Film Review: You Only Live Twice (1967)

Release Date: June 12th, 1967 (London premiere)
Directed by: Lewis GIlbert
Written by: Roald Dahl, Harold Jack Bloom
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsuro Tamba, Mie Hama, Teru Shimada, Karin Dor, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Charles Gray, Donald Pleasence

Toho Co Ltd. (assisted on production in Japan), Eon Productions, United Artists, 117 Minutes

Review:

“I shall look forward personally to exterminating you, Mr. Bond.” – Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of people consider this film the one where James Bond movies dipped in quality. I disagree with that, as I love this film and it is one of my favorites in the whole series.

I also connect to this chapter in the series pretty deeply on a nostalgic level, so I may have a bias towards it in that regard.

The thing is, this is where Bond and Blofeld come face to face. I am a huge fan of SPECTRE and their long story arc in the Connery and Lazenby films. I am also a huge fan of Donald Pleasence and he’s f’n great as Blofeld and is my favorite version of the character. This is also the version that would inspire Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies.

Additionally, I love the Japan elements, especially the ninja army. The scene where the ninjas storm Blofeld’s volcano lair and are dropping from the ceiling with machine guns and swords still looks absolutely incredible. It’s one of my favorite sequences from any James Bond movie.

Being that I am a fan of kaiju movies, especially those put out by Toho Co. Ltd., I love that they were involved in the production of this picture and lent some of their acting talent to Eon. Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi, the two Japanese Bond Girls in this film, have been in several Toho productions between Godzilla films and other sci-fi epics put out by Toho. Sadly, no cameo by Godzilla himself.

Another thing I love in this film is the big helicopter battle in the middle of the picture. For the 1960s, it was well shot, the special effects looked good and it was pretty exciting. It still plays well today.

Now the film does have some cheese and I think that’s what seems to be some people’s issue with it.

The whole sequence where Bond has to get a wig and prosthetics to look Japanese is laughably bad and so is the final result, as it just looks like Sean Connery with a bad haircut. I don’t really understand the point of the wig either, as most of the real Japanese men in the film have hairstyles closer to Connery’s natural look. This whole cringe fest is one of those things that would severely upset the overly sensitive audiences of today.

This is the last of the great Sean Connery James Bond films though. He would quit after this picture but come back later, two more times. One for Eon with the film Diamonds Are Forever and once more for another studio for Never Say Never Again, which isn’t an official Bond picture and is really just a shoddy remake of Thunderball.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one.

Film Review: King Kong Escapes (1967)

Also known as: Kingu Kongu no Gyakushū, lit. Counterattack of King Kong (Japan)
Release Date: July 22nd, 1967 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Kaoru Mabuchi
Based on: King Kong by James Creelman, Ruth Rose, Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Takarada, Rhodes Reason, Mie Hama, Linda Miller, Eisei Amamoto

Toho, Rankin-Bass, Universal International, 97 Minutes (Japan), 91 Minutes (USA)

king_kong_escapesReview:

King Kong Escapes is the second and last of the Toho King Kong films. It follows King Kong vs. Godzilla and while it is a sequel of sorts to it, it really is more of a standalone film. For one, there is no mention of the previous movie and Godzilla isn’t anywhere to be found. Although, Gorosaurus makes his first appearance in this picture before going on to be included in the Godzilla franchise. Also, Kong’s rival Mechani-Kong would go on to inspire Mechagodzilla and other robot kaiju in Toho’s future.

Like Son of Kong to King KongKing Kong Escapes is sort of the goofy yet lovable little brother to its predecessor. It is a highly fun film and it features a lot of adventure and great action but it is fairly hokey, even for a later Shōwa era Toho movie.

The actors are all fairly entertaining in this. This is one of my favorite roles for Mie Hama, who plays a sinister woman looking to have her country control the world by harnessing the power of Element X, as well as Mechani-Kong. Linda Miller plays a total cutie, who is this film’s version of the Fay Wray character, although she isn’t a starlet, she is a military officer. Although, Miller can get annoying at times, like every time she yells, “Put me down, Kong! Put me down!” or “No, Kong!” or just “Kooooong!!!” Eisei Anamoto plays an evil genius named Dr. Who, no relation to the British Doctor Who. Anamoto’s mad scientist is one of my favorite in Toho’s large filmography.

King Kong Escapes takes some of its action cues from the original King Kong. In fact, this is more of Toho’s King Kong remake than King Kong vs. Godzilla. Granted, the film takes huge liberties and is certainly its own thing.

To give an example, the big battle on the island between Kong and Gorosaurus plays out the same as the Kong and tyrannosaurus fight from the original movie. Kong even kills Gorosaurus the same way, ripping his jaw apart. Also, the damsel in distress is protected by Kong and put into a tree for safekeeping.

