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King Kong Escapes
King Kong Escapes deals with the 60-foot-tall gorilla first seen (more or less) in King Kong Vs. Godzilla - that is, the Japanese version of the creature first seen in the beloved 1933 American film. KKE, however, wasn't a sequel to the equal Godzilla adventure; instead, it was an attempt to cash in quickly on Japanese kids' newfound love for the ape.
On the last day of 1966, an hour-long special, King of the World: The King Kong Show was broadcast in Japan on network NET. The following year, the rest of the series was shown, and proved to be popular. The series was co-produced by Rankin/Bass - the group behind the popular Christmas specials, such as Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - and dealt with the giant gorilla adopting a human family and having all sorts of adventures with them. The show fit in perfectly with Japanese children's TV shows of the time, dealing with the usual aliens, monsters, robots, etc.
In KKE, the plot concerns an attempt by some international villains to dig up a large deposit of the highly-radioactive Element X, of which there is only a small amount currently in the world. A scientific madman named Dr. Who (no relation to the British time- travelling hero) has built a gigantic King Kong robot, Mechani-Kong, to dig up the element, but the robot succumbs to the radiation. Dr. Who and his foreign benefactor, Madame X, decide to kidnap the real Kong to do their digging, and rebuild a better model of the robot while they're waiting. Meanwhile, a UN submarine, Explorer, finds itself pulling in at Kong's island for repairs; it just so happens that Captain Nelson, master of the vessel, was the one who originally designed the Mechani-Kong, the plans of which Dr. Who stole. Kong is captured, but breaks free of Dr. Who's hypnosis; Kong and Mechani-Kong fight in Japan (oh, and earlier he'd faught a Gorosaurus and a giant sea serpent). What else? To be honest, I kind of lost the thread of the plot somewhere in there, but suffice it to say that Kong swims home safe and sound, and Dr. Who's plans for conquest are destroyed. The end.
KKE isn't the most entertaining of Japanese monster movies, even though it contains a lot of fun elements. Japanese filmmakers - at least traditionally - are able to infuse an innocent sense of play into their science fiction/fantasy films, something which is often lost in money-obsessed American productions. Instead of just relying on the wonder of the title monster, Japanese films will throw in lots of different concepts and ideas into the mix; a decent Godzilla film, for example, is often able to incorporate such things as spies, aliens, and futuristic vehicles as well as the monster. In addition, Japanese science fiction films have never quite suffered from the cachet of disrepute that American sci-fi, monster, and horror films traditionally have, with the result that top matinee stars can be seen in many of (what we perceive to be) silly monster movies.
In KKE, the Japanese cast is excellent. The Japanese male lead is Akira Takarada, no stranger to daikaiju (giant monster) films, as he was also in Godzilla Vs. Mothra, Frankenstein Conquers the World, Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster, & Godzilla Vs. Monster Zero. Takarada was a fairly big star at the time, and with his unthreatening good looks and pleasant manner, made audiences feel comfortable. Mie Hama played Madame X; she had just appeared in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice as 'Kissy Suzuki,' and would eventually move to America to live for several years in New York. The most memorable of the Japanese actors, however, was Eisei Amamoto, who played the enigmatic Dr. Who. Amamoto brought his almost skeletal look to several science fiction films, including Godzilla's Revenge and Atragon; he is easily the most enjoyable and watchable character in the movie (and that includes the monsters). All three are still active media personalities in Japan.
Kong Kong Escapes is a good giant-monster movie, but not a great one. The direction, effects, and music are all well-done, and the acting is uneven but good enough for the material. It just doesn't pack the punch of many other Toho thrillers, unfortunately. Still, it is worth having in one's collection.
King Kong Escapes - 1967
Direction: Ishiro Honda
Screenplay: Takeshi Kimura
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya
Music: Akira Ifukubeo
Featuring: Akira Takarada, Rhodes Reason, Linda Miller, Mie Hama, Eisei Amamoto