Personally, I would never choose to pick a fight with someone carrying a 19,950 ton weight advantage. And then even if somehow I overlooked the fact that they towered 139ft above my head, the scorching atomic fire breath running down the back of my neck would probably cause me to think twice. King Kong, therefore, is a braver man than I.
Yes that’s right, America’s finest is once again battling it out with Japan’s nuclear powered prize-fighter for the (very very) heavyweight world title. And if perhaps on paper the Eighth Wonder of the World seems a little outmatched by his irradiated rival, you will be glad to hear that on their first match up Kong is generally considered to have been the winner, swimming back to his home on Skull Island for a well-earned rest after upending Godzilla into the sea.
The original Godzilla vs King Kong, produced by Japan’s Toho Company, birthed one of the most enduring myths in monster movie history; that in the Japanese version, it is Godzilla in fact who wins, putting his Yankee adversary through the mangle. This nugget of late night movie lore, while untrue, does expose how clearly the adversaries were seen to represent their respective countries. Godzilla was, as now, an icon of Japanese culture; a tragic anti-hero woken from watery slumber and set on a murderous rampage through the streets of a world he does not understand by the effects of hydrogen bombings in the Pacific. King Kong, falling for the girl from that icon of US power and virility the Empire State Building, shows his willingness to love an all American blonde in a prom dress just as much as that other symbol of Americana the football player, to whom the great ape certainly does seem to bear more than a passing resemblance.
To think of the US and Japan as mortal enemies seems to most people now to be slightly ridiculous. Japanese cars and culture permeate American life in a way that other countries can only dream of. Even the Super Mario Bros film was set in New York, although for filming purposes it’s conceivable that the Mushroom Kingdom would have been just one bridge too far. In Japan too, American culture is ever-present; baseball still being Japan’s most popular sport, although the US has never invited them, or anyone else for that matter, to take part in their ‘World’ Series.
Sporting rivalry aside, the deep links the countries share, as well as the rise of China as The US’ main global rival in the Far East, means that friendship between the two countries is as strong as it has ever been. Of course this was not the case back in 1962, the film released only 17 years after the end of the Second World War and eight after the Lucky Dragon nuclear incident, in which a Japanese fishing boat was fatally irradiated by US nuclear testing. This tragedy forming the original inspiration for Godzilla himself. Japan was also starting to get its swagger back, beginning a period of international economic dominance that would bring Detroit to its knees and force the US to raise economic barriers to protect itself from superior Japanese products. Godzilla vs King Kong was therefore released in an era when the two nations’ relations were more ambiguous than they are now; the concept of the US and Japan brawling on Mount Fuji less of an absurd idea than it might seem, if not by very much.
Since 1962 both Godzilla and King Kong have however undergone great change, both in appearance and nature. Where once King Kong was a giant ape from Skull Island and Godzilla was an oversized irradiated reptile; now King Kong is a giant ape from Skull Island and Godzilla is still an oversized irradiated reptile. Ok, so perhaps not much has changed outwardly but inwardly both monsters have experienced great transformations. Godzilla turned from a hulking terror born out of Japan’s atomic nightmare into a karate kicking, child friendly, enemy of pollution, and then finally was distorted into an American himself. In fact, while the Godzilla franchise has continued in fine fettle in Japan, the only films featuring the lizard to achieve widespread release in the last 30 years have been American productions set in America. Kong too, while undergoing less change, has had to endure the indignity of being chased around Skull Island by a camera wielding Jack Black; something hardly befitting the Eighth Wonder of the World. Rather than Naomi Watts, it was Black that killed the beast.
So possibly a Godzilla Vs King Kong remake would now hold less geopolitical implications than it once did, leaving us to mindlessly enjoy the spectacle of a titanic CGI dinosaur and ape beating seven shades out of each other without much thought. But where’s the fun in that? Ok, I admit that does sound fun; but isn’t it also a bit of a shame? The original Godzilla film was a sombre reflection on the damage that nuclear weapons can inflict, and King Kong was the story of how a giant gorilla went to New York and found out that the American dream was a nightmare, filled with false promise and annoying aeroplanes. Ok so I might be stretching things a little for that latter part but these films should mean something, all films should mean something; whether it’s your Palme d’Or winning masterpiece or schlocky monster movie. Godzilla is never just a giant irradiated dinosaur and King Kong is always much more than an oversized orangutan with an aversion to the paparazzi.
And while here I sit at my laptop furiously hammering at my keyboard, complaining about a movie that hasn’t even come out yet, and won’t for at least five years, I do hope from the bottom of my heart that it won’t be what I think it’s going to be, that it won’t be simply a mindless brawl bereft of nuance. And you know what? I have faith. Because Hollywood blockbusters are known for their sharp satirical attacks and highly developed sense of irony. Ah who am I kidding, I’ll go see it anyway.
Image Credit: Warner Bros