Monday, August 2, 2010

Akemi Negishi in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

There are some movies that feel beyond criticism no matter how bad they are and, for me, 1962's King Kong vs. Godzilla is one of them.

Two of my most vivid memories of watching cool stuff on TV as a kid involve this film: the first time, I can recall staying up very late to watch this on television in my parents' bedroom in our old apartment. This was before they got divorced so I must have been about 5 or 6.

The second memory involves me and my now-divorced mom out shopping one Saturday afternoon when I was about 7, and me begging her to hurry up and get home as Queen's then-current "Killer Queen" played on the Casey Kasem "America's Top 40" radio show. I think we made it just in time and I probably kicked off my shoes and slid like a baseball player into position in front of the TV in the living room.

Yeah, such a crappy film provided me with some really Proustian memories, didn't it?

Despite the film's many failures, I still love it and hold it dear to my heart.

And I know that dieheard kaiju eiga fans don't like the inserted scenes in the American version but I can recall how those scenes worked so well for me as a 7-year-old, recalling, as they did, similar documentary bits on TV shows about "sightings" of Bigfoot. Those scenes in all their clumsiness give the film the kind of child logic tension that something like this required.

In fact, I'd venture to say that parts of it are actually pretty good for this sort of thing: Godzilla's first appearance, revealing himself from a crumbling iceberg, is just wonderful -- those overhead shots thrilled me as a child and gave a kind of beauty to the admittedly fake proceedings that I really appreciated.

Maybe this sequence is what caused a few nightmares for me as a toddler as I remember vivid dreams where Godzilla ambled around the back of my apartment complex and peered in my window at night.

Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi are in this too but their scenes are quite clearly cut down in the American version.

And surely the buildup to Kong's first reveal on Faro Island is quite well-done; the 6-year-old in me still thrills at the events of that scene even though I know the reveal of the man-in-suit Kong will disappoint me eventually.

But my favorite scene involves the wonderful and sexy Akemi Negishi. I venture to say that there's something vaguely disturbing about the scene as the actress and her dance sequence are a tiny bit too sexy for what is ostensibly a kids' film. Maybe in Japan, this was more of a mainstream fantasy?

After Kong appears and saves the village and the native girl's child from a giant octopus, the villagers attempt to lull the massive Kong into slumber so he can be transported back to Japan.

The exotic looking actress worked with Josef Von Sternberg in 1953 on Anatahan, as well as with Akira Kurosawa on a few films like 1965's Red Beard. She, unsurprisingly, used her seductive charms in a few pinku eiga films in the 1970s as well.

There's a tiny bit of information on the late actress -- she died in 2008 -- in the wonderful-and-somewhat-rare book, Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! (Feral House, 1998) by Stuart Galbraith IV.

But, the kid in me will always love the whole sequence of Kong being lulled into sleep after he defeats the giant octopus and saves the girl and her child.

[Photos: Universal Pictures/Toho Co., Ltd.]