title for the flick was “I was a Teenage Gorilla” (despite Konga being a chimp), producer Herman Cohen paid RKO to use the King Kong name, so you can make the case that this is an official King Kong movie. It was marketed as such in numerous countries, even though the monster doesn’t grow until the final 15 minutes. I would certainly keep it with the Kong flicks on my DVD shelf, if the disc weren’t on double-bill with Yongary, but that’s not a bad problem to have!

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Kong count #21 – Doraemon episode 241

One of the most iconic anime in history, Doraemon has run for over 2,600 episodes so far.  For the sake of comparison, America’s cultural mainstay The Simpsons is just past episode 600, so, even if you make a claim that “The Simpsons already did it”…

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…odds are Doraemon did it first.

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Episode 241, from 1980, has the gang meeting up with King Kong himself… sort of. They’re out on a trip into the country, and encounter a regular-sized primate. Doraemon brought a lunch along, keeping it portable with his shrink-ray, and they accidentally zap the monkey with it, causing it to grow into “King Kong”. The ape terrorizes the kids for a while, then it accidentally uses the growth light on Goda (who’d just fallen in the grass to look like Gaira), leading to a monster battle….or, more like a game of tag, as Kong runs away pretty fast.

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It’s not a terribly substantive episode (Doraemon seldom is), but it’s a fun footnote in the intersection of Kongdom with anime, and I don’t see it brought up very often.

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Kong count #22 – The King Kong Show

While The King Kong Show is mostly remembered nowadays as the source material for King Kong Escapes, it’s a significant historical milestone for being the first case on an American TV show getting animated in Japan. The program, while nominally a Rankin-Bass production, has its share of anime cred, featuring direction by Yugo Serikawa (Cyborg 009), music by Asei Kobayashi (responsible for the the Gatchaman, Lion Maru, and Turn A Gundam themes) in addition to Rankin-Bass staple Maury Laws, and planning by Yoshifumi Hatano (Cyborg 009, Saint Seiya).

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While the general plot featured a softer Kong who befriends a young boy (which set the template for every Kong animated series to follow), monster fans have no shortage of excitement in the series as the title character battles aliens, robots, and mythological figures in addition to the traditional prehistoric animals from the movies, and each episode is two stories, separated by an episode of Tom of T.H.U.M.B., so any given story only runs about 7 minutes.  Yeah, usually I skip over those middle segments.

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Unfortunately, of the 26 episodes, Classic Media has only released the first 8 on DVD. This does not include the introduction of Mechanikong, though that episode is pretty widely circulated in bootleg circles for its movie tie in. Personally, I’m much more interested in watching Kong fight a robotic statue of liberty! Hopefully a complete series box materializes at some point, but if they’re not doing so to cash in on Skull Island, I have no idea what would motivate a release.

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Needless to say, the show was hyped pretty heavily in Japan in 1967, spawning manga spin-offs, toys (from Yamato, if you’re looking), picture books, and of course the live-action movie. I’m not sure how involved Toei was in all of these, but I think it’s interesting that at least one book had a “Robot Kong” who looked completely different from what we got on screen:

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For a complete episode guide, I refer you to an excellent piece by Sci-Fi Japan on the program.

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Kong count #23 – Snowman (Jujin Yuki Otoko)

I have another busy evening tonight, so I’m recycling another old review from 2011…I don’t call out King Kong connections, but you can figure ’em out:

There are two types of “lost” movies. In the first case, the studio doesn’t have the materials anymore, such as London After Midnight, or the spider pit sequence from King Kong. In the event that they’re discovered (like lost footage from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis recently was), they’re usually made available ASAP. The other type of lost movies are the ones that the studio has under self-imposed ban, due to outcry or social changes, and these tend to officially stay buried (think Song of the South). The Japanese movie juggernaut Toho has two such titles in their banned scifi movie vault: Toshio Masuda’s Prophecies of Nostradamus (AKA The Last Days of Planet Earth), and Ishiro Honda’s Snowman.

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That’s right, one of the movies that they keep under lockdown is Ishiro Honda’s second monster movie, between Godzilla and Rodan. It gets worse. The monster costume is stellar, and “God of Special Effects” Eiji Tsuburaya’s turns in great work. It also stars Akira Takarada. Feel like Toho is slugging you in the gut yet? The golden creative triumvirate is only broken in that Akira Ifukube didn’t compose the score; but Akira Kurosawa’s favorite composer, Masaru Sato, is no slouch either.

There’s an American localization of Snowman called Half Human, splicing in new footage of John Carradine (such reversions were the hot thing back in the day: see the US editions of Godzilla, Varan, or Gammera), but still turning out half an hour shorter. That had a VHS release, so I’d gotten to see it, but the original Japanese version has proven elusive in any country; it’s been banned since the 1960’s (well, there was a 10-minute digest released in 1984). Toho’s concern is about the negative portrayal of indigenous mountain-dwelling Japanese in the film. It’s true that the people are depicted as savages, but I don’t think it’s any worse than how King Kong vs. Godzilla represents Pacific islanders. (Is it because they’re Japanese citizens? The logic seems analogous to banning Texas Chainsaw Massacre for its depiction of rednecks.) Anyway, some kind, rebellious soul has apparently seen fit to leak the movie to the gray-market masses, and that just makes my day.

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The film is about an expedition into the Japanese alps, one part investigation, one part rescue mission, after a man is abducted from his cabin during a snowstorm by something that leaves monstrous bigfootprints. Actually, there’s more than one expedition, one whose aim is study, and one whose goal is capture for profit; the profiteers run afoul the monster’s kin and pay dearly for it (preceding the scenario explored in Mothra, Gorgo, and Gappa). Monster and son are the last of their kind due to some poisonous mushrooms growing on the mountain (not Matango, sadly), so the yeti attempts to take one of the human women in the party for a mate. It dies for this, but it wasn’t really such a bad creature after all: it had kidnapped the first guy just to nurse him back to health after an avalanche.

When you’ve watched as many Honda scifi movies as many times as I have, there are a few patterns that emerge, and there are two that I noticed here. First, he loves to show forward shots of lines of people trekking up a mountain, and this is perhaps the most ubiquitous example of that. The other trope involves the controversial evil mountain people; a young girl in their tribe falls in love with the main character and betrays her family to help him…like Emiko in Godzilla, Miss Namikawa in Monster Zero, and Katsura in Terror of Mechagodzilla (and bleakly, of the four, only Emiko survives).

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It’s a shame that the movie isn’t more seen; I would love to own a pristine copy given a respectful home video release. Again, the monster looks great, and the only factor I imagine keeping this underground is that it’s not a giant monster. (Varan was also banned for a while, but the creature’s appearance as a part of Godzilla canon likely led to the movie’s resurrection.) In the mean time, the leaked print serves to plug a hole in my Toho-related science fiction archive. Soon there might not be any holy grails left!

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