Weekly news recap for 3/19

Not a whole lot to cover this week, but there were certainly a couple of note-worthy developments:

  • Here’s a look at the new Devilman for Netflix: Devilman crybaby. (Between this and Cutie Honey Tears, I wonder if that’ll be a theme? Like, will we get “Mazinger Wept” or “Dororon Enma-kun Lacrimation”?) It’ll be directed by the ever-stylish Masaaki Yuasa, and based on the stark black-on-red in this trailer, I’m sort of getting a Samurai Jack vibe.

  • Speaking of Netflix, they have worldwide rights to this year’s Godzilla anime film. Not much of a surprise, considering their past dealings with Polygon Pictures.
  • The Hollywood Reporter has a piece about Brave Storm. While the author doesn’t appear to recognize the project’s relation to Silver Kamen or Super Robot Red Baron, it’s cool to see it getting international press. If only Ronin Entertainment were still around to license it stateside!

  • We’ve got two trailers for different scifi comedies based on Shonen Jump manga titles, both directed by Yuichi Fukuda: Gintama and The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.

  • The upcoming TV drama Frankenstein’s Love is apparently set in modern times, but you wouldn’t know if from looking at the main character’s fashion. The show (starting in April) will be a romance between the monster and a lady scientist, and presumably contains no battles against Baragon.

  • This year’s 17th and 18th issues of Shonen Sunday have a new Rumiko Takahashi miniseries, Millennium Innocence. It’s cool to see her doing shorts again (honestly, Rinne would have worked better as one).

That’s a wrap for this week, but as always, let us know if something got left out!

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Weekly news recap: This time with kaiju

There wasn’t any kaiju coverage last week, but this time we can make up for that!

  • Terry Rossio, writer of the abandoned 1994 Hollywood Godzilla flick, is getting another chance, this time for Godzilla vs Kong! Here’s to another try!
  • Looks like Chofu will be hosting the 8th Amateur Kaiju Movie Contest on April 1. It’s cool to see how Kiyotaka Taguchi is still quite active in the independent kaiju scene.

  • Speaking of Taguchi, his segment Female Weapon 701 (what, no “Scorpion”?) will be one of the 28 segments in the upcoming anthology Tetsudon: Kaiju Dream Match. It has a giant Haruka Momokawa, who, presumably, actually could go on a date with Eleking.

  • A little more concept art for the Godzilla anime movie. Can’t it just be Anime Japan already? Do we really have to wait two weeks?

Non-kaiju stuff:

  • Kyoryuger is getting a Korean sequel series, Kyoryuger Brave….while I’m not sure how it’ll stack up against the Japanese series, at least it looks better than Zaido. Koichi Sakamoto (no stranger to hopping overseas to work on Power Rangers) is set to direct, so if nothing else it should maintain some tonal consistency with the original. If this is successful, I wonder if we’ll see similar cases like this in the future with other Sentai shows around the world; I’d much rather see an internationally-made sequel than an actor-replacement edit like we get in the US.

  • We have a trailer for Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable Part 1! They actually changed the color of the sky to make it look like the manga, and I’ve got a lot of questions about how well that works.

  • You can get Garo armor in the new Monster Hunter XX game:

  • A trailer for the pro-wrestling movie Dynamite Wolf. This one skews more realism than superhero-type wrestlers, but it may still be of interest.

That’s a wrap for this week; as always, leave a comment if we missed something!

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Kong count #1 – Honorable mentions

Well, after counting down all year, Kong: Skull Island is finally out! The Maser Patrol crew will be assembling a full review in coming days, but if you want a short version: “Go see it!”

Hope you’ve enjoyed the series! As a final hurrah, here are a handful of titles that we didn’t  quite get to during the Kong Count, for some reason or another, but we very easily could have (maybe the series should have been 100 posts long instead?):

  • The Asylum’s mockbuster King of the Lost World, probably the highest-profile thing not covered here.

  • The Italian movie Eve the Wild Woman, which was re-titled King of Kong Island in the US, despite having only normal-sized gorillas. Best watched in the Rifftrax version.

king-of-kong-island

  • The low-budget flick The Abominable, which as far as I know, isn’t available in its country of origin, but it is on DVD in Japan as Ice Kong.

  • The Abbot & Costello flick Africa Screams, which has a giant gorilla:

africa-screams

  • The X-rated parody Supersimian, which actually does have some decent stop-motion animation.

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  • The 1945 film The White Gorilla, an edit of the 1927 serial Perils of the Jungle with an ape named “Konga”

  • The storied fan-film made at Toho, Wolf-man vs. Godzilla clearly draws on King Kong vs. Godzilla.

