This is part of an ongoing series called Godzilla & Friends: Reviews from the Godzillaverse and Beyond!. Feel free to look around.
The last Japanese monster movie was Rodan, a very dark and serious flick. But that was five years before Mothra. Now, what happened in the five years between Rodan and Mothra, I can’t say, but something must have.
While Mothra picked up a new writer (which is obvious), director Ishira Honda and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka remained the same. ((The writer was Shinichi Sekizawa, who not only wrote several Godzilla movies, but also Mighty Jack… fondly remembered by fans of Mystery Science Theater. Speaking of which, he also wrote the Jet Jaguar song from Godzilla vs. Megalon.)) However, the two films couldn’t be more different.
Mothra, like much of Sekizawa’s other work, seems to me targeted at kids. While the plots may be complex (and Mothra‘s plot is certainly that), the characters have an almost cartoon quality to them. This isn’t a bad thing, really, at least in Mothra. They actually get some genuine laughs and I found myself liking these characters most out of any of the monster movies I’ve watched so far. From what I understand (and have seen a bit of), this cartoon quality is taken a bit too far in the 70′s, but for now, I dig it.
Like I mentioned before, Mothra‘s plot is complex. I took five pages of notes on plot points alone! Usually it’s just two. And what’s strange is that they are all plot points. Everything matters here.
The Long and Winding Plot
The movie starts with a boat wreck on an island where nuclear testing takes place. The subsequent search and rescue finds three survivors, none having any radiation poisoning. This is because the natives of Infant Island gave them some “red juice” to drink.
Natives?! Heck yeah! This place wasn’t supposed to have natives! And Fukuda, the reporter hidden in with the doctors, makes note of this and finds Dr. Chuzu who knows a lot about Polynesian islands. Word apparently gets out and Clark Nelson from the country of Rolisica sets up an expedition using scientists from both Japan and Rolisica.
Dr. Chuzu is, of course, invited, but Fukuda is not. In fact, all reporters are banned! So Fukuda sneaks onto the boat. He’s caught by Nelson, threatened with a gun and then allowed to stay.
On the island, Dr. Chuzu finds a strange cave with strange writing and is then captured by a blood sucking plant, but then rescued by two very small female twins. The rest of the team finds him and takes him back to the boat. There, he tells them about the women and the next day they’re back to find them.
Nelson, who by this point is known to be pretty well evil, tries to kidnap the twins, but the natives of Infant Island surround him and he is compelled to let them go. He, however, makes another trip to the island and kidnaps them, killing a whole slew of natives on his way out. Bye!
In Japan, the twins, known as The Shoubijin. Nelson exhibits the twins in his “Secret Fairies Show” (starring Tom Cruise?). In this show, the Shoubijin plead to Mothra to rescue them. The natives are also praying such things. The process of bringing Mothra about has begun… here we have: Mothra – The Egg.
Fukuda and Dr. Chuzu are granted back-stage access to the girls and they reveal, through mental telepathy, that while it’s great that folks care about them, Mothra is coming to kick ass and rescue the Shoubijin. There’s no way to call off Mothra as she’s doing this based upon instinct.
Fukuda’s newspaper claims that Nelson is holding the girls against their will and Nelson files a lawsuit against it. But it doesn’t slow the movie down – somehow. Mostly that’s because the egg hatches and Mothra: The Larva then swims to Japan.
Once near Japan, and after taking out the obligatory random ocean liner, the country of Rolisica defends Nelson’s property rights and denies that the twins have anything to do with this huge caterpillar that thankfully not attacking their country.
Nelson, however, doesn’t seem so convinced. After Mothra lays waste to much of Tokyo (a city that’s got to be sick of rebuilding by now) and building itself a cozy little cocoon on the Tokyo Tower (Mothra: The Pupa), Clark with the gals flees Japan for Rolisica. The cocoon hatches revealing Mothra: The Imago, the moth we all know and love. She high tails it to Rolisica as the Rolisican government finally comes to its senses and orders the release of the twins.
A great battle takes place in New Kirk City (which looks pretty much exactly like New York City – complete with white folks). Mothra kicks ass, there’s weird (and I mean WEIRD) religious imagery, Fukuda and Dr. Chuzu are there, many regrets and felt and even though two cities in two countries are laid to waste over two tiny girls, everyone seems pretty darn happy by the end credits.
And here I go…
Ok, wow. First, I apologize for the amazingly long plot description. Trust me, I left out a few main characters, a couple of subplots and some shit about an anti-telepathy shield. Mothra‘s plot is a twisty one. But, I found myself really enjoying this one. It’s a bunch of fun! The right amount of comedy mixed with the right about of sci-fi… it would be almost perfect if there were more scenes of destruction. ((I can admit that I watch these movies for the same reason NASCAR fans watch the races.)) But damn, this one is weird.
The political overtones are strange. It’s not overtly anti-war or anti-nuke like the others, but the Shoubijin do specifically request that Rolisica cut it out with the nuclear tests. This is more sci-fi fantasy than sci-fi horror. The villain in this one isn’t the monster (though she does cause some alarm), it’s clearly Clark Nelson. Rolisica is pretty clearly America. They speak English, are white and New Kirk City is obviously New York City. And check out this great shot of US Route 6 just outside of LA! The US was performing nuke tests just off the coast of Japan at this time and this, like Gojira, is definitely a response to that.
But unlike the other movies, it doesn’t seem like man’s follies has much to do with the creation of Mothra. Mothra and her island worshipers seem ancient. It’s not really hit upon in the movie, but that’s my assumption.
Also, let me mention Frankie Sakai. He was the amazing actor who played Fukuda, the reporter. The guy was a subtle physical comedy genius. He didn’t do so much slapstick (though pulled off some), his facial expressions provided pretty much all you needed to know about the guy. And how he “crossed” himself in one of the final scenes was very truly one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time. It’s the subtle slapstick that’s hard to pull off, and this guy does it brilliantly. I don’t believe he was ever in another monster movie, but I hope to find more of his work. ((He appeared in Shogun in 1980, but other than that, I have no idea.))
Lastly, the religious overtones, especially towards the end, are just weird. I don’t know if it’s the Japanese simply not getting Christianity or maybe they were making fun of it or … who the hell knows. But it’s just weird. The film is very anti-western capitalist, but seems very pro-western religion. That’s just strange (at least it is in a Japanese monster flick).
I’ve not even mentioned a US release for Mothra. There was one, but I haven’t seen it. Actually, that and the original Japanese release are both unavailable on DVD in this country. Sony owns the rights and does plan on releasing the original Japanese sometime this year. However, they seem really clueless as to how to do it right.
Classic Media, who have released all of the other Godzilla movies that I’ve reviewed, do it very well. They release both the original Japanese and the US re-edits. Then, they usually put the commentary track over the re-edits. This is perfect as it allows the commentators to point out the additions and general weirdness of the US versions. Sony rep, Mike Schlesinger was interviewed and seemed completely clueless as to what Classic Media had done and how Godzilla fans loved it. You can read about that here.
So, what do you do if you want to see Mothra (and trust me, you DO). Well, I had to procure it via some questionable means and I strongly suggest you do the same. ((Arrrrrrr)) That is, until it’s finally officially released, then run out and get a copy! ((All screencaps seen here were taken from my questionably procured version… Arrrrr))
Or, if you’re Ryan, just come over. I’d love to see this one again.
Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka | Director: Ishiro Honda | Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya | Score: Yuji Koseki
Released: July 30, 1961 | 101mins | Color | 2.35: 1 Aspect Ratio