Mothra vs. Godzilla (Mosura tai Gojira)
Japan (1964) Dir. Ishiro Honda
The fourth entry in the Godzilla canon eschews the silliness of its crossover predecessor King Kong vs. Godzilla (a modern day version is being made by Hollywood as we speak) although that doesn’t mean it isn’t culpable of the occasional layer of cheese melted into the script. Well, it wouldn’t be a classic Godzilla film without, would it?
In the aftermath of a devastating typhoon, a giant egg is washed up on Kurada beach, which is bought by Kumayama (Yoshifumi Tajima) as a money-making attraction, in conjunction with corrupt business tycoon Jiro Torahata (Kenji Sahara). They are visited by tiny twin fairies The Shobijin (Emi and Yumi Ito) from Infant island, claiming the egg belongs to their guardian Mothra and want it back but are refused.
Scientist Shunsuke Miura (Hiroshi Koizumi), reporter Ichiro Sakai (Akira Takarada) and photographer Junko Nakanishi (Yuriko Hoshi) try to help the Shobijin with no luck, and they leave with their trust in humanity shattered. Miura discovers a blue substance also washed up on the beach is radioactive, waking Godzilla from his slumber. With no way to stop Godzilla, Miura, Ichiro, and Junko travel to Infant Island to ask for Mothra’s help.
You’re probably thinking, having been refused when asking for her egg back that the humans have a bit of a cheek to ask Mothra for help, but this is just one of those little things we are supposed to overlook – after all, it is a Godzilla film. That the escapades of the King of Monsters set the template for the entire Kaiju genre means simply saying his name telegraphs exactly what the audience is getting.
Not that anyone is complaining as they are always great fun but it behoves the writers to come up with new and interesting ways to get to the monster punch ups and obligatory rampage through Tokyo. Having penned the previous film that pitted Godzilla against King Kong, writer Shinichi Sekizawa sticks to the formula of creating an opponent for his radioactive lizard rather than the long suffering folk of Japan.
He didn’t have to look too far afield, having created Mothra as an anti-Godzilla monster to star in her own film in 1961. It is worth noting it is presumed viewers know the backstory and mythology of Mothra, the Shobijin, and Infant Island, but the basic gist of it is helpfully relayed via some swift exposition in the early going.
Sekizawa’s original script was actually rather different with Godzilla’s body being washed up and being put on display by Kumayama, but it was nixed as the idea of someone profiting from something radioactive seemed to farfetched even for a Kaiju movie! Also, Mothra was only supposed to show up at the end whilst the character of Torahata didn’t exist and Professor Miura was a mentor to a junior marine biologist.
Even with these changes, the story is still busy enough with a humanist theme to it. Sekizawa was preaching about corporate greed and the rampant commercialism of the slightest thing to satiate this greed. He equates this to making society unpleasant and selfish with no regard for nature’s dominion over its own creations.
Right from the start, Kumayama is asked whom he bought the egg from, the answer being the villagers as the shore, in their eyes, is their land thus their property – and for one million plus yen, they aren’t going to be sentimental towards the egg. Worse still, when they meet the Shobijin, Kumayama offers to buy them too! At this point Mothra should have gone on the rampage to get the egg back but she is apparently calmer than other monsters.
We are expected to ignore the fact that the military or the government don’t intervene and demand the egg is handed over to them or to Miura for examination otherwise we‘d have no story; the only time they do show up is when Godzilla wakes up and there sorry butts are on the line! At least Miura got to inspect the radioactive material, which he knew couldn’t be from Mothra, and as far as they knew, Godzilla was dead (again!).
The film is full of quirks that are glossed over presumably for expedience sake, like the way everyone accepts the Shobijin without batting an eyelid – I mean, they are about 6 inches tall, with a preposterous story about coming from an island protected by a giant moth claiming for an egg that will hatch a giant hungry larvae likely to cause havoc in search of food, and not one person pinches themselves to check it isn’t a dream?
Plus the Shobijin are carted around in a small leather box case with no air holes! How do they breathe? But we’re not supposed to be concerned with such trivial details as we are really here to see Mothra and Godzilla do battle. It has to be said, Mothra looks rather good even by cheap 1960’s standards, ignoring the visible wires, the flapping wings are very well done.
Godzilla has undergone another aesthetic change here, sporting light grey furrows over his eyes to make him look sinister. With input from actor Haruo Nakajima the new suit is much lighter, evident from the greater fluidity in his movements and sharp decrease in moments of inertia. This is incorporated into the narrative of the fights since Godzilla is facing a foe attacking him from the air and not in front of him, causing swift adjustments his positioning as well as taking a few tumbles.
As I said earlier, we know what we are going to get from a Godzilla movie, so it feels a little churlish to analyse every detail of it, good or bad, since the entire premise is pure fantasy anyway! Mothra vs. Godzilla has a central story that in today’s world would have more than 88 minutes to develop but what we have is enough to drive this enjoyable slice of classic Kaiju hokum.