WolfManvsG_2a

  • The artsiest Kong exploitation, 1978’s Bye Bye Monkey, which has someone adopt a chimp he finds in Kong’s corpse.

  • Multiple people have told me to watch the comedy King Kung Fu

  • The “Kong” episode of Alvin & the Chipmunks Go to the Movies

atc_kong_vhs_cover

  • Great Watchuka from the Hanna Barbera’s Godzilla:

watchuka

  • Hiroshi Kawamoto’s Monster King Godzilla, which brings back MechaniKong.

  • Shigeru Mizuki’s manga Kind Kong, about a giant Kinichi Hagimoto fighting a mole monster.

    kind-kong kind-kong-2

While we’re at it, how about Mizuki’s manga Mr. Primitive?

mr-primitive

  • The Disney comic strip Gorilla Gorilla

comic-zone

  • Numerous short stories, like “Desperate” from Dark Horse Presents or Phillip Jose Farmer’s “After Kong Fell”.

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  • The 2013 stage musical

  • The uncompleted 1934 puppet movie The Lost Island

the-lost-island

And we haven’t even touched all of the works that inspired Kong, such as

  • The Lost World
  • Creation
  • The Dinosaur and the Missing Link, A Prehistoric Tragedy
  • Heu-heu, or the Monster
  • Isle of Sunken Gold
  • Paul de Chailu’s travel guides
  • Along the Moonbeam Trail
  • The Ghost of Slumber Mountain

There may be some other as-of-yet unrevealed titles to get to eventually as well. Good thing there’s already another King Kong movie planned for 2020!

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Kong count #2 – King Kong (1933)

The original King Kong is a tremendous film. That it’s a classic, that it’s one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all time, that it directly inspired an entire generation of movie makers, that it still holds up incredibly 84 years later… all of this should be self-evident, and I feel foolish even writing it down. But, if somehow you missed it, if you only watch Japanese monsters, or you’re put off by black-&-white, or you’re afraid of it based on something someone else has said: give this movie a shot. It’s engrossing. It’s witty. It’s energetic. Whenever I intend to only watch a scene I wind up sitting through the whole thing. It’s just that good.

So pick up the DVD or Blu Ray; this is a movie worth a place in anyone’s collection. Watch the special features; they’ll cover the making, nuance, and influence better than I could in a brief blog post, and there is certainly a lot to cover. If you can’t appreciate it after that… I honestly dunno, maybe adventure movies just aren’t your thing?

I think I’ll just go watch it again rather than writing any more….I wonder what tomorrow’s post could be?

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Kong count #3 – King Kong (1976)

Given the rushed nature of the production (to beat Universal to the punch), I can forgive a lot of problematic aspects of the 1976 King Kong remake. Sure, there are no dinosaurs, and that cuts down the spectacle staggeringly, which is objectively the movie’s greatest sin. The modernizing twist of the expedition being a fossil-fuel survey, while interesting in theory, gets very confused (the CO2 isn’t from oil, it’s from animal respiration! Also, there is oil on the island after all. But we can’t use it so we’ll capture a gorilla using all of the tools an oil tanker has handy?). Dwan is a rube, and there’s no getting around that, even if her more sympathetic view of Kong informed later versions of Ann. Still, all of those things could be overlooked, but there’s one small thing in this movie that breaks it for me.

There’s a lot of stupid humor, including one throwaway line of comic relief that slaps the fourth wall, where Jack says something along the lines of “Who the hell do you think went through there, some guy in an ape suit?” This line could be forgiven in context of the movie, since we do see the natives dressed as gorillas earlier… but he doesn’t say “costume” or “mask”, he says “suit”, and that’s a direct dig at the film’s own suitmation, one of the few aspects (along with the music) that it *doesn’t* have to be ashamed of. This is particularly harsh considering the way the production went down.

Rick Baker’s Kong suit isn’t his best work, but it’s still pretty nice, and the best Kong had ever looked on screen at the time of production. Despite that, Dino De Laurentiis had little interest in giving Baker credit or opportunity, while granting all sorts of leeway to Carlo Rambaldi’s misguided attempt to build a giant mechanical Kong. The resulting robot looked like crap and only made it into the film for a few seconds (before eventually being left on a beach in Argentina), yet, to justify its exorbitant cost, De Laurentiis went around promoting it as though all of the effects were achieved through the robot. That year, it was Rambaldi who got the Academy Award for all of Baker’s work, in case you were looking for yet another reason to disrespect the Oscars in general.

