SciFi Japan


    The Konami SF Movie King Kong Collection. Photo by John DeSentis. © 1933 RKO Pictures, Inc./ © 2006 Konami

    A look at King Kong toys from Japan Author: John “Dutch” DeSentis Special Thanks to Kevin Frederick A SciFi JAPAN RETROSPECTIVE

    The Marusan Giant Gorilla, serving as a faux King Kong in 1967. Photo by John DeSentis. © 1967 Marusan Co., Ltd.

    Japan has always been renowned for the great wealth of collectibles and toys that have been manufactured there over the decades. While the United States is certainly not lacking its own heap of quality items, there is one character that the Japanese have lately seemed to get right when the US has dropped the ball considerably: King Kong, or more specifically the 1933 incarnation of King Kong. What is most surprising about this is that King Kong is an American icon that frequently rivals Godzilla in popularity among fans. That is not to say that there haven’t been serviceable attempts to produce good likenesses of Kong in America. The release of Peter Jackson’s KING KONG remake in 2005 saw a great amount of merchandise representing the characters from that movie and Todd McFarlane has manufactured a pretty nice toy of the 1933 Kong. Despite being a good attempt, however, the McFarlane Kong is still a far cry from doing the original Kong justice. There have been many attempts in the form of model kits to try and render a strong likeness of the 1933 version and some are quite good, but there is yet to be a definitive toy produced in America that captures the awe of the original beast that took his beauty to the top of the Empire State Building. Japan, on the other hand, has made some good representations of the original Kong as well as the versions from the two Toho King Kong movies. This is a look at some of the great King Kong toys made in Japan, both old and new.

    Great toy for an ugly suit: King Kong by Bandai. Photo by John DeSentis. © 1933 RKO Pictures, Inc./ © 1993 Bandai Co., Ltd.

    The very first King Kong toy ever produced in Japan was the “Giant Gorilla” by Marusan in 1967. Although not named to be Kong, this toy was produced in conjunction with the release of KING KONG ESCAPES (Kingu Kongu no Gyakushu, 1967). The sculpting was appropriate for it’s time and targeted age group although it is considered rudimentary by today’s standards. This toy is one of the few Marusan pieces never reissued by Bullmark in the 1970s but it was eventually re-released when Marusan reformed in the 1990s. For more on vintage Toho toys, see The Bandai Toys of Yesterday. The character of King Kong was fairly silent in Japan until 1993 when Bandai, a toy company that had come to dominate the market for Toho and Godzilla toys since the 1980s, released a figure based on the gorilla that appeared in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (Kingu Kongu tai Gojira, 1962). What is unique about this toy is that Bandai was actually able to obtain the license to use the name of King Kong on the tag which came attached to the toy. There is a copyright to RKO on the tag which suggests that Bandai did take the proper legal care concerning the use of the Kong name. The toy itself stands about eight inches tall and is fairly accurate, by Bandai standards in the mid-90s at least, to the suit that appeared in the movie. The face in particular is very well sculpted despite the fact that the suit it represents is widely considered one of the worst in Toho history.

    Advertisement for Iwakura`s King Kong dioramas. © 2005 Iwakura Inc.

    In the new millennium, collectors saw a surge of great Kong related figures possibly due to the impending release of Peter Jackson’s remake. A company called Iwakura made some rather pricey resin dioramas depicting scenes from the two Toho Kong movies although these toys did not display the name of Kong. It is rather odd when one considers that Toho has the rights to KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and KING KONG ESCAPES in Japan yet many of these toy companies cannot release a likeness of the Toho Kongs with the actual name on them. This would bode true for the next two Kong toys from a seemingly miscellaneous company called APES.

    The “APES”: 1962 and 1967 Toho Kongs. Photo by John DeSentis.

    Most collectors have actually taken to simply calling these two toys “The Apes” after the company name. While done in slightly stylized renderings, these two toys are actually very nicely made. The faces in particular are beautifully captured again despite the fact that Kong was never one of Toho’s crowning achievements in suit making. The only real complaint here is that the paint job on these toys is glossed and shiny rather than the fan favorite flat paint that many companies have been using on their toys. One might also be inclined to complain that the bodies on each toy are the same but with a different color of paint. Whether that bothers you is subject to your own personal preference. With the release of the updated KING KONG, there came a host of Kong merchandise both in the US and in Japan. First there were sets of bottle caps released with creatures from the 2005 film. Since the early 2000s, bottle caps have become items that many collectors have been adding to their extensively packed shelves. Next came some real goodies from the X-Plus company. They produced four 8 inch toys, two from the 2005 KING KONG remake and two from the original 1933 film. The 2005 toys left much to be desired, especially the Vestatosaurus Rex. While the toy does have the bumpy hide that movie version sported, body wise this one resembles more a T-Rex from Jurassic Park than the creatures in the movie. There were, however, three V-Rexes in the 2005 film and one could say that this one represents the younger, slimmer one which Ann Darrow first encounters in the jungle. King Kong 2005 looks decent although the bright pink paint used for his scars is kind of distracting on the toy. The 1933 toys, on the other hand, are greatly executed. King Kong is fairly well sculpted and presents the first great, standard sized vinyl version of the original. Although not much as far as articulation goes, it is great to finally have a nice looking vinyl toy of 1933 Kong. The T-Rex is even better. The bumpy scales and outdated, upright position are present as well as a great, accurate rendition of the monster as it appeared in the film. The paint on both is all shades of gray to replicate the black and white style that the movie was shot in. It is so nice to have such great representations of the Willis O’Brien creatures which were masterfully created by Marcel Delgado. These two toys were later reissued together in “colorized” versions and with Kong sporting a tree in his hand.

    The so-so 2005 X-Plus Kong and V-Rex, and the awesome 1933 Kong and T-Rex. Photos by John DeSentis. © 2005 Universal Studios/ © 1933 RKO Pictures, Inc./ © 2005 X-Plus

    Finally, late 2006 saw the release of some INCREDIBLE soft vinyl dioramas from Konami depicting scenes from the 1933 movie. These sculpts are even more accurate than the X-Plus vinyl toys. The set contains two King Kongs, one that can be placed fighting either T-Rex or the Pteranodon and one that straddles the Empire State Building. The fighting Kong comes with an interchangeable hand which holds a tree. The other gorilla comes with a bi-plane in his hand. T-Rex comes with an interlocking diorama base for recreating the grand fight that takes place over Ann Darrow, who is reproduced in miniature form to put atop a tree or go in Kong’s hand. Also in the set is the pteranodon which attempts to carry Ann away in the movie. As mentioned before, one of the Kongs can be made to interlock with this creature as well. Last in the set is the Brontosaurus which chases the sailors from the swamp and makes a snack out of one who was dim-witted enough to think climbing a tree would protect him from a huge dinosaur. This one is an awesome representation of the stylized counterpart which appears in the movie. As with the above X-Plus toys, these are all painted in shades of gray. These dioramas are the best King Kong collectables to come out of Japan yet and certainly rival anything the US has put out in regards to the 1933 film. They are most definitely a must have for collectors of both King Kong and genre toys in general. The Konami SF Movie King Kong Collection can be purchased from Anime Jungle.

    A closer look at the Konami SF Movie King Kong Collection. Photos by John DeSentis. © 1933 RKO Pictures, Inc./ © 2006 Konami

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