Review 5: Mothra vs Godzilla – 1964

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Mothra fights GodzillaToho was not about to let another seven years slip by without a sequel to a successful Godzilla film, but what to do now? The last two films had all featured Godzilla battling another monster (kaiju), and since that worked for audience approval, why not do it again? But this time there would be several differences. And those differences not only resulted in another popular film, but one that is considered by aficionados as perhaps the best in the Showa series productions: Mothra vs. Godzilla. Not to be confused with 1992’s Godzilla vs. Mothra. Yes, it is a bit confusing. Bear with me.

Mothra had been a popular success herself when Toho made the original Mothra film in 1961. The giant moth was not only Toho’s first female kaiju, but a defender of humankind. Kaiju with morals? Unlikely as it seems, audiences loved her. Mothra brought a whole new concept to the screen: a female monster with heart. And a maternal one who wasn’t about to let Godzilla get away with rampaging, or destroying her egg.

Her egg? Lemme tell you a story…

Once again a Godzilla film takes a poke at capitalists and politicians. And, like the last film, it has wry humour… and an American edit that sliced into it. But more about that, later.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll also see the franchise moving away from Godzilla as the manifestation (and threat) of the A-bomb and more of a natural phenomenon. This was now 19 years after Hiroshima, and the angst over nuclear destruction was less of a driver in films than previously, and a new generation of movie-goers wants to be entertained, not lectured. Godzilla is still radioactive, mind you.

Actually, this seed had been sown in the previous film, where King Kong had been a monster not created or awakened by atomic bomb tests. It also applied to Mothra in her own films (starting with the original in 1961; Mothra would continue to appear in more stand-alone films and in 11 Godzilla films until 2004), who, like Kong, arrived without nuclear aid. And like in the previous reviews: spoiler alert.

It was a dark and stormy night… no, not the opening of a Bulwer Lytton novel: that’s how this film starts. A terrible typhoon ravages the coast of Japan, washing ships ashore, and destroying buildings (a metaphor for the oncoming G?). When day breaks and repair work starts, we are introduced to a couple of Godzilla-film tropes: the handsome guy (a reporter), the cute female (a photographer), and the conniving politician. The cute lady photographer happens upon a mysterious substance floating among the debris near the shore while the self-serving politician tries to take credit for the recovery efforts.

And, like in the last film, a greedy capitalist (Kumayama, the Hitlerian-moustached exec from Happy Enterprises, no less) arrives to buy, then take over the egg similar to the way the corporate stooges took over Kong last time. MvG is another satire on corporate greed and ineffectual politicians, as blatant as in the previous film. “How much do you think we can make from that egg?” asks Torahata, the financier, at 0:12:50. He suggests to his flunky, Kumayama, they can make “at least one billion yen” from putting it into an amusement park for the public to watch it hatch. These two schemers play a semi-comic role as the villains of the movie.

The film was released at a time when the rising economic and industrial might of Japan — accompanied by increasing attention to profits — clashed with traditional Japanese values, and the film included these contemporary conflicts. The new corporate greed is symbolized by the safe full of cash, seen at 0:13:50.

The execs hear tiny voices while they’re engaged in their get-rich-quick scheming. Turns out the egg belongs to natives living on Infant Island in the Pacific and a pair of tiny women (fairy-size, approximately) ask for the egg’s return. Rather than converse, the execs try to capture them, but fail (in a somewhat comic effort). the escaped tiny folk instead try asking for help from a trio that includes the reporter, the photographer, and that other trope: the professor (Miura, seen earlier). The tiny pair tell the story of Mothra and her egg, washed away by the typhoon. So here’s another theme: nature vs. industrialized humankind.

(Gotta wonder why all the island natives so far are some sort of pre-industrial, monster worshippers. There’s a pagan theology here, but I’m not sure why it’s necessary.)

The larva in the egg, the fairies warn, will cause chaos when it hatches, looking for food before it returns to Infant Island. And while the trio are digesting this information, Mothra is sighted (0:19:47). You have to hand it to the Japanese for creating a giant moth as both hero and monster. A flap of its enormous wings sends the trio scurrying for cover. The original Mothra from the ’61 film was scaled down so as not to dwarf Godzilla, but she’s still pretty damned big for an insect.