So, that’s my personal Rubicon for the film. It’s my least favorite of the Kong films generally, flawed as it is, despite some nice effects, because they can’t quite make up for the fact that it’s simply less exciting, and has lots of cringe humor, including a joke that belittles those very special effects. What I can’t fault the movie for, though, is the enormous pop-culture footprint that it had…how many times has it been obliquely referenced in this series of blog posts as something was cashing in on its production? It honestly created a mini giant-monster boom at a time when the Japanese studios had lost interest, and there was even a nod to it in the US marketing for one of the most famous Godzilla flicks stateside:

At least that poster doesn’t have the awkward sameface that Paramount doctored into their actual King Kong publicity materials.

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Kong count #4 – King Kong (2005)

I grew up with conservative, micromanaging helicopter parents, and as a result was prohibited from taking full advantage of my local video stores’ horror movie aisles until college. As such, the name Peter Jackson meant little to me in the late 90s, since Bad Taste and Dead Alive were in the strictly verboten bucket. I did read Lord of the Rings (it was a chore, I wasn’t allowed to play Magic: The Gathering until I finished them all), and later took part working tech crew in a stage production of The Hobbit. I was positively smitten with the girl who played Bilbo, and, one fine winter day in 2001, the pair of us ditched class and went to see the brand new Lord of the Rings theatrical film instead (we didn’t wind up getting in trouble. Do well in school, kids, because administrators let merit scholars get away with crap like going on morning dates rather than attending discrete math). I was all about the Balrog scene (’cause, y’know, giant monster), and still riding that high when the credits rolled. Upon seeing the name Peter Jackson, I remembered a rumor from years before: “Oh, hey, that’s the guy who was gonna remake King Kong at some point!” Four years later, he finally did.

That introduction was overly-long, self-indulgent, and somewhat thematically incoherent, and I did such intentionally, in honor of this film. Now let’s, as Tripod are keen to sing, “get to the f-ing monkey“.

I’m snarky, but Jackson’s film was a long time coming, starting in the mid 90s (when he initially agreed to it in order to prevent anyone else from tainting the Kong name), through several delays due to Mighty Joe Young and Godzilla saturating the market, then its greenlighting due to Jackson’s limitless clout following the release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. A lot of awesome stuff resulted from Jackson’s unbridled enthusiasm for this King Kong project:

  • Weta did a fantastic period-accurate reconstruction of the original’s famously lost spider-pit sequence.
  • The concept book The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island lays out the ecosystem in meticulous detail.
  • The original King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young got snazzy DVD releases.
  • There was a video-game tie-in with an amusing alternate ending.
  • Jackson published elaborate production diaries for the film, likely the most comprehensive of any bonus feature ever.
  • And naturally, a staggering toy line.

That’s just the official stuff, not taking into account mockbusters and cash-ins. There was a lot of material, and of course, the film itself had a lot of content as well; pretty much every element of the original that wasn’t in the 1976 film is present (I still remember the Daily Show episode where Jon Stewart was interviewing Adrien Brody about it. Stewart said something like “This is insane, it’s King Kong, but also dinosaurs” and Brody had to give him a lecture). All of the 30’s setting elements are handled impeccably, and while Jackson’s original idea was to have Fay Wray deliver the final line, I appreciate that Denham does, just like in the original. The thing is, it has every element that the original does… plus some….and then some.

King Kong ’33 runs for 100 minutes, while the 2005 version runs for 201 minutes, and even during my initial screening of it, I had to say: it’s cool that they rendered this fight with the V-rex with modern effects, but honestly I wish there was a version that only has the shots from the original, and not all this vine-bound acrobatics. While it’s neat that the extended director’s cut exists, I wonder if there could be a shorter, just the basics-cut; we could have gone without Kong slipping around on ice, without the stampede, without the spider pit (gasp!), without Jimmy trying to spook us by reading Heart of Darkness. Thank god there won’t be any other call-outs to that book agai-

Despite any complaints about the bloat of the movie, I do thoroughly enjoy it. The effects are tremendous, and Serkis’s Kong is an inspired incarnation. The cast is entertaining, particularly the unexpected choice of Jack Black as Denham, not to mention Thomas Kretschmann’s badass Englehorn, and future Godzilla King of the Monsters star Kyle Chandler as new character Bruce Baxter. Plus, having now seen Dead Alive, I’ve got to chuckle at the rat monkey (that movie had its own whole Kong homage, btw)! There’s a lot to love in the movie, on top of there being a lot of movie in general. It’s nice that this way, Jackson was able to do everything he imagined with the remake… and if The Hobbit is any indication, who knows, maybe some day we’ll get a 542 minute trilogy based on Son of Kong!

