Happy Mothra’s Day!

mothra-410-x-611How the fart have I not reviewed the original 1961 Mothra yet? I’m correcting the fuck out of that oversight in honor of “Mothra’s” Day last Sunday.  Mothra is easily Toho’s biggest mon-star other than Godzilla himself, and that’s got a ton to do with how awesome and original this movie is.

This isn’t just another big bug movie, it’s a groundbreaking genre film that brought wild fantasy and colorful adventure to the kaiju formula and put the monster’s motivation and personality front and center.

It’s alsobeautifully shot, well acted, tightly plotted, fun, funny piece of classic kaiju fiction with some eye-popping action setpieces and visuals.  I’ll talk about all that, plus the scrapped (heh) plane crash ending (and the suicide scare it caused!), the serialized novel the movie is based on (sort of???), the fact that it’s a stealth King Kong remix, and MOOOOORRRRE!!!

So before we dig in, let’s soak up some trailers! Here’s the English language version:

It (understandably) pimps the movie’s striking visuals, unusual story, and a lot of the best destruction scenes.  It also does the Godzilla vs. “The Thing” thing of hiding the creature’s final form.  It’s a fun gimmick that works a hell of a lot better with the monster’s debut movie.

The Japanese trailer cuts straight to the point, then spends some time with its human stars, showcases the best composite shots with the tiny ladies, and makes sure to get the Mothra song stuck in your head for the rest of the day:

The most interesting difference is that the JP trailer gives zero shits about building mystery around Mothra’s final form, and instead revels in all the glorious mayhem she causes as a big bad-ass murder butterfly.  I think both approaches are totally valid, and indicate studios/distributors that knew they had something special to sell here.

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Mothra’s the best.

Most of the classic Godzilla dream team worked on Mothra: Ishiro Honda directs, Eiji Tsuburaya works his black magic to summon actual kaiju, and super-scribe Shinichi Sekizawa got his start here (the upbeat and fantastical yet humanist tone is a dead giveaway)! The main figure missing is composer Akira Ifukube.  Yuji Koseki does a fine job in his place, delivering an appropriately monstery score augmented by goosebump-raising, bass-booming jungle chaos and of course, the biggest earworm (heh) in all of kaijudom:

THEM DRUMS THO.  Shit is thundering and primal in exactly the best way! Thanks to Wikipedia, you can sing along at home and know what it all means!

Mothra’s song
Malay Translation Japanese Translation
Mosura ya Mosura Mothra oh Mothra Mosura ya Mosura Mothra oh Mothra
Dongan kasakuyan indo muu With the Power of your Ancestor Tasukete yo te yobeba If we were to call for help
Rusuto uiraandoa, hanba hanbamuyan, randa banunradan Grant the prayer of your followers, Arise and Toki o koete, umi o koete, nami no yo ni Over time, over sea, like a wave
Tounjukanraa Show Yate kuru You’d come,
Kasaku yaanmu Your Power Mamorigami! Our guardian angel!

I love that it’s initially in Malay to make it feel foreign and mysterious to its original Japanese audience.  The music might even be the most telling indicator of King Kong’s influence, but I’ll dig into that as we go.

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The movie opens with Koseki’s epic score hammering away over dramatically-lit stone tablets and credits.  ’61 is relatively early in Toho’s monster oeuvre, so even though Mothra is largely unchanged in its translation, we still get some weirdness with said credits.  Check out Jerry Ito’s billing below:

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You know Peanut Butter Tanaka must have been pissed. OR: do you think the person writing the credits got confused/hungry because they saw “The Peanuts” listed up above?

The credits also do the weird thing of listing Ishiro Honda’s first name as “Inoshiro.” It’s not as hilarious as Jelly Ito up there, but it’s way more common.  Of course, these are pretty minor goofs that don’t take away from the momentum the movie has already built up as it throws us into its opening scenes.  We get some great miniature work as a ship is tossed around in a typhoon, quickly followed by rescuers searching for survivors. That’s pretty dramatic on its own, but they ratchet up the stakes a step further by letting us know the ship went down in a blasted-to-hell nuclear test area, which includes nearby Infant Island.  UH OH

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“Hey y’all, hope ya like radiation! Tee hee!”

Oddly, the dub calls Infant Island “Beiru Island.” English dubs of Toho movies have made slight changes to names in the past, usually to make monster names easier to pronounce and/or sound cooler to English-speaking ears ( Gojira to Godzilla and Radon to Rodan are the first that come to mind), but Beiru doesn’t sound any cooler or make any more sense than Infant. Case in point, the next three movies to feature Mothra call her home Infant Island, even in the English dubs.

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Anyway, the search party finds a handful of survivors marooned in Infant Island, and takes them back to a strangely-named nuclear science laboratory:

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I assume they study the section of the Venn Diagram where technobabble and Engrish overlap. 😉

The press is anxious to interview the survivors, and among this gaggle of paparazzi are two of our protagonists: reporter Zen’ichiro “Bulldog” Fukuda (Frankie Sakai) and photographer Michi Hanamura (Kyoko Kagawa).  They’re friendly but dogged (heh) journalists, and Bulldog in particular is super funny and charismatic.

