Mothra ~ 1961, Ishiro Honda – Japan
When I was a child, I liked Mothra okay, but she was easily my least favorite giant monster… And my list of “giant monsters” was not short. Somehow, a giant bug failed to capture my interest the same way a giant, immortal, radioactive dinosaur with laser breath could (back thenI gave no shits about the understated.) I know I saw Mothra as a kid, but the odds are that I payed little attention to it. Now, as an adult, I have gone back and re-watched it for the first time, and Mothra is really excellent. It’s a film that feels distinct and fresh, but still able to fit in nicely with it’s kaiju contemporaries. The characters are all likable, the story is entertaining, and the more spiritual feel is a welcome departure from the norm. Mothra ranks among my favorite Toho films at the time.
THE PLOT: An expedition is launched to investigate mysterious reports of natives living on Infant Island, a Polynesian island thought to have been uninhabited, and which had been exposed to radiation durring atomic testing in the Pacific. The expedition is made up of both scientists from Japan, and also Rolisica, a fictional nation looking to be something of an amalgam of the United States and the Soviet Union. Upon reaching Infant Island, natives are indeed discovered, as well as two creatures with the appearance of small, humanoid females.
They’re like, seven inches tall? Small as hell.
Some evil Rolisican dude named Nelson snatches them up and takes them back to civilization with the fine idea of making some money off of them, much to the chagrin of our three main characters, because they’re the good guys. Long story short, the natives of Infant Island are pissed that we took their tiny ladies away, so they pray for Mothra to hatch and retrieve them. Mothra does hatch, and the rest of the film is a balance of trying to survive her onslaught, and trying to steal back the ladies from Nelson and get them home.
Mothra is a giant moth also, in case anyone didn’t know this.
There she is!
The film deals with ethical questions of exploitation (both resources and human lives), international tensions, greed and commercialization, and more spiritual notions of global unity in a way that doesn’t line up with the perspective of other Toho flicks. In King Kong versus Godzilla, natives are exploited, but we aren’t really told that this is wrong, so much as that it’s just something we can do if we want. Mothra is a more humanistic film. It’s also very well put together, and quite enjoyable.
Maybe my favorite thing about this film is this dude;
On the right.
Furanki Sakai, who plays Senichiro ‘Sen-chan’ Fukuda, AKA “The Bulldog,” according to IMDB. In the subtitles on the version I watched, he was called Zen “The Snapping Turtle.” No matter what name/nickname combination is used in the version you see, Sakai is kicking out the jams. His character is believable, funny, likably, ballsy, and brave, he’s what I would maybe call a “lovable bad ass.” Honestly, he’s possibly my favorite human character in a Kaiju film ever; the only other known contender at this point being Don Frye’s Captain Gordon from Godzilla: Final Wars. Sakai’s character kinda feels like Lou Costello, if Lou Costello could also kick ass on occasion.
Another matter of note: The natives of Infant Island are apparently intended to be Polynesians, but the actors all appear to be Japanese people in black face. This same phenomena also appears in 1962’s King Kong Vs Godzilla, and it’s totally weird.
Mothra is really great, though.