While English-speakers haven’t gotten a lot of exposure to the game-changing superhero Moonlight Mask, AKA Gekko Kamen (seriously, his sexy parody series Kekko Kamen gets way more play stateside), he’s a pretty big deal in Japan. As the nation’s first TV super-hero, he set the standards, and two of the series that lift liberally from his format, Kamen Rider and Sailor Moon, in turn became juggernauts that inspired imitators for generations to follow. Gekko Kamen is like the Japanese equivalent of the Lone Ranger or Batman; there are literally public statues erected in his honor. Senkosha’s original 1958 show ran 130 episodes (before getting taken off the air due to imitable act concerns), and one of the most iconic storylines is the 11-part “Mammoth Kong” arc. Debuting in October of 1958, this appears to be the first Japanese kaiju on television, and one of the first on film at all!
The story opens with a typhoon raging while a ship (either from the south pole or Alaska, they seem to go back and forth on that) carries a 15-meter “gorilla” (with horns) with the hopes of saving it from the many unexploded bombs left over from WWII (again, in Alaska?). The vessel runs aground, and the monster apparently dies… just kidding, that would be rather anti-climatic, wouldn’t it? No, it turns out that the master criminal Assassin Joe has orchestrated a plan to steal the creature’s corpse and revive it (and pilfer a load of guns, and spring a dozen crooks from jail, all on the same night. He’s good), and only the ineffective police force and the enigmatic hero Gekko Kamen (hot off defeating lots of other bad guys over the previous 93 episodes) stand in his way. With the newly-reanimated Mammoth Kong terrorizing the country, this is literally their biggest challenge to date.
I’ve only caught the first three episodes of this serial (that’s all that’s been fansubbed so far), but the 1/20th scale miniatures look quite impressive for the time and budget, and lots of attention is payed to little details (e.g. a flower vase next to the window Kong is reaching through, or a flash of lightning rotoscoped into the background as the monster walks through the city at night). The monster, created and portrayed by Shinpei Takagi (one of Akira Kurosawa’s regulars) also looks quite good, which is important since it likely gets more total screen time over eleven episodes than many movie kaiju would in a single film.
Since Gekko Kamen was insanely popular, it should come as little surprise that the various stories from the TV show were adapted to other media as well, and with that, so was Mammoth Kong. The first of these was a manga adaptation by Jiro Kuwata, creator of Maboroshi Tantei and 8-man (also manga adaptations of Ultraseven and Rodan!), and best-known stateside for his 1966 Batman manga. From the handful of scans I’ve found, it looks like a pretty faithful adaptation.
The TV series was such a hit that it made a leap to the big screen before wrapping up on television, with Toei producing six films throughout the 1950s (note: this was also how Toei got into the superhero business, and they’ve been in ever since!). These essentially adapted the storylines from the show with different actors, but the Gekko Kamen: Kaiju Kong film leaves a little to be desired – this Kong is not mammoth at all! Instead this movie opts for a Jekyll/Hyde character named Kong, and while indeed a monster of sorts, he’s more humanoid in scale, and even wears clothes.
If monsters were lacking in the Toei films, the 1972 anime version made up for it in spades, throwing in more demonic goons and giant robots than the original show would’ve dreamed possible (this was the era of Mazinger, Devilman, and Gatchaman, and it shows). Naturally they do a Mammoth Kong arc (which lasts a full third of the series!), but it’s chocked full of other monsters as well. In fact, in addition to Mammoth Kong (who is now pink), there’s also a smaller, friendlier, more annoying green ape called “Little Kong” for our kid sidekicks to interact with (Hanna Barbera might’ve been taking notes). It’s my understanding that this anime got pretty popular in Latin America (it never made it to the US), so it’s not as obscure to western viewers as the rest of the franchise.
There are other entries in the Gekko Kamen canon (a 1981 movie, a 1999 anime, a handful of manga), but I haven’t had the chance to check them out or discover if they touch on the Kong character. But hopefully we’ll see some of these localized eventually, and the Moonlight Mask has some other adventures in the future. It’s the 60th anniversary soon, after all!