Invariably, when discussions of lost films starts, there’s a staple of titles that come up right away: London After Midnight, The Mountain Eagle, a certain spider pit sequence in a movie that we might get back to later. The giant monster genre is no different, but while flicks like Wangmagwi, Gogola, and Tokyo 1960 are known to kaiju nerds, only one of these generally makes it into the mainstream cineaste’s discussion: the lost Japanese King Kong movie King Kong Appears in Edo. There’s often some confusion/conflation that goes on here; that is indeed a lost Japanese Kong flick, but it’s not the only one!
Wasei King Kong (“Japanese King Kong”, in existing promo materials the qualifying “wasei” is written much smaller than the “King Kong” title) is a silent comedy short that came out in October 1933, as a tie-in to the original film’s release. Shochiku produced it, and since they also had the rights to the American version, presumably would’ve had double-bills running both, and a relative lot of promotional materials still exist compared to the later, longer King Kong Appears in Edo (leading to much early miscrediting of the stills to the later film). So why doesn’t it get as much buzz? Well, here’s the thing: it’s not actually a monster movie.
In quite the case of false advertising, the fliers with Kong holding the plane and the girl are not actually effects shots per se, in that the story is about a King Kong suit actor (perhaps the first ever!) doing a vaudeville routine to exploit the popularity of the King Kong movie. So this campaign is basically sort of a meta act of directly advertising the play-within-the-play (like if Martian Successor Nadesico had was advertised only using clips from Gekiganger 3). The short culminates in the actor, still in costume, going on a jealousy-induced rampage through the streets after his ex-girlfriend’s current fiancé, and the whole affair sounds like a madcap lark. It’s a shame that we’ll never see the film, but at least the content most intriguing to effects aficionados (the costume and miniature set shots) sort of survive through that handful of stills. It looks like quite the vaudeville routine, but the more tragic loss of cinema was a bit later….probably.
The 1938 (funny, right around the time King Kong was reissued!) silent two-part Zensho Cinemas serial King Kong Appears in Edo is *possibly* (likely not) the first giant monster movie to come out of Japan. Set sometime before the mid-19th century, the exploitation flick is basically a crime thriller, only the scheme involves kidnapping, ransom, and counterfeiting schemes by way of trained gorilla. This doesn’t sound particularly kaiju-like, and the giant in the poster could be artistic license/deliberate misrepresentation (the poster also shows a human-sized ape, a contradiction unless he grows), and one would assume that was the case… if not for the detail that Fuminori Ohashi, who worked effects/costuming on the picture (along with the original Godzilla, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Planet of the Apes, Snow man, and other ape-related works), referred to it as a “giant gorilla“. Occam’s razor is that he’s misremembering, but we literally can’t say for sure.
As fans and completionists, it’s frustrating that movies like this can just go extinct, but they can serve as reminders to preserve what we currently do have; even in the digital age sometimes works of art can still be lost to the ages. On the plus side, sometimes a picture once thought lost will resurface (e.g. some of those early dinosaur movies we should be getting to), so hope isn’t totally lost that one day these pre-war gorilla flicks could be discovered (I just wouldn’t hold my breath on it).
Also, as a caveat, there’s somebody on youtube trying to pass off Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century footage as this movie. Please don’t do things like that.