Rebirth of Mothra III – 1998, Okihiro Yoneda – Japan
Alright, you guys… This is it. This is the tie breaker! This movie decides the fate of the Heisei Mothra trilogy… So far, we’ve got a kick ass first film and one sucky ass sequel. Rebirth of Mothra III is destined to tip the scales and be the deciding factor; will this trilogy will follow the Indianna Jones model (two rad films sandwiching a less than awesome middle movie) or if it will go the way of the Matrix franchise (one classic followed by two humiliating turds.)? There’s a lot riding on this film. What’s it gonna be, Toho? Can Rebirth of Mothra III salvage this series!?!
And the answer is: Well… Kinda. I guess.
The PLOT: Belvera, the villainous sister of our two tiny singing Mothra Maidens, hatches what must be her two billionth plan to rid the Earth of humans once and for all, and this time her evil scheme involves summoning King Ghidorah, here identified as the King of Terror, to come do her dirty work for her. Apparently, Ghidorah is actually the force which drove all dinosaur life to extinction way back before recorded history, so Belvera figures he’d be really good at doing the same thing to the human race. What she didn’t expect is that Ghidorah’s technique this time around would involve eating all the children of Japan on day one of his dragon occupation, which is pretty brutal. In order to do this, he first sucks them up into the sky using what appears to be magic and somehow transports them into a large, membranous dome, for safe keeping, kind of like a giant kaiju cookie jar. He also uses his evil psychic influence to possess Lora, one of the good little Mothra people, and turns her against her sister Mol. Some lines get crossed this time around that we haven’t seen crossed before, which really elevates the drama. Off to a good start!
Meanwhile, our principle human character is Shota Sonoda, a moody, sensitive boy who, I would approximate to be in the tween or early teen demographic… Can’t say for sure. Anyhow, Shota’s super mopey, and he has recently decided that he just isn’t going to go to school anymore, which, inexplicably, seems to be accepted as a decision he has the right to make by his parents and society. Can you do that in Japan? Just not go to school? Thank goodness you don’t have that option in America. The literacy rate would drop to zero within one generation’s time. Anyway, Shota’s aversion to school actually pays off when Ghidorah pays a little visit to the one place in town that promises the best crop of young’un’s for his giant dragon snack drawer, but his little brother and sister are not so lucky. They get sucked away into Ghidorah’s magical kid transportation device, and Shota decides he’s gotta do something about it.
Shota is also meant to hold together the narrative and provide a connection between the human world and the monster filled world of the Elias (that’s what the tiny women are actually called), which he does effectively. The Elias sisters really do have quite a lot going on in RoMIII, and it’s not inaccurate to suggest that they sort of occupy center stage for most of the film. After Lora has her brain invaded by the cold, menacing stare of Ghidorah and goes all stab happy on Mol, she and Belvera both wind up stuck inside Ghidorah’s Snack pod, destined to be munched up by a nigh impervious, three-headed hell dragon from space in the very near future. That shit ain’t good. Mol is, at this point, at her lowest, and isolated from her two sisters the same way that Shota is from his family, so the two of them happen upon one another and decide to join forces and summon Mothra to come save the day. This all sounds promising enough, but we’re coming up on a major hurdle that RoMIII doesn’t exactly clear, so heads up.
You see, other than some unforgivably bad CG, this movie has managed to to kick ass pretty reliably up until this point, but this is the moment where Rebirth of Mothra III really starts to push its luck. It kinda goes without saying that Mothra on his/her best day really is no match for Ghidorah, perhaps the most formidable of Godzilla’s scaley, giant rogues gallery, and understanding this to be true, Mol announces a plan to give Mothra an edge. This plan relies heavily upon…
The last, and only other time Toho has attempted to work time travel into one of their ‘Zilla-Verse films was the horrible, jaw-droppingly stupid Godzilla VS King Ghidorah, which was released seven years prior. Godzilla VS King Ghidorah made no sense whatsoever, it was an unmitigated disaster, a direct insult to human intelligence, and the single worst time travel film I have ever seen in my life. For Toho to be halfway home with the best instalment of a better than average trilogy and then to borrow so heavily from one of its worst fumbles of all time is a decision I can’t possibly wrap my mind around. Who thought this was a good idea? If I was reading this script my heart would have stopped the first time I saw “back in time” printed on a page. Oh, hell no, not again…
But here we are, with our second Toho film of the 1990’s to include both time travel and King Ghidorah. So… How does Rebirth of Mothra III compare to the epic fart in an elevator that was Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah?
Much, much better, thankfully, but that’s saying almost nothing. Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah suffered from a terminally convoluted plot and time travel that was excruciatingly nonsensical. In this movie, they handle the basic concepts involved with traveling through time much better (as in, the movie doesn’t seem like it was written by a six year old), but the story is still plagued by strange and embarrassing lapses in basic logic. Truth time: Toho should just stay the fuck away from time travel. No good has ever come of it, they just don’t seem to understand it, and they sure as shit don’t know how to use it in a story. I love that studio, and I make this statement out of a desire to see them do well, but so far, these attempts at time travel movies have been shameful detours into a world of madness and stupidity, and I just think enough is enough.
