Mothra (1961)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Godzilla - Mothra - King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack!

Godzilla 2000

Godzilla vs Megaguirus

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Godzilla (1954)

Godzilla (1998)

Godzilla (1984)

Godzilla vs Biollante (1989)

Godzilla vs Gigan

Godzilla vs Destoroyah (1995)

Godzilla vs Hedora

Godzilla vs King Ghidrah

Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla (1974)

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1993)

Godzilla vs Monster Zero

Godzilla vs Mothra (1964)

Godzilla vs Mothra (1992)

Godzilla vs the Sea Monster (1966)

Godzilla's Revenge

King Kong vs. Godzilla

Rebirth of Mothra (Guest Review)

Rodan (1956)

Son of Godzilla (1967)

Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

War of the Gargantuas


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Our rating: four LAVA® motion lamps.

"Somebody call Nausicaa!"
From the viewpoint of the twenty-first century, the world became a more colorful place in the 1960s. This is mostly because color film became more affordable to purchase and process, but the fashions, attitudes, design, and culture of the '60s followed suit. Especially to those who weren't there to witness it, the world at that time seemed to become more and more vibrant until, like the cover of the decade's most iconic album ("Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"), it exploded with every gaudy hue imaginable.

"You call this Egyptian cotton?!"
Ishiro Honda (the man most trusted with Toho's monster pictures) and Tomoyuki Tanaka (producer of nearly every Toho genre film until his death in 1995) were ahead of the curve. For them, the advent of the '60s meant that it was time to make movies that were ever more vivid and fantastic. Having gotten some early practice with The Mysterians (1957), the two men embarked on their most ambitious project yet: Mothra.

The picture unfolds in much the same way as the original King Kong (1933). Following an intriguing lead -- namely, the rescue of a group of fishermen who survived a castaway experience on an island that was used for nuclear testing with no signs of radiation poisoning -- an expedition sets off to explore the island and discover its secrets. The scientists on this mission are Japanese, but their funding comes from an unusual source: the country of "Rolisica," a fictional nation that serves as the United States for the purposes of the plot. Senichiro Fukuda (Frankie Sakai), a journalist so tenacious that his peers call him "The Snapping Turtle," has sneaked aboard, but since his plan apparently involves posing as a luxury steward on a scientific cruise, he is quickly unmasked. Unfortunately for Fukuda his presence is discovered by Nelson (Jerry Ito), the unpleasant Rosilican who holds the expedition's purse strings. Even so, the expedition has no choice but to let him come along.

The future of Mary Kate and Ashley.
Arriving at the island, the expedition finds lush jungles in the interior with giant fungi and carnivorous plants. They also find two six-inch tall women who only speak by singing. Though the twins don't know Japanese some members of the expedition can understand them anyway, suggesting telepathy. When menacing (full size) natives show up the expedition decides to leave and report the enigmas they have found.

Upon his return to Japan, Fukuda is shocked to see that a nightclub in Japan has booked the twins as a singing act! Nelson went back to the island and kidnapped them, and shot a bunch of the natives for good measure. Fukuda and friends sneak into see the twins (as sneaking is apparently the most important element of journalism), and find out that the twins aren't terribly worried about their captivity because most of the time they're singing songs to Mothra, the deity of the ancient civilization that used to reside on Infant Island. It's only a matter of time before Mothra answers the songs of her lost priestesses and destroys Japan.

Japan attempts to set the record
for the world's largest boiled peanut.
Sure enough Mothra, a giant caterpillar, swims to Japan and makes a beeline (heh) for Tokyo. The military is powerless to stop the monster from destroying the Tokyo Tower (which is really the kaiju equivalent of visiting Disney World -- everyone has to do it at least once), after which it settles down to spin a cocoon. The military recognizes an opportunity when they see it, and while the creature pupates the army moves giant heat cannons into position. As the cannons fry the cocoon Tokyo's citizens celebrate, but the party turns out to be premature. Mothra emerges from the coccoon not only unharmed but transformed into a giant moth. The sight of this would be beautiful and breathtaking to the witnesses if they weren't so busy soiling themselves.

While all this is going on Nelson shows some sense and flees the country with the twins. Back in Rolisica (which is distinctive from rural Japan solely by the presence of many cows who moo plaintively from off-screen) Nelson congratulates himself on the fact that he left Japan holding the bag, but Mothra flies across the ocean and trashes "New Kirk City." The local police issue a warrant for Nelson, but he decides instead to go down in a hail of bullets. Fortunately for the inhabitants of New Kirk, Fukuda and a scientist friend pursued Mothra to Rosilica, and they figure out that Mothra can be attracted to he airport and reunited with the twins by painting a certain symbol on the tarmac. The plan works and Mothra and the Twins return to Infant Island.

Northwest Air Flight 007,
ready for takeoff.
The American version of Mothra is a few minutes shorter than the Japanese version, with most of the difference being in some shortened scenes, but nothing significant is cut out. The biggest differences are in the dubbing, which changes Fukuda's nickname to "Bulldog" (a sensible switch) and places some gibberish language over the twin's untranslated speech, which is just a musical buzzing in the Japanese. The original cut does clarify a few plot points, but an equal number of confusing developments remain unexplained.

Mothra is the first (and one of the only) examples of a kaiju film in which the heroes attempt to reason with a giant monster. It helps that Mothra has "human" interpreters in the form of the Twins, but it is important to note that only in a very few of these movies do the authorities try to resolve their giant monster conflicts peacefully. Even in those pictures in which a creature's behavioral idiosyncrasies can be exploited to lead it away from populated areas, the ultimate goal is almost always to lure the monster to its doom. Toho apparently held out some hope that the citizens of Earth would learn more peaceful ways by 1999 when Monster Island would contain giant monsters via non-lethal means (see Destroy All Monsters [1968]), but even those good-hearted efforts would prove disastrous for the humans of the future.

"...and if that doesn't work out,
we'll sic this giant wood tick on you."
Mothra herself is an unusual monster in that she almost always acts in the name of correcting an injustice. Where Godzilla (in his "good" incarnations, which would begin with 1965's Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster) generally ended up fighting evil monsters because they attacked him first, Mothra often goes out of her way to find the evil monsters to fight. Mothra's benevolence may be explained by the fact that Mothra is generally considered to be female, making her much more nurturing than the average kaiju. In her second appearance in Godzilla vs. Mothra (1963) she even gives her life to save her children.

Mothra would go on to be Toho's most popular monster after Godzilla, starring in 11 movies from 1961 to 2004, including three solo pictures. The telepathic twins (sometimes called the Cosmos Twins or Fairy Twins) have themselves gone on to a strange sort of fame, sometimes referenced for comedic effect even on American TV shows like South Park. We like to think that the combination of Mothra's rainbow-winged design and the catchy tunes that accompany the monster account for the insectoid monster's celebrity, but more likely it's the fact that she keeps such attractive traveling companions.

Review date: 08/17/2004

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