Godzilla is the accepted King of the Monsters, but he wasn’t the first on the scene. One of the great forefathers of all things Kaiju is King Kong, the misunderstood, lovestruck ape from Skull Island who wowed audiences in 1933 (meaning this year is his 80th anniversary!). Did King Kong make a visit to the Land of the Rising Sun long before Godzilla ever rose from the sea?
There are rumors of a film called King Kong Appears In Edo, which was released in Japan in 1938. Every print of the movie is today lost as a result of WWII bombings (not an unusual thing - most Japanese film from before WWII is considered lost), but researchers have found an ad for the film from a 1938 magazine called Kinema Junpo. There’s also an eyewitness report; Fuminori Ohashi, the almost totally anonymous Japanese special effects genius who created the first Godzilla suit (and who went on to consult on the creation of Disneyland and who helped develop the masks for the original Planet Of The Apes), talked in an interview with SciFiJapan.com about making the ape suit for King Kong Appears In Edo:
“The first model making to be counted as “special art direction” in Japanese cinema was a giant gorilla which I did for the movie King Kong Appears In Edo [Edo Ni Arawareta King Kong, 1938] fifty years ago. It was also the first movie to feature certain kinds of special effects.”
What is King Kong Appears In Edo? Beats me. The title indicates it’s a movie about a giant ape showing up in Japan during its medieval period - samurai versus King Kong! But then there’s one image from the movie that appears legit (or at least isn’t a definite hoax), and it shows a giant ape climbing buildings that are definitely not medieval Japanese but rather influenced by German expressionism. If the movie exists it’s damn weird.
There are plenty of people who believe the whole thing is a hoax. Some claim that there was no record of the movie prior to 2005, but noted Japanese film expert August Ragone claims to have found references to the movie in a 1978 pressbook. The fact that Ohashi went on the record about it surely has to mean something as well.
If King Kong Appears In Edo is a real film, it’s a milestone. It’s Japan’s first giant monster movie. King Kong, it turns out, is actually the original Kaiju.
This was originally published in the "Beasts vs. Bots" issue of Birth.Movies.Death. in honor of Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim, in Alamo Drafthouse theaters now. Also this is the last week you can catch Pacific Rim at the IMAX!