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Monday, April 24, 2017

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) – Review

With the titanic battle of King Kong vs. Godzilla being such success that Toho would then pit Godzilla against one of their own stars seemed only natural, so the benevolent giant moth known as Mothra was tapped to battle the King of the Monsters. Mothra vs. Godzilla also is the last of the Shōwa period Godzilla films where Godzilla would be the “villain” as later films in the series he would move to a more “anti-hero” status, often even teaming up with Mothra against more dangerous foes. Back at the helm for this outing was Ishirô Honda, the director of the original Gojira, in what is easily one of the best of the early Toho monster smackdowns.

The movie opens with a typhoon washing a giant egg ashore which really excites the locals but not in a "Run for your lives!" kind of excitement.  This I find rather puzzling as one would think a giant anything would warrant more suspicion than adulation.  The entrepreneur behind Happy Enterprises, Kumayama (Yoshifumi Tajima), offers the local fishermen 1,224,560 Yen so that he can use the egg as a tourist attraction and surprisingly is allowed to do just that. One of the few believable moments in King Kong vs. Godzilla was that when the pharmaceutical company tried to bring Kong to the mainland, to be used as some idiotic promotion, but the Japanese government stepped in and used a naval blockade to prevent this giant monster from being brought ashore. This to me seems a rather sensible attitude when your country has been rampaged on several occasions by various giant monsters, but in Mothra vs. Godzilla the government and the laws seem unable to prevent such an occurrence from happening.


What could possibly go wrong?

It’s this change in attitude that makes the crux of the conflict in the film and works as an indictment of big business and corporate interests that don’t necessarily gel with the best interests of the public welfare. Leading the charge against these financial villains is cynical news reporter Ichiro Sakai (Akira Takarada) and rookie photographer Junko Nakanishi (Yuriko Hoshi) who we first meet as they investigate the wreckage caused by the typhoon, it's also where Nakanishi discovers a bluish-gray object in the debris that later is discovered to be radioactive.


He didn’t just pick up that thing, did he?

Along with Professor Miura (Hiroshi Koizumi) they want to find out just where that egg came from, a question that no one else seems to be asking, but they are stymied by Kumayama’s shady business partner Jiro Torahata (Kenji Sahara) and their plans to build a multi-billion yen amusement park around the giant egg. Now our three heroes aren’t the only ones with concerns regarding the mysterious egg as Kumayama and Torahata are confronted in their hotel room by two tiny twin women (Emi Itô and Yumi Itô) who come from Infant Island, the tropical island home of Mothra. These six inch women are known as Shobijin and are the priestess of Infant Island and Mothra and they beseech the two businessmen to return the egg. It’s no surprise that when these two asshats see the girls dollars signs immediately appear before their eyes and they try to capture the fairies in the hopes of making them an added attraction for the park.


“Give us back our egg!”

The twin fairies escape and meet with Sakai, Nakanishi and Professor Miura in some nearby woods and while there they explain that if the egg is not returned to Infant Island the it will hatch and the larva “will cause great trouble” in its search for food on its way home. The larva will have no malevolent designs towards mankind but a hungry giant child can be very dangerous. Our trio is startled see that Mothra is just hanging around the woods, it being the mode of transportation for the fairies, and the twins leave after one further request that the egg be returned. Sakai does his best to use his news articles to sway public opinion but the law favors the Kumayama and Torahata and the “Grand Opening” soon approaches.  But before Kumayama can start counting ticket sales something develops concerning the pieces of weird debris that Nakanishi found at the beach. Professor Miura reveals that this strange debris is radioactive and when they return to the beach where Nakanishi found it the ground soon begins to shake and a certain atomic fire breathing monster pops out of the ground.


“Hey guys, surprise!”

And how exactly did Godzilla end up under this beach? The movie never makes this clear but the area was being pumped clear of water for some local manufacturing facility, so it’s possible that this part of the beach was underwater when King Kong and Godzilla fell into the sea at the end of King Kong vs. Godzilla, with the King of the Monsters being buried in the silt and then when the shore got expanded his watery grave was uncovered. Of course he also could have been blown in with the typhoon and just buried under mud but I like my theory better. Well regardless as to how Godzilla pulled off this startling return the citizens of Japan now have to deal with some more atomic fueled rampaging. The government sends the military into action as they try to develop plans to stop Godzilla, meanwhile Sakai, Nakanishi and Professor Miura take a flight to Infant Island to ask for Mothra’s aid in stopping Godzilla.


Budget cuts really hurt Infant Island.

