Classic Media // 1964 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // December 12th, 2006
"Mothra, Oh Mothra
If we were to call for help
Like a wave you'd come
Our guardian angel!"
After a devastating typhoon, the residents of a local Japanese fishing village want answers from their politicians. What they get instead is a giant insect egg floating off the shore. Seeing substantial Yen signs, the town hooks up with an amusement company and, before you know it, a bug-based tourist trap is being built. A journalist bent on getting the story teams up with a concerned scientist, and together with an intrepid girl photographer, the trio learns the truth. The storm removed a sacred artifact from Infant Island, and a tiny pair of singing diplomats are trying to get the oversized egg back, lest the giant moth Mothra get mad. Even worse, Godzilla has been awoken from his between-film dirt nap, and is hellbent on having himself a flash-fried omelet, PDQ. It's a race against time, a huge bug puppet, and a guy in an overgrown lizard outfit, as everyone waits for the humungous hen apple to hatch. Will the wool-loving bug's pissed-off pupae seize the day, or will it be up to Mom to take on the cackleberry-craving monster, Mothra vs. Godzilla style?
Arguably the least menacing monster in the entire Toho talent pool (and that includes that ga-ga goofball Godzuki), Mothra is a mania in its native Japan, an almost-sacred symbol of all that is good and natural in the world. How an oversized moth with a screech like a toy-addled toddler manages to pull that one off is up to the divisor of deities. This Infant Island insect, featured in over a dozen movies over the last few decades, has always been viewed as the yang to Godzilla's darker, more menacing yin. And more importantly, Mothra is a Ms., seen as the feminine, or protective, side of most "monster on the loose" situations. Representing the second installment in the long-running big-bug series, Mothra vs. Godzilla is a typical early effort for the pair. Godzilla is seen as evil and wicked, persecuting the poor pest and her potential offspring while humans huddle around and try to make sense of the sudden appearance of 60-story-tall battling beasts. As would happen throughout most of his mid-'60s starring vehicles, big, bad Godzilla is relegated to a near cameo, kept off screen until midway through, then left to wander rather aimlessly until the final 15 minutes. Then, naturally, all the "man in a suit" mayhem ensues.
The free-form fights, loaded with martial-arts moves and miniature militias shooting off firecrackers, are part of Mothra vs. Godzilla's inherent fun; in this case, the squaring off is even more surreal. Mothra's only defense mechanism is constant wing flapping, and it is readily apparent that, like that little dog featured in Fawlty Towers, the rapid movement of air damages the giant lizard irreparably. As Mothra defends her egg via gusty winds, our people players are left to look skyward, mouths in meaningless slack-jawed stupefaction. Luckily, Japanese singing sensations The Peanuts are on hand as diminutive twins set on setting things straight via song. Yep, once again, the Godzilla form of problem solving is on full display as our perky proto-Pink Lady warbles the memorable ode to their wise winged wonder -- over and over and over again. If you're looking for a deeper meaning inside all this monster madness, if you want something symbolically stronger than a bunch of pleasant Polynesians doing their native gnat dance, Mothra vs. Godzilla might disappoint you. Sure, there is a strong central theme of business's corruptibility and governmental ineptness, but the minute Mothra's slug-like offspring show up, spitting Silly String at their fire-breathing foe, any considered social commentary is more or less meaningless. No, the reason we enjoy these throwbacks to Saturday afternoons in front of the boob tube has more to do with nostalgia and less to do with ideological import.
As a result, Mothra vs. Godzilla is a great big hoot, a humdinger of a creature feature that piles on the production value to make up for a less-than-effective final showdown. The amazing miniature work that Toho is famous for proves that CGI is not the only successful means of destroying cities, and Godzilla gets a couple of compelling sequences when electrical cables are used to try and slow down his determined progress. There's even a little pathos thrown in for good measure, as Mothra is destined to die after she helps wet nurse her offspring into the world. If you simply soak in the set pieces and avoid the cornball conversations between the almost unnecessary humans, you'll really enjoy this prime example of Japanese cautionary tale-telling. A clear fan favorite over the years, this is one bug who maintains her integrity no matter the nutty, nonsensical setting.
Given a gloss heretofore unheard of in the Godzilla oeuvre, Classic Media's DVD presentation of this title is just spectacular. Offering both the Japanese version and the all-too-familiar dopey English dubbed adaptation, the transfer is excellent indeed. The Toho original is offered in the proper 2.35:1 anamorphic aspect ratio. The Western revamp (from AIP and re-titled Godzilla vs. The Thing) looks equally good, but is oddly mastered in a 1.78:1 16x9 offering, cutting off some information on the sides. Rumor has it this was the best print of the title available. As for the aural presentation, the Dolby Digital Mono is acceptable, with easily legible subtitles helping those whose Japanese is a bit rusty. As for extras, Classic provides a few fine examples of added content. First up, fans Ed Godziszewski and Steve Ryfle appear for an excellent full-length audio commentary. Loaded with information, insight, and a few surprise guests, it's a very enjoyable experience. In addition, we are treated to a slide show of the original movie posters, a tribute to composer Akira Ifukube, and the original Japanese trailer. When combined with the chance to see the movie the way that Toho intended, this is a great digital presentation.
For anyone whose ever wondered what kids in the '60s and '70s saw in these undeniably goofy monster movies, Mothra vs. Godzilla is pure pop pulp proof. No, we didn't believe in the magic of the much maligned special effects, and no, we didn't understand the whole "Japanese/radiation" undercurrent that caused the country to create these films in the first place. Like any enticing flight of fancy, most of us enjoyed the manic multi-colored craziness of the entire enterprise and waited, wide-eyed, for the next nutty installment. While they were never intended to be camp or kitsch, Mothra vs. Godzilla argues for Toho's tendency toward entertainment first, universal insight second. This is one of the series' best installments. After all, how can you hate a giant bug beating up a prehistoric lizard? It's perfect escapist euphoria. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Classic Media
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic (Japanese release)
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic (U.S. release)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Japanese)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Includes Japanese and English Versions of the Film
* Audio Commentary
* Poster Slide Show
* Akira Ifukube Biography Featurette
* Original Japanese Trailer
* Godzilla Official Site
* Godzilla Fan Page