Wasei King Kong

Tagged: Film

["Japanese King Kong"] Film (1933 Japan). Shōchiku. Directed by Torajirō Saitō. Written by Akira Fushimi. Cast includes Hiroko Koizumi, Kotarō Sekiguchi, Nagamasa Yamada and Isamu Yamaguchi. Circa 35 minutes. Black and white.

Jobless ne'er-do-wells Kōichi (Yamada) and Santa (Yamaguchi) find a lucrative new side-show business, recreating the recent movie King Kong (1933) onstage with Santa in a gorilla costume, swatting at toy planes. However, when Santa sees his lost love Omitsu (Koizumi) in the audience, he flies into a rage and charges out into the audience. Mistaken for a real gorilla, he is hunted through the streets by police and firemen, before avenging himself on his love-rival and winning Omitsu's love once more.

This three-reel silent comedy was funded by Shōchiku, King Kong's Japanese distributor, and presumably ran either on the same bill as King Kong itself, or on other bills as a form of advertising for the better-known film. Author Akira Fushimi (pseudonym for Akira Nomura, 1900-1970) largely concentrated on urban romances, but is credited here as both scenarist and adaptor, implying that he initially wrote the story for another medium. This obscure curio, regarded by some as the first "monster movie" in Japan, preceded Gojira (1954) by a generation, but all copies are believed to have been destroyed during the air raids of World War Two.

A second Japanese version, also believed lost or destroyed, was released as Edo ni Awareta King Kong ["King Kong Appears in Edo"] (1938), directed by Kumagai Sōya, although sources are in disagreement as to whether it was about an escaped ape of normal size that happened to be called "King Kong", or if there were indeed miniatures work involved in order to make the ape look giant. As with so much early Japanese film, there is little to go on but unreliable memories and misleading press stills. [JonC]

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