Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Title: Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Director: Ishiro Honda


Mothra, the spirit of the earth, the gigantic magical Moth from Infant Island that appears in many Godzilla films, is quite the popular creature in Japan . The creature is often times referred to as a female, because its name ends with an ‘a’ and Mothra lays eggs and protects them, much like a mother wood with her offspring. Also, in the films themselves, characters refer to Mothra as a “she”, also, Im thinking this is the creature they wanted little girls to identify with so they could sell them Mothra toys in Japan. Mothra first appeared in her own Kaiju film called ‘Mothra’ (1961), where she served as the protector of her worshippers, the people of Infant Island. Then after the success of that film, Mothra crossed over into the Godzilla universe and confronted Godzilla himself in ‘Mothra vs. Godzilla’, the second film ever to feature Mothra and the film I will be reviewing today. So, how was this fourth entry into the Godzilla franchise? 

The original Japanese Poster for Mothra (1961), the creatures first appearance

The poster for the American release of Mothra (1961)

In Mothra vs. Godzilla, a typhoon causes one of Mothra’s egg to loosen from its resting place on Infant Island. Because of the typhoon, the egg ends up traveling through the ocean until it reaches the beaches of Japan, where an entrepreneur acquires it and decides to build a whole amusement park around the giant egg, a la Jurassic Park. Of course, Mothra doesn’t like the fact that humans have hijacked one of her eggs, so she politely asks the humans to return her egg by talking through her magical twin fairies called ‘The Shobijin’ or The Cosmos, these two fairies go by quite a few names. But of course, as is to be expected of the greedy humans, the entrepreneur who wants to build his amusement park doesnt want to give the egg back! So Mothra and The Shobijin’s returns to Infant Island, sad that the humans would not return them Mothra’s egg. Soon after Mothra’s departure, Godzilla reawakens and starts destroying Japan! Now the humans need Mothra to help them out; but will Mothra help the humans beat Godzilla even after they decided not to return her egg? Do they even deserve to be helped?

Glad to say that Mothra vs. Godzilla was yet another excellent Ishiro Honda Godzilla film! Ishiro Honda was the director who made the original Gojira (1954), and I’m of the opinion that he has been responsible for some of the most entertaining and well made Godzilla films in the whole series. Honda’s great success with these movies was that he made the human side of the films as interesting as the Monster fights. In fact, I’ve noticed that monster fights come secondary in Ishiro Honda films. The really good monster fight is usually reserved for the ending of the film, with the human story being what dominates most of the picture. In this case, we have the humans finding Mothra’s egg after a typhoon. The debacle comes when some want to return the egg to Mothra while others want to open an amusement park around it. Money wins at the end of the day, and the egg ends up prisoner in a hangar, ready to be displayed to the world at the price of an admission ticket. The films main theme is greed and how it can take over our lives, blinding us to what is right. Actually, one of the bloodiest moments on any Godzilla film appears on this one, when a greedy business man bludgeons another business man almost to death, over money. I found that scene especially shocking for a Godzilla film. I mean, most of these films were aimed at kids, and here was one guy beating another to a bloody pulp over money!

What I liked most about this movie was that we get to go to Infant Island and meet Mothra’s worshippers! The inhabitants of Infant Island have this whole religion set up around worshipping Mothra. They sing, dance, and pray to it. It was fun to finally get to meet the people of Infant Island . Another interesting aspect of Mothra is that she has a special connection with these two tiny fairies that according to the fairies themselves goes deep and is beyond their control. It is this connection that makes Mothra search out these two fairies wherever they are. This holds true for every Godzilla movie that Mothra appears in, if Mothra appears, ‘The Shobijin’ are sure to be there as well. They have some sort of telepathic bond with the creature. In this film, the fairies where played by a popular Japanese pop band called 'The Peanuts'. These pop singers happened to be twin sisters as well, so they were perfect for playing The Shobijin Fairies for three films! Smart move in using pop singers for these characters, especially when we take in consideration that the main thing they do is sing songs to Mothra, to summon her. The song they sing is actually kind of catchy and has been used in various films.

