My contribution, below, first appeared here, for the hugely successful Monster Awareness Month, brought to you by the fab Monster Awareness Team, Mark Deniz, Orrin Grey, K. V. Taylor, Harry Markov, Robert Hood, and Sharon Ring.
Stay tuned for Zombie Awareness Month in May, 2011.
Review of Mothra vs. Godzilla
Release date: 1964, Toho Co., Ltd.
Filmed in Tohoscope
Tomoyuki Tayaka and Sanezumi Fujimoto, Producers
Ishiro Honda, Director
Written by Shinichi Sekizawa
This film is the fourth in the Godzilla series and the last in which Godzilla is willingly malevolent. Mothra appears for the second time here after her 1961debut in her own film, Mothra. Both Godzilla and Mothra continued to meet up in several films after this one, mostly as allies in fights against diverse other monsters to preserve the earth.
A short synopsis: The King of all Monsters battles a giant moth.
Mothra vs. Godzilla begins with a giant typhoon laying waste to a part of Japan's coastline including footage of what looks like a giant easter egg washing into the ocean from a somewhat precarious perch on the side of a cliff.
The egg washes up onto a Japanese beach the next day or is carted in by a horde of fishermen – it was not really clear from the film but nonetheless amusing. The contrast of the blue painted egg against the backdrop of sand and tiny people standing around gawking at it was quite nice. The proprietor of the Happy Enterprises corporation strikes a deal to buy the egg from the landowners for a sum of money equal to the cost of purchasing 153,000 chicken eggs – or thereabouts – intending to build a tourist attraction around it.
Enter the tiny chicks. This was really the only part of the film I remembered from way back when I saw it the first time. The Shobijin are lovely twin ladies less than a foot tall with white fur hats and exquisitely tailored outfits (including matching short fur capes in their initial appearance in the film) who can speak telepathically with their deity/benefactor, Mothra – or as she is often referred to, confusingly, in the film – The Thing. The women have come to retrieve the egg and take it back to the island where they and Mothra live – Infant Island. The greedy developer from Happy Enterprises and his even greedier silent partner refuse. Two reporters and a scientist try – and fail – to return the egg to the small women. Disgruntled but grateful, the tiny chicks climb onto Mothra – seen only vaguely through some trees – and fly back to their island.
Enter Godzilla. The scientists discover some puzzling and alarming radioactivity on the shoreline (and here, the film's most hilarious – to me – sequence is the scientists eradicating the radioactivity from the fully clothed reporters in a hot steam cabinet). Not only has the typhoon transported the egg to the shore, Godzilla, has apparently washed up as well. He makes a dramatic entrance and is not in a good mood. People run for their lives. Buildings suffer. The U.S. military gets called in (U.S. version only).
Doom and gloom abound as attempts to kill Godzilla do not succeed. In a desperate move, the reporters and their scientist friend are transported to Infant Island to seek help from the tiny ladies against the giant reptile. The bizarre island tribesmen capture them and the head shaman – truly magnificent in white skirt and feathered headdress – do not initially cooperate. After some last-minute speeches about how we're all brothers on this planet, and not everyone is a greedy developer, Mothra chirps in and decides to help the humans defeat Godzilla. The tiny chicks sing to her, and we're off to save Japan.
Some nifty monster battle scenes follow including Mothra dragging Godzilla by the tail and another military effort involving extremely high doses of electricity and tanks incinerated by Godzilla's atomic breath. Be sure to watch out for Godzilla's head in flames.
Enter the egg. It hatches. This bit involves spoilers as the film builds to its climax, so I won't go into the details except to say it involves a significant amount of giant caterpillar action and another nifty monster fight scene.
After the convoluted beginning, The Mothra vs. Godzilla storyline is not bad, and for the genre, better than most of the films in the Godzilla series. The pacing is quite good, and the story actually holds together throughout most of the film. Godzilla's facial expression is quite menacing in this film as a fitting accompaniment to the stressed-metal sound of his roar, even if his head does wobble a little at one point. He doesn't have that goofy appearance he acquired in some of the later films. He does amble around the shoreline in a less than purposeful fashion here as compared to the first film.
My favorite line in the movie after the tiny chicks making their entrance with 'Give us the egg' was the Japanese military commander's line after a failed attempt to stop Godzilla, "All right. Commence Plan B."
But humor aside – and there is much in the Godzilla films to find amusement in, viewing the film now, years later, one aspect has stood out. The Japanese islands have been continually plagued throughout their history of human occupation with catastrophes associated with natural disasters: earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons. The movie starts with a typhoon. The 'people' in the film are depicted as taking that in stride. In fact, the Japanese are today globally recognized for their expertise on preparedness for natural disaster. It was interesting that the typhoon, arguably also a bringer of death and destruction, was only the catalyst for an even worse event, Godzilla's return – the threat of nuclear destruction.
This movie was easily my favorite of the Godzilla movies, but I never managed to see more than a handful of the twenty-eight original films. The early films, with Godzilla portrayed as Evil Monster, had a clear symbolic premise. In this film in particular, not only does Godzilla again represent the evil of nuclear testing, but Mothra as well. She is looking quite bedraggled, and some of the natives of Infant Island have painted themselves bright red, most assuredly meant to 'symbolize' radiation burns. The natives are also the victims of prolonged nuclear tests.
Godzilla is the clear star of the film, even though Mothra represents the protagonist, the protector of the Earth against Godzilla's destructive threat. A Mothra action figure was released in September 2010 as part of the Sci-Fi Revoltech Series from the Kaiyodo Company. It includes a cocoon and partially destroyed Tokyo tower.
It's fitting that Mothra vs. Godzilla is enjoying a resurgence of popularity, together with the later Mothra trilogy, released from 1996-1998 and shown on The Japanese Movie Specialty Channel in 2008. Fifty years after Godzilla's first appearance on film, he is still with us, his threat reduced but a potent reminder of a possible future all of us would like to avoid.