Rebirth Of Mothra – 1996, Okihiro Yoneda – Japan
Everybody’s favorite giant ass, benevolent bug monster returns in this much-better-than-you’d-expect solo outing from the heart of the 1990’s, A.K.A.; The Heisei Period. It’s weird, by and large, Godzilla’s career in the this era hasn’t been all peaches and popsicles, in fact, some of those movies downright suck like crazy… but so far, based on the strength of this movie, Mothra is doing substantially better. I guess it’s too early to judge, though, this did end up being a trilogy, so we’ll see how well our big, furry bug buddy holds up three movies deep.
THE PLOT ~ Taiki and his sister Wakaba don’t get along. Neither do their parents, dad works long hours overseeing the logging/mindless destruction of precious natural sites, for the purpose of building parking lots, torture chambers, or slaughterhouses, presumably, and their mother stays home all day fabricating reasons to be angry at people, mostly their father, because fuck that guy. Then we have the two tiny, singing fairy ladies who live on Infant Island and serve as stewards to Mothra; their roles have been greatly expanded upon in this film, and in many ways drastically altered. In the past, these characters have been relatively singular in personality, lacking individual characteristics and instead operating in a more enigmatic, ethereal manner. In the case of Rebirth Of Mothra, they are now given individual personalities and names, Mona and Lora, respectively, and they no longer are of one mind on everything. In fact, they occasionally disagree. Additionally, these two decades old characters have also gained a third sister, Belvera, who is basically Rita Repulsa, but five inches tall. She’s the bad guy here, she rides on a little dragon. Full disclosure; I like Belvera.
So, one day, dad, who, again, works all the time, fuck that guy, right? He’s never home, he’s always off working really hard to pay for our groceries, the kids’ college fund, our mortgage, all our bills- What a dick! Anyway. He and his stalwart crew of Earth-murdering land developers happen upon a mysterious ancient site, which, unbeknownst to them, is the enchanted prison of a giant, gnarly dragon monster. Pops, again, thinking only of himself, pries a tiny, circular seal off of this archeological treasure with the intent of gifting it to his daughter Wakaba, but again, what a dick, in so doing, he weakens the prisons hold on Desghidorah, the aforementioned dragon, and it’s now only a matter of time before this beast busts loose. Desghhidorah is kind of cool, it basically looks like a grey, quadrapedal version of longtime Godzilla arch-villain King Ghidorah. They must be related.
So, dad returns home to the angry, frozen embrace of his eternally dissatisfied wife and gives the seal to his daughter as a necklace, which, unbeknownst to mom and dad, makes her the target of Belvera, who is super excited about setting Desghidorah free… For some reason. She hate people, I guess. Lora and Mona intervene, and they end up dogfighting with Belvera in a miniature moth/dragon aerial shootout that would be a lot cooler if the CG in ’96 wasn’t so PBS looking. Long story short, Belvera gets away with the seal, which is now a magical amulet, and sets Desighidorah loose. Lora and Mona summon Mothra, who is getting on in years, and she flaps her giant, furry groove thing on over to face an opponent that seems laughably more intimidating than she is. Mothra is, in turn, rewarded with a furious ass kicking, as she so often has been throughout her life.
In all the fury and dragon lasers, Mothra’s offspring, somehow sensing momma moth’s distress, busts forth from it’s egg prematurely, and wiggles it’s tiny larval form off to her rescue. Unrealistically, this infant caterpillar arrives at the scene of the battle more of less instantly, and attacks Desighidorah in a truly valiant fashion, only to then be deal a most savage beat-down in return which nearly kills it. Momma Mothra and her little Larva somehow escape with their lives, but as soon as they’re clear from the immediate threat of three-headed dragon attack, Mother Moth-Monster dies anyway, and sinks dramatically into the ocean. This is meant to be a a real emotional beat in the film, and it’s sort of embarrassing how effective that is. You really have to remind yourself that it’s a damn puppet in a swimming pool and not an actual guardian monster sacrificing her life for her offspring, but even so, you may get a little bummed out.
So, baby Mothra cocoons into a fully developed Moth monster, beats Desigidora’s ass, saves the day, and somewhere between fighting to save one another and baring witness to the glorious splendor of monster combat, the Goto family finds themselves closer than they have been in years, and all old grievances are forgotten, because, as I learned in couples counseling, “the family that survives a dragon attack together, stays together.”
So, there are a couple themes at play here, and none of them are subtle. The first, and most important (in the scheme of the film) is the importance of family, and the healing of strained familiar relationships. This is showcased most plainly in our central characters, the Goto family, and then repeated in the sisterhood of Lora, Mona and Belvera, and then again between Mothra and her offspring. The message of Rebirth of Mothra isn’t the least bit cynical, it is one of forgiveness and compassion, but the movie also has a three headed dragon that fights a caterpillar in it, so don’t be too turned off by its touchy-feeling nature.
The other theme is that of environmental conservation, which is secondary to the family unit theme, yet still extremely heavy handed and blatant. The movie is so Pro-Environmentalism that Al Gore keeps it in a secret drawer that his wife doesn’t know about, for night’s when he’s home alone and feeling frisky. Even so, if you aren’t especially into the whole “conservation thing,” it doesn’t go so over the top that it’s obnoxious, like Avatar does.. If you made it through that chore, you can make it through Rebirth of Mothra, piece of cake.
From a technical standpoint, Rebirth of Mothra is a mixed bag, but it’s still better than most of Godzilla’s recent pictures. What we have here are a bunch of practical effects which are mostly really good, and and a bunch of CGI that sucks really badly. There is one area where Rebirth of Mothra shines like the Arc of the Covenant, though; and that’s its pyrotechnics, holy shit, there are so, so, so many explosions in this movie, and they actually look super awesome. This is what I thought a Kiss concert was going to be like before I ever saw one. There are flames launching every direction, blasts of light exploding out of the Earth- I would normally discourage people from being all that charmed by what amounts to little more than a sophisticated fireworks display in a feature film, but whoever is responsible for these righteous fireball effects deserves a serious raise. Good job dude. How many moth puppets got scorched beyond usability during this shoot? It had to have been dozens.
There is also some pretty good photography, particularly in the third act, and for the most part, I was surprised how good Rebirth of Mothra ended up being. Really, the biggest issue you may have with the film is that, unlike the Heisei era Godzilla films, many of which took on a darker tone and more mature themes, this solo Mothra film is undeniably aimed at a younger audience. In fact, this is a kid’s movie- and that’s clear as day, my friend. For some of you, I expect that disqualifies it altogether- but if I was a kid I would love this thing. Even as an adult I really enjoyed it, I feel like it closely captured the spirit of Toho’s Showa era films, and the changes made to Mothra lore didn’t particularly turn me off- Toho has often shown little regard for continuity in the first place.
Highly recommended for younger audiences, especially those who dig on some of the Hero Godzilla films of the 60’s and 70’s, and actually, I would recommend this anyone who likes kaiju films at all. Lighten up, everybody, Rebirth Of Mothra is a good time!