The final sequence of the film sees Kong and Mechani-Kong climb the famous Tokyo Tower for their final battle. It is a well shot and well orchestrated finale. Plus, the Tokyo Tower has sort of become synonymous with kaiju movies and television, at this point. It was a perfect Tokyo stand-in for the Empire State Building in this picture’s climax.

King Kong Escapes is a great companion piece to Toho’s better known King Kong movie. While Toho made two good films, while they had the rights to the character of Kong, I still feel like they missed the boat. Had they made a Kong film as frequently as a Godzilla film, we could have had a lot of variety: a Kong versus Godzilla rematch, a Kong and Godzilla team-up and even Kong versus some of Godzilla’s famous foes or allies like King Ghidorah or Mothra. Although, I am really happy with the Godzilla movies of that era and more Kong features may have disrupted that or created kaiju fatigue much earlier.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

Also known as: Kingu Kongu Tai Gojira (Japan)
Release Date: August 11th, 1962 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda (Japan), Thomas Montgomery (USA additions)
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Based on: King Kong by James Creelman, Ruth Rose, Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Tadao Takashima, Kenji Sahara, Yu Fujiki, Ichirō Arishima, Mie Hama, Shoichi Hirose, Haruo Nakajima, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, Universal International, 97 Minutes (Japan), 91 Minutes (USA)

king_kong_vs_godzillaReview:

In the 1960s, Toho acquired the rights to the King Kong character from RKO Radio Pictures. In the time that Toho had the monster, they made two movies. The first one being King Kong vs. Godzilla. The second being King Kong Escapes, which I will review at a later date.

King Kong vs. Godzilla was quite ambitious for its time. While pitting two famous monsters against one another was nothing new, as Universal had done it towards the end of their Universal Monsters franchise, it had never really been done with two giants who were born on different continents.

King Kong, an American creation born in 1933, was the most famous giant monster, at the time. Godzilla, however, was a giant beast born in the minds of Japanese filmmakers. He would become larger than King Kong but wasn’t quite there yet in 1962. But like the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair always says, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man! Woooooooooooooooooo!” Well, in 1962, King Kong was the man.

There are two versions of this film, the Japanese original and the American version that is shorter and has new scenes edited in. This was similar to how America added in the Raymond Burr scenes to the original Gojira in order to create Godzilla: King of Monsters. Both are the same film yet different films. For the record, the Japanese version is superior. Watch it in its native language with subtitles.

Also, contrary to popular belief, there is not a Japanese ending and an American ending to this movie. There is just one ending: both monsters fall off a cliff into the ocean. King Kong eventually emerges, swimming back to his island, as Godzilla is nowhere to be found. Again, Kong was more popular at the time and in this film, was the good guy, as Godzilla hadn’t yet been established as a hero and Japan’s protector.

Despite both monsters coming from long-running franchises, this was the third film for both kaiju. King Kong had King Kong and Son of Kong. Well, King Kong wasn’t actually in Son of Kong. Godzilla had Gojira and Godzilla Raids Again. King Kong vs. Godzilla is also the first color movie for either monster.

The movie is directed by Ishirō Honda, the special effects are handled by Eiji Tsuburaya and the score was orchestrated by Akira Ifukube. So, once again, the creative Holy Trinity of Shōwa era Godzilla movies have teamed up to make a stellar kaiju motion picture. They did not fail and this is some of the best work for each of the three men.

The American version of the film alters the score, as it does the movie itself. It actually throws in some musical sound effects from Creature From the Black Lagoon.

The cast of the film is made up of many Toho regulars, especially those who have already played major roles in the studio’s other kaiju pictures. As always, they do a good job with their roles. Ichirô Arishima’s comedy antics are really great in this and he steals the show quite often.

The story is weaved together well. Godzilla wakes up and heads for Japan. A few adventurers then head to an island to find the legendary King Kong, in the hopes that the giant ape exists and can then be used as an equalizer to the rampaging Godzilla.

The Tiki vibe of the island setting when the adventurers go off to find King Kong is a highlight. The scene where the adventurers meet the islanders is hilarious. The village with its tribal dancers, drums and grass roof huts is alluring. The big battle in the village between Kong and the giant octopus is still one of my favorite kaiju battles ever filmed. Granted, the final battle between King Kong and Godzilla is even better.

This is my second favorite Godzilla film after the original. It is also my second favorite King Kong film after its original. So, all in all, this is a pretty great film. It is especially great for those who love kaiju and for those who want to see the two most famous kaiju throw down. The last ten minutes of this picture is kaiju action at its absolute finest, highlighted by the destruction of some of the best miniatures that Eiji Tsuburaya has ever created.

King Kong vs. Godzilla is just about as good as it gets for its genre. Honestly, I wish that Toho would’ve had a rematch before losing the rights to Kong.

Rating: 10/10