Mothra (Cert PG)
1 Disc Blu-ray (Distributor: Eureka) Running Time: 101 minutes approx.
Toho studios knew they were onto a good thing when Godzilla became a big hit in 1954, launching the then hitherto untouched genre of Kaiju or monster movies. First there was Rodan in 1956, followed two years later by Varan The Unbelievable, but in 1961 came a creature that would become as prolific as Godzilla – Mothra!
When a shipwrecked crew are rescued from the uninhabited and irradiated atom bomb test location Infant Island, they surprise everyone by saying they were saved by natives. An international expedition is launched to explore the island, headed by Rolisican entrepreneur Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito). They not only find natives but also two tiny twin women, the Shobijin (Yumi and Emi Ito), who Nelson kidnaps to exploit as a money making attraction.
Ignoring the protests of the Japanese, Nelson refuses to release the Shobijin, leading to reporter Zen Fukuda (Frankie Sakai) and anthropologist Shinichi Chujo (Hiroshi Koizumi) to try to save the Shobijin. However, bigger trouble is on its way as the Shobijin have called out to their god, Mothra, to save them, and soon Japan is rocked by the arrived of a giant caterpillar in its waters.
Directed by Ishiro Honda with special effects Eiji Tsuburaya, one could be forgiven for assuming Mothra was another example of Toho milking the Kaiju fad for all it was worth by putting their proven dream team in charge. In many ways, they are guilty as charged since Shinichi Sekizawa’s script, based on the story The Glowing Fairies And Mothra by Shinichirō Nakamura, Takehiko Fukunaga and Yoshie Hotta features many similarities to the original Godzilla film.
Maybe it was a case of Japan not being able to forgive America for Hiroshima, radiation from atomic bombs is germane to both plots in one form or another, whilst Tokyo is once again destroyed courtesy of a creature rampage. But there are flickers of King Kong also present, notably the remote island with native denizens taken away to be to put on show for financial gain and public kudos.
But whilst this was sheer hubris in Kong, greed is the motive here via the rapacious Nelson character, revealing further cynicism towards the west – the name “Rolisica” is a portmanteau of Russia and America. For most of the film the Rolisican Embassy shares Nelson arrogance towards the Japanese pleas to release the Shobijin, finally acquiescing once Mothra wreaks her havoc on their own soil. Well, the subtle digs in the script had to end somewhere…
Conversely, Mothra herself isn’t portrayed as a wilfully malevolent and destructive beast like Godzilla originally was; instead she is on a mission to retrieve two of her worshippers and merely reacts to military attacks. She doesn’t really wreck anything deliberately, the damage is mostly a casualty of her immense size in caterpillar form; once she reaches imago stage, it is again unfortunate nothing is safe from the powerful gusts of air from the flapping of her mighty wings.
Yes, Mothra is female. Not explicitly discussed but strongly implied through the motherly myopia of her mission to rescue the Shobijin (small beauties), whilst the team of Zen and Chujo, with Chujo’s younger brother Shinji (Masamitsu Tayama) are driven by clearer altruistic ideals. With the Rolisican Embassy backing Nelson, they take matters into their own hands in trying to free the Shobijin; it is fair to say, Shinji is the prototype for the plucky kids prominent in the Gamera movies.
Exploitation of indigenous people for public entertainment and monetary gain replaces the original Mothra story’s main Anti-nuclear themes, but comes at an ironic price as the island natives are Japanese actors in blackface. Ouch! The Kong influence in the worship of Mothra as a deity is blatant but diluted as a major plot device, filtered through the Shobijin’s ability to transmit their feelings across any distance through song, so whilst the patrons at the shows think they are hearing a traditional melody, the girls are in fact calling out to Mothra for help.
One area Mothra differs from other classic Kaiju films is the disappointing fact the titular monster doesn’t appear until an hour into its 101-minute run, with the transformation into her final moth form coming in the last 15 minutes. This leaves the bulk of the film to revolve around the dispute over the captivity of the Shobijin, protracted crisis meetings, and attempts to liberate them to hold our attention until the real fun starts.
Kaiju cinema has never been a vehicle for award winning performances, so instead the audience can only look to see who is hamming it up the most. Comedian Frankie Sakai brings buffoonery to journo Zen to help bounce off the legendary Takashi Shimura as his uptight editor, whilst Jerry Ito’s Nelson is a full-on pantomime villain, unfortunately without a hint of irony.
Hampered by budgetary restraints which meant some of the more ambitious elements of the original script were abandoned, Eiji Tsuburaya and team still put on an eventful, if by the numbers visual show as Mothra cuts a swathe through Japan and New Kirk City in Rolisica, including the obligatory toppling of Tokyo Tower. Both the full-sized caterpillar and adult Mothra costumes were the largest ever made, the former needing six people to operate.
It is interesting to note that Mothra is second only to Godzilla for film appearances, yet has never had her own series until a trilogy the mid 1990s, this debut outing being her first solo effort, the rest being appearances in Godzilla movies. This didn’t stop Mothra becoming popular with audiences in Japan, giving Toho another weapon to ward off the challenge of Kaiju king from Gamera.
Mothra doesn’t rewrite the Kaiju rulebook and by being more story focused and light on monster action may test the patience of some, but as a less melancholic alternative to Godzilla, there is still plenty of good value fun to be had via this generous first time Blu-ray release from Eureka.
Original Mono Japanese Language Audio LPCM
Isolated Music and Sound Effects Soundtrack
Original Mono English Language Audio LPCM
English SDH Subtitles
Audio Commentary For Japanese Version by David Kalat
Audio Commentary For English Version with Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski
Kim Newman on Mothra
Stills Gallery #1 – Production Stills and Ephemera
Stills Gallery #2 – Concept Art
Limited Edition (3000 Copies only)
Limited Edition Hardbound Slipcase
Reversible Poster With Original US and Japanese Poster Artwork
60-Page Collector’s Booklet
Rating – ****
Man In Black