Jump to the egg enclosed in a greenhouse-like incubator at the “Shizunura Happy Center.” The trio from the last scene ask the oleaginous exec to return the egg and “do the right thing.” Failing to convince the capitalists, they bring out the fairies, but instead, Kumayama offers to buy the fairies. The trio leaves, but promises to tell the story in the newspapers. The fairies escape; the trio head to the forest to find them, but the fairies flee with Mothra.

Back in the city, the media tells of the Mothra’s plight; newspaper headlines scream “Faith in Humans Shattered! Mothra’s Please for Help Ignored!” Which, for anyone who hadn’t watched the original Mothra film, raises the question of how the public would know who or what Mothra is.

In response, Happy Enterprises calls it “Vicious Slander! and continues plans to open the Shizunoura Happy Centre with a big promotion, built around the egg hatching. Once again, Toho’s special effects had built detailled scale models of the entertainment park. You know by now that such lovingly-made models will be Godzilla’s stomping ground soon.

At 0:25:50, Kumayama is shown arguing with the villagers who claim they have never been paid in full for the egg nor for the rent on the land used to build their amusement park (capitalists stiffing the working class? shocked, I tell you…). But better yet, Torahata the financier refuses to give Kumayama money to cover his promise to the villagers, unless Kumayama gives him the egg as collateral… so the capitalists are turning on one another.

Back at the paper, the angry reporter is frustrated that his stories about Mothra’s plea have had no effect. “Newspaper have no power to judge or enforce,” he whinges. While more true today, that’s a surprising statement for 1964, when print media had a lot more clout. His editor, Maruta, replies, saying “We’re the champion of the people.” Ah, if only our own local media felt that way instead of just being a venue for advertising revenue. But I digress.

The incubators are lit. The reporter, photographer, and professor join up again in the professor’s lab (where the reporter and photographer are of radiation picked up from the mysterious fragment they recovered after the storm). It’s highly radioactive, but when a crew goes out to the waterfront, no trace of residual radiation can be found among the other debris. The crew’s presence draws the local politician back. He demands they stop the testing because it could look bad for his vaunted reclamation project. As the team prepares to leave, the lady photographer spots something moving below the land at 0:32:50… it’s radioactive…  and at 0:33:02 the tail emerges from the sand…  and Ifukube’s glorious theme music plays as Godzilla rises.

This is a great Godzilla, too. The suit was remade to make G look meaner and nastier, especially the head and eyes (and a sneer…). A broadcast announces G is heading inland. Panic (of course) as G smashes his way through an industrial site, using his atomic breath to set fire to buildings. Nice effect: his back scales light up when he uses the fire breath. Mayhem. Destruction. Models are demolished, including a particularly well-made classic structure, similar in style to the Kyoto castle destroyed in Godzilla raids Again.

At 0:39:10 back in the city, a reporter floats the idea of asking Mothra for help against G, but it goes nowhere. Then the editor has a change of mind and sends the trio off to Infant Island.

Abrupt cut. “What a desolate place” the professor complains upon landing. And then the red-skinned (painted) natives surprise the trio. Interesting juxtaposition: red natives vs trio in yellow rain suits. These are soon removed and the men are seen in suits and ties, the woman in a dress. A bit overdressed for an expedition, methinks.

Then there’s a meet-the-natives scene, a plea for Mothra’s help against G, and, predictably, the natives’ refusal. “It’s your fault for playing with the devil’s fire,” the native chief barks. “It’s no concern of ours.”

The fire is, of course, radiation from A-bomb tests, which turned a “verdant” island into the current wasteland. So the anti-nuclear-weapon theme is still intact in this G film, albeit deflected from the mainland to a distant island. At 0:45:26 they hear a song and rush to the source… it’s the fairies singing in a remarkable un-desolate garden setting. The oasis is all that’s left of the island. The fairies also refuse the request for help. But wait… the photographer pleads, “We are all equal before the gods…” (I wonder if Thor is listening…) and the reporter chimes in… which awakens Mothra’s interest.

Mothra grabs GodzillaThe fairies call Mothra in song (“Mosura”) and the giant moth is seen again at 0:51:41. This works, “Mothra is going to help you with the last of her strength.” Big M has very little time left to live. Shades of Christian martyrdom. Big M will die for our sins.