Nuclear fallout has caused much devastation on Infant Island, strangely enough the natives don’t seem to be suffering from any signs of radiation sickness which is kind of a nice clue that they aren’t exactly human, and Sakai, Nakanishi and Professor Miura do not get much of a warm welcome from these residents. The chieftain informs our heroes that, “We on this island do not trust humans! Our trust almost cost us all of our homes.” He demands the return of Mothra’s egg and when even the fairies basically tell our hereos to "Get bent" though a bit more politely than that, but it looks like mankind is going to have to fight Godzilla on their own.  Then Nakanishi explains that if Mothra doesn’t help stop Godzilla many innocent people will die right along with the bad ones that have earned the islanders distrust, and he even notes that “Evil people have the right to live.” Strangely enough this sways Mothra and she agrees to help, but the fairies warn our heroes that Mothra is at the end of her life cycle and she is due to die very soon.


But not before laying a heavy smackdown on Godzilla.

Just as Godzilla gets a chance to make an omelet out of that giant egg Mothra shows up and uses its wings to create gale force winds that send Godzilla tumbling away from the egg.  She then grabs the King of the Monsters and proceeds to drag him across the countryside as if he was an errant puppy. Things look good for a while, with Mothra seeming to be winning as she doses Godzilla with poisonous dust, but then a lucky atomic breath attack hits Mothra in the wing and she goes down. The poor creature makes its way back to egg were she finally expires.


Is this the end of Mothra?

It’s after this shocking defeat that we get a very rare moment in the history of the franchise; the military actually come up with a decent plan on taking out Godzilla. Having established in his battle with King Kong that Godzilla is weakened by lightning the military set up massive towers rigged with “Lightning Generators” and with tank brigades and napalm strikes provide by the air force they manage to drive Godzilla towards the towers. Godzilla is able to take out one of the towers but then cargo helicopters drop huge steel nets over the him that help conduct the “lightning” even better.


What a shocking development.

Unfortunately the military commander, sensing victory is finally at hand, orders more power to the towers even though he is warned that the system is already at maximum output. This of course results in the system overheating and failing and thus Godzilla is once again free to rampage across Japan. I have to admit I found the whole “lightning generator” thing a bit iffy, as I do the whole concept of Godzilla having a weakness towards electricity as in Gojira he didn’t seem to have any problem tearing through electrical barriers the military instituted in that movie. Making the military seem even slightly useful is probably one of the biggest challenges writers of these movies have.


“Give it your best shot, I can take it.”

Do you remember the humans in this story? Our intrepid trio or the two greedy businessmen who wanted to exploit Mothra’s egg? Well Kumayama and Torahata story line ended abruptly when Kumayama demanded the money he was owed, having fronted all the expenses for the amusement park while Torahata did basically nothing, the two end up dead when Kumayama gets shot in the back by Torahata who in turn is killed when the hotel collapses around him during Godzilla’s rampage. It’s almost your standard EC comics’ comeuppance deaths, and though these characters were more antagonists than true villains they did add a nice bit of vitality to the story with both actors doing tremendous work even if they don’t survive to the third act. As for our “heroes” they are basically relegated to sidelines once Mothra and the army battle with Godzilla.  The screenwriters throw in a side adventure where they have to get to a nearby island to save a group of school children who are in the path of Godzilla’s rampage but it's nothing we care about.  What gets our blood pumping is the hatching of the egg and the arrival of not one but two larvae.


“Congratulations Mothra, it's twins!”

Ishirô Honda was working with a smaller budget this time out and so the citywide destruction scenes don’t really manifests themselves as they did in Gojira, in Mothra vs. Godzilla much of the monster combat takes place in pretty generic countryside locations not densely populated cityscapes. We do get some moments of Godzilla wrecking buildings but its handled more as an incidental and accidental at times, this isn’t the rage fueled allegory for the nuclear holocaust we've seen in the past as this Godzilla is more of a force of nature than a figure of revenge. The film’s final fight between the Mothra twins and Godzilla isn’t the typical free-for-all that would be seen in later entries but instead has the two larvae taking out the big guy by cocooning him with their silk spray.


“Hey guys knock that off, this isn’t funny!”

One can’t expect the same kind of slugfest from Mothra as we’d later get with Mechagodizlla or King Ghidorah but the fight between Godzilla and the larvae is still pretty gripping and beautifully executed by the suit actors and holds up pretty well. The heroic trio of Sakai, Nakanishi and Professor Miura is an almost complete lift from the trio found in 1961's Mothra, but I guess if it's not broke don't fix it and it’s no surprise that next to Godzilla the wonderful Mothra is the most popular of the Kaiju.

Note: The North America release of this film made surprisingly few changes from the original Japanese cut, certainly nowhere near as many changes as Gojira or Godzilla Raids received, but it was released as Godzilla vs. The Thing which kind of implied he'd either be fighting James Arness or a member of The Addams Family.

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