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Kong count #5 – King Kong vs. Godzilla

This is daunting… what can I say about King Kong vs. Godzilla that hasn’t been said ad nauseum? I’ll strive not to be just the 453rd doofus this week you’ve heard say “actually, the US version doesn’t have a different ending”, but with a work this beloved, this core to the very genre, this may not be novel information or a fresh perspective. I even toyed with the idea of making a case that it’s overhyped, just to be contrarian, but decided that would be disingenuous. The film is wonderful, and its impact immeasurable.

king-kong-vs-godzilla-1

Mothra might have gotten the ball rolling on the lighter, more anything-goes tone for the science fiction oeuvre at Toho, but the studio’s 30th-anniversary celebration runs with it. Even the first shot makes this clear: Panning through space with ominous narration is something you’d expect from one of their SF flicks, but upon revealing that this set-up is just a show the characters are watching on TV, you’re simultaneously hit with a punchline and a revelation that this movie will be much more in line with their salaryman comedies (Ichiro Arishima’s performance as Mr. Tago is particularly deserving of every gif that’s been made of it). This keeps up throughout, including the climatic battle being more of a fun wrestling match than the horrific deathbattle in Godzilla’s previous outing. Mothra set up that it was okay for kaiju to make it through a movie alive, and King Kong vs. Godzilla codified it.

king-kong-vs-godzilla-2 kkvsg

This brings us to the film’s next revolution: It’s a “vs” movie. While not the first ever cinematic universe or crossover (see Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man), it was certainly a shake-up for Toho, leading to the nigh-standardization of monster movies as a title bout (Mothra vs. Godzilla, Frankenstein vs. Baragon, Sanda vs. Gaira), which of course continued out of the sixties and into the works produced by other studios as well. It also re-introduced Godzilla for the modern age, after seven years out of the spotlight. It’s hard to imagine, but without this film, there might be no “Godzilla series”, just an awkward duology along the lines of The Amazing Colossal Man; heck, we might have never even known his beam is blue! This film set Godzilla in place as the studio’s headline monster, as its cheif representative when doing business with the foreign agent that is Kong.

king_kong_vs_godzilla_poster_01 king-kong-vs-godzilla

That international aspect is another element of King Kong vs. Godzilla that changed the game. Toho’s previous partnerships with Hollywood hadn’t gone that fantastically (e.g. Varan the Unbelievable), but a mash-up of Toho and RKO’s headliners was a sure-fire way of drumming up interest on both sides of the Pacific, and it’s hard to not see this as a factor directly leading to American co-productions like Frankenstein Conquers the World, Invasion of Astro-Monster, War of the Gargantuas, King Kong Escapes, and Latitude Zero (what is it with co-productions and giant octopodi?), and by extension the later Gamera films as well (heck, even You Only Live Twice!). Those movies were produced utilizing western actors, and thus helped nearly end the practice of American companies doing reshoots with their own actors after the film was licensed (well, aside from the later exceptions like Godzilla 1985 and Power Rangers).

king_kong_vs_godzilla02  king-kong-contra-godzilla

That brings up the unfortunate aspect to this being an international co-production: the distribution. It seems like once a week or so, there’s a post on social media asking if we’ll ever get a complete box set of all of the Godzilla films, and we have to give the same disappointing stock answer: no, because Universal has perpetual rights to King Kong vs. Godzilla. To make matters worse, they have perpetual rights to the US version, which inserts awkward American actors, tries to be a non-comedy, and swaps out Ifukube’s music with library stock (notably including Creature from the Black Lagoon). Universal can’t put out a subtitled version without licensing the Japanese cut from Toho (which they have no incentive to do; they have thousands of their own movies that they haven’t released, why license other people’s?), yet other companies can’t license the Japanese cut without getting Universal’s blessing (which they have no incentive to give), so we have a stalemate.

At least Universal takes good care of their prints, so while their Blu Ray is an inferior cut, it looks great. Toho, conversely, destroyed the King Kong vs Godzilla negative for the 1970 Champion Matsuri edition (losing a third of the movie), and as a result home video releases have been a mess ever since, and pretty much every one has been some mix of 35 mm, 16 mm, original negative, and US version sources, with distracting missing frames exacerbating the changes in footage quality. Japan only last year finally got a proper version, rather than a reconstruction, so hopefully this one becomes the new standard and doesn’t get lost or damaged, but it seems the English-speaking world will forever be limited to imports and fansubs if they want to see it… while I don’t watch tokusatsu dubs often, I do wonder if a proper one for this film could raise its esteem in the west? It might be too late for that, though.

mr-tago

So, yeah, if you’ve only seen the American version, I’d implore you to track down the Japanese cut, especially now that we finally have a reasonable transfer (I imagine that anyone reading this would already have the Japanese version, but you never know). Hopefully this was a little helpful in understanding just why this movie is such an instrumental classic. Legendary has pulled off a miracle in clearing things up for a remake in 2020 (there have been numerous attempts in the past), and it has the potential, if the 1962 version is any indication, to spur on something enormous.

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