Anyway… Mothra goes back in time to throw down with a slightly younger Ghidorah, who is, at that time, munching down on some super dumb looking dinosaur hand puppets. The two monsters start to kick one another’s ass, and we periodically cut back to present day, where we see Ghidorah thrashing about in pain, basically the time travel equivalent of “Oh, I remember when that moth dude fought me back in the Cretaceous era, I’m really upset about that now!” Amongst all of this commotion, fire, death, destruction, and kidnapped, hysterical Japanese children, Belevera suddenly has her moment of clarity. Apparently, when she worked tirelessly toward a species wide genocide for all those countless centuries, she just wasn’t really thinking it through. Now that it looks like she managed to actually pull it off, Belvera starts get’s cold feet and opts to pull the plug on the whole deal.
This is a major emotional beat in the movie, and it’s what basically justifies the argument that Belvera is our main character. Now totally a good guy after all, Belvera does a historic flip flop back to Team Mothra, thereby uniting all of our principle cast against the menace of King Ghidorah, who currently getting his ass kicked millions of years ago by Mothra, but only just now is reacting to it, apparently.
Back in the Dino-Days, Mothra manages to toss Baby Ghidorah into a volcano, a means of monster disposal with a less than stellar success rate, but we still pretend that this was a victory and that Ghidorah is totally dead. The cost was high, however; critically injured in the showdown, Mothra crashes into the Earth, essentially down for the count. He/She/It is soon saved by the mercifull cocoons of some wiggley little Mothra Larvae who happen upon him/her, and there Mothra waits, cloaked in the nourishing embrace of caterpillar silk. until present day, when he can explode out of the Earth like a shiny, winged Jack-In-The-Box.
So, things seem all good with our happy little characters back in modern day Japan, but everyone is a little confused about how they even know who Ghidorah is if he had been killed millions of years ago. I count this as a major victory, because it illustrates a much more advanced understanding of what going back in time would actually do than was ever evident in the aforementioned Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah, which was, again, the ramblings of a simpleton made celluloid, and I totally am willing to dismiss the fact that if King Ghidorah was the thing that killed off all the dinosaurs, then killing him back in the Cretaceous period would therefore result in a future still dominated by giant lizards and humans probably wouldn’t exist. That’s, like, the kind of stuff Toho will learn about in school next year, but at least they’re progressing.
Suddenly, and in an abuse of common sense which is mild in serverity, a firey, volcano charged King Ghidorah suddenly appears in the center of a floating ball of flame, and all the kids get zapped right back into his alternate universe dragon cookie jar or whatever. “Oh, shit, what now?!” Everyone says. Just then, a mountainside gives way, revealing Mothra’s ancient cocoon, and it cracks open to reveal a new, shiny, super Mothra, which kicks Ghidorah’s ass. This final Mothra redesign feels lame and over the top to me. If the four winged Mothra from the last movie is X-Wing Mothra, this is basically Jason X Mothra. Anyway. So, super metal future Mothra kills Ghidorah, oh boy, happy ending.
From an early point it’s obvious that this was a movie with a lot more talent behind it than Rebirth of Mothra II was, and you can really feel the jump in quality just pouring out of the screen from the very start of the picture. Without question, we’ve left that regrettable middle child of a film in the dust, and that’s excellent news. As for wether or not this beats the first film in the trilogy; I think the jury is still out, but it’s close. The foray into time travel is a hard blow to overcome, it’s not a mortal wound exactly, we can cope, but this thing would have been King of Mothra mountain and now it really can’t make that claim. As for how the rest of the film holds up, many of the effects are pretty lousy, which is par for the course from Toho’s post Showa output, but it’s shot really well and the plot feels much more dramatic, which is excellent. The time travel thing really is RoMIII greatest flaw, but beyond that, it’s one of Toho’s better films out of the 1990’s, and it’s certainly better than many of Godzilla’s more recent adventures.
The themes we see in Rebirth of Mothra III are, much like the first film, themes of unity, and the reconciliation of the family. Our humans, the Sonoda family, are a refreshing departure from the Gotoh family (our characters in the first movie), because they’re not in the least bit fractured by emotional issues or inter-personal drama. This is a family who is close emotionally, and so they are instead separated physically, by a damn dragon. Regarding our other characters, we get a much closer look into the family drama facing the three Elias sisters than we have in the past, and the film is very much about the redemption of Belvera and the healing of whatever rift tore the three of them apart to begin with, which is interesting. Oddly enough, RoMIII is much less interested in exploring environmental ethics than it’s two predecessors, which is a curious switch up. Up till this point it seemed like this was Toho’s Eco-concious fable trilogy, but those ideas have been pushed way off into the background here, for whatever reason. I don’t miss them, honestly.
It’s pretty strong, all in all, but Rebirth of Mothra III suffers from it’s time travel gaffs and would have been better off without the over-complication. Still recommended!