Apparently, U.S. distributors where afraid that Mothra was going to scare away young male audiences who would consider it “too girly” so for the U.S. release of this movie, the title was changed to ‘Godzilla vs. The Thing’. The poster for this American release hid Mothra’s appearance from the audience; in fact, it actually misled people to believe that the creature that Godzilla fought in this film was a tentacled creature. Interesting how in Japan , a creature like Mothra is ultra popular, accepted and was prominently displayed on the films poster, yet for the U.S. audiences it was considered too silly. I guess that has a lot to do with Japanese audiences being more accustomed to seeing ‘Kaiju’ movies while in America, they are not as easily accepted. There's something about the cheese factor that some people cant take. And thats just the thing about these Godzilla movies, the thrive in cheese! I haven’t seen the American cut of this film, but I hear it includes a couple of sequences filmed especially for it that include scenes of the U.S. military helping out the Japanese military attack Godzilla. I guess the U.S. was trying to make up for past mistakes in that cut of the film! Like throwing a couple of nuclear bombs on Japan!

The American release poster for Mothra vs. Godzilla hides Mothra from the poster entirely, and misled audiences to believe the creature has tentacles

I’ve read some reviews that say that this film has no “social relevance” and that it’s merely meant to be enjoyed as a Kaiju movie, simply there for us to delight in watching giant monsters fighting each other. I don’t agree so much with that idea because that would make this film seem hallow, and its anything but that. There is a clear and distinctive message in the film against greed. In fact, a major point in the film comes when the humans don’t want to give Mothra’s egg back to the people of Infant Island because they want to profit from it. The “good humans” in the film have to let Mothra and the people of Infant Island know that we are not all greedy entrepreneurs who only care about money, that we are all humans living together on this earth. There’s also a desire expressed by the characters for humans to co exist in this world without distrust. So yeah, this movie has got something to say. It’s thinly layered, but it’s there.

Some seem to think that this movie isn’t so good because Godzilla gets his ass handed to him by a giant moth and by a pair of worms, but keep in mind that in this film, Mothra is the main character. The original title for this film was Mothra vs. Godzilla, not the other way around. So of course, Mothra was going to be doing most of the ass kicking on this film. Still, no matter who wins on this one (Godzilla can’t win them all!) this was a very entertaining film with an interesting story and characters. It’s not a dark or adult oriented Godzilla film like some of them out there. In fact, it’s very colorful and has an extremely happy ending. Had tons of fun with this one, highly recommend it to anyone out there who hasn’t experienced a Godzilla film yet.

Rating: 5 out of 5



Mr. Fiendish said...

this is one of my favorites

Manuel Marrero said...

Damn butterfly.

Franco Macabro said...

@Mr. Fiendish: It turned into one of my favorites as well. Honda really was the beat Godzilla director, no doubts about it.

@Manuel Marrero: Some love Mothra, others hate her. I like Mothra, its as much a part of Godzilla as Godzilla himself. She's appeared in a lot of these movies.

venoms5 said...

This ones a major classic. I'm not the biggest Mothra fan, but the battle here is very well staged and accomplished. The US version has an exclusive and lengthy action sequence wherein the navy attacks Godzilla with frontier missiles. There were a few minor cuts to the US print, too.

It's not known just why AIP altered the films title. Judging by the theater ads and posters, it's likely the reason was one of ticket sales to create curiosity amongst patrons. The films trailer showed off Mothra so it's odd they'd try to hide the creature on the ads.

Steve Ryfle's excellent book, Japan's Favorite Mon-star: the Unauthorized Autobiography of the Big G, he offers up two possible explanations one of them being that AIP might have been trying to avoid legal action since Columbia had released the original MOTHRA two years earlier.

Franco Macabro said...

One thing is creating curiosity, the other is misleading and lying to the audience, there are no tentacles anywhere around this film whatsoever, thats why I thought they were trying to make audiences think that the creature was something more menacing than a moth.

I'll be checking out the U.S. version for that scene, thanks for commenting Bri!

venoms5 said...

AIP (and even Roger Corman) did an awful lot of misleading back in the day. The wonders of movie promotion!

Ryfle mentions that as a possibility in his book, too. AIP were notorious for this kind of thing, though. Just about every exploitation showman back in the day hyped things and altered perceptions of what they were selling the same way a barker in a carnival would their "freaks" behind the tents.

When you think about it, big studios do this sort of thing today with their trailers that promise non stop action only to find all the action was in the trailer, lol.

Franco Macabro said...

Thats true Brian, about the sleazy nature of promotion, specially in Roger Corman films! The same sort of misleading promotional material happened recently with The Last Exorcism, a film that promised a possesed girl walking up walls like a spider, when there was no such scene included in the film. At all!

venoms5 said...

LOL! I forgot about LAST EXORCISM. I still liked the movie, though. So I forgive them that sin, lol.


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