Cut to the military planning how to stop G. When will they ever learn? In every film so far, the military has brought out all their guns, planes, and tanks and been squashed or fried for their effort. This time they plan to use 20-30 million volts of electricity against G. Cut to some recycled clips of vehicle models moving dirt. For all the military hardware that comes out, the military is pretty much useless.

At 0:52:30 it’s G vs the tanks. Or rather, remote-control tank models. G is unfazed. Are you surprised? Me, either.

At 0:55:25 Kumayama confronts Torahata; it turns into a bloody fight over money. Hardly Marxist at all, capitalists falling out. Torahata shoots Kumayama and G appears. G comes over the hill, headed right at the hotel where the two were fighting. Torahata grabs the money from the safe, but G smashes the hotel and Torahata disappears into the rubble. Geeze, is that an allegory? Or just karma? The old socialist in me cheered.

Just as G reaches the egg and is about to destroy it (that lovely pleasure park model being trashed…), Mothra finally appears (0:59:24). Cue the special effects team for the battle of the kaiju. And it’s pretty spectacular, given the difference in mobility, fighting styles, and designs. Mothra’s typhoon-like wind blast echoes the film’s opening typhoon.

Okay, it sometimes seems a bit… corny? Mothra grabs G by the tail and drags him away from the egg… G was knocked down by M’s battering and the poisonous pollen… then G’s atomic breath lit M’s wings afire… more wrestling… and a dying M reaches the egg, only to die atop it.

As G stomps forward in victory, the army and air force approach, firing to drive G into the electrical wires. Oops. They spark and fall. The fairies sing to the egg. More wires, more voltage, G wrapped in nets, falls. Zap, zap. Not quite enough to finish G. He rises, uses atomic breath, and melts stuff. More panic, more evacuations.

At 01:14:10 where the politician who previously ended the radiation testing is fleeing with the panicked crowds from the approaching G. He tries to commandeer a boat to a nearby island to save children there, but G shows up, trashing his way through an exquisitely-made model village, heading towards the egg. Which hatches while the fairies sing… and out comes a pair of nasty-looking, bus-sized larvae. Twins. With weirdly pug-like faces.

Meanwhile, G is headed offshore to a nearby island where a school full of children are trapped. The larvae head out to sea, following, while the fairies sing again. Another kaiju battle is brewing. G stomps over the island school and sets buildings on fire, pursued by the twin caterpillars. At about 01:22:15 the fight begins.

How, you might ask, can a pair of ground-hugging caterpillars battle a towering Godzilla? Well, they can leap onto him, bite his tail, and spray a sticky web to bind and blind him. An increasingly web-covered Godzilla waves his arms futilely, and his tail tosses rocks around, but he can’t stop the spraying insects. G falls to the ground, bound and helpless, then rolls into the ocean. The larvae chirp their victory. G disappears.

Last seen the larvae are swimming out to their island, the fairies on their back. “The only way to thank them is to create a better world,” the reporter says. “A world based on mutual trust,” the professor adds. And the film ends with that saccharine sentiment. of course, the audience knows G will be back. In fact, he would return that very same year in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

American edits

American versionDespite the original Mothra film having been released in the USA  in a dubbed version in 1962, the American version of this film was titled Godzilla vs The Thing and released in a dubbed version in 1964. Did the producers of this version really think Americans wouldn’t remember Mothra?

Unlike previous American versions, it lacked a reporter narrating the story in English for American audiences (a significant improvement). However, the Japanese newspapers were recreated in English so audiences could read the headlines. But, overall, the film was not significantly altered. IMDB notes that:

This one is less heavily altered than the first three; a few minor scenes with the human cast were cut to streamline the film. Additionally, a new sequence is added in which the US Navy makes a failed attempt to destroy Godzilla, in an attempt to appeal to American viewers. Either version is well worth watching.

I am always bemused at how Americans just have to insert themselves somehow into the Godzilla films. And with their big guns… even these had proven ineffective against G so many times before. But, okay, this was a lot less offensive an intrusion than in previous films.

MvG is considered one of the best of the Showa-era films. It was well-paced, action-packed, had a light touch of humour, some great special effects, and was fun to watch in both versions. As in the previous film, most of G’s destruction was of property, not people. Personally, while I enjoyed the film, I liked several of the later films more in part because they were more over-the-top, got more scifi, and didn’t have this kumbaya-peace-brothers-and-sisters end message. I mean, really: a better world? Come on. What world is better without Godzilla?

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