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Starring 1960s Japanese Bobby Moynihan!

I chalk up their easy-going, natural charm to Sakai’s background as a comedian and Kagawa’s already long list of acting credits. She’d been in something like 50-60 movies prior to Mothra, and as of now has been in 188 films. Despite Bulldog’s goofy demeanor, Michi informs us he’s earned his nickname: once he gets hold of a story, he never lets it go.  Which makes me wonder if they meant to call him Pitbull?

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Nah, nope, Bulldog it is!

And we see BD’s instincts at work right away: after his intro as a disarmingly goofy goober, he’s able to get at the real meat of the survivors’ story.  BD notes that after being marooned in an “atomic graveyard” the survivors are lucky to be alive, let alone in such relative good condition.  BD (like us) wants to know how!

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“Also, why are you guys all wearing karate gis?  Did the radiation make you blackbelts?”

Their answer stirs up even more excited harrumphing: natives on the island made them drink a special juice.  Natives, on the radiation-death island. Naturally everybody gets all fired up about this, and since Infant Island is technically within their territory, that includes higher-ups in the totally real and certainly not made up country of Rolisica.

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In mother Rolisica, country makes up you!

As you may have guessed from the name alone, Rolisica is a curious mash-up of the USA and USSR (America+Russia=Rolisica).  It’s a cute way for the Japanese film to wag a finger at the two clashing Cold War super powers without getting in trouble with either.  I have to think it might have also been a clever way for the filmmakers to tell us that we aren’t so different from each other, but that’s ultimately not the meat of the movie.

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Mothra is this movie’s meat.  It’s a Mothra-meat movie, man.

The closest thing Bulldog and Michi have to a follow-up lead is respected linguist and anthropologist Dr. Shinichi Chujo, played by Toho regular Hiroshi Koizumi.  We’ve already seen Koizumi rocking a similar role in Mothra vs. Godzilla (a.k.a. Godzilla vs. The Thing) and he’s popped up as recently as 2003’s Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. reprising this same role!

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“Do you have any idea how fucking weird it is to be stalked by a telepathic bug-god for forty goddamn years?”

Koizumi’s more or less doing his usual “earnest, likable, do-gooder schlub” schtick here, but with a couple fun twists.  His first and strangest twist is that he refuses to get his picture taken.  Sure he’s probably just an introvert, but what if his studies led him to tribes that believe getting your picture taken steals your soul?  And sure as a modern, rational scientist he knows that’s all superstitious nonsense, but on some deep-ass, gut level it rang true to an ancient, forgotten part of his brain, and now just in case he’s like “Yeah no pictures, pal.”

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Or maybe he’s half-Sasquatch! A Half-squatch! One that reads newspapers.

This scene does a great job of introducing the standoffish doctor, and gives Sakai a chance to flex his physical comedy muscles. Chujo’s kid’s pet mouse spooks Michi, and Bulldog helpfully volunteers to catch it.  Just like in the opening moments of The Iron Giant, comedy chaos ensues when a rodent decides to try on our hero’s clothes while he’s still in them:

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It’s a solid laugh and Bulldog’s killer instincts turn it into another opportunity.  “Oh yes haha I am the lovable, non-threatening goofball that you can and should tell all your secrets to.”  It works like a charm! Chujo loosens up with our heroes, and lets them know he’s been recruited for a top-secret expedition to Infant Island.  There are some big red flags though: some slimy asshole named Nelson (Jelly Jerry Ito) is running the expedition, and Nelson strictly forbids the press from reporting on it in any way.

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“And then I says, ‘the press is not allowed,’ and they all went along with it!”

Of course, Nelson didn’t count on a certain Bowldahg Bulldog catching wind of his sketchy bullshit! BD and Michi conspire after Nelson’s conference, and a mysteriously familiar janitor appears in Nelson’s cabin:

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Like any rational person with nothing to hide, Nelson’s first instinct when encountering unexpected custodial staff is to pull a fucking gun.

Ito and Sakai have some fun playing off each other here.  BD tries and fails to bullshit his way out of trouble, only to be saved at the last possible second by Chujo.  Chujo’s all steamed up because Nelson put an embargo on any data they collect during their trip. Really Chujo’s just here to tell Nelson to kiss his butt, and it’s a lucky coincidence/bonus that he gets to bail out Bulldog too.

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“Next time don’t just use a dry paper towel!”

When the ship even gets close to the island, everybody onboard has to suit up with full haz-mat gear.  Bulldog essentially gets grandfathered into the expedition, with the stipulation that he can’t go blabbin’ his gabbers back to the paper he works for.  Since the alternative is getting thrown into the brig, he agrees to play along.

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Which he probably regretted a few minutes into their sweaty march through a charbroiled atomic graveyard.

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At first, Infant Island is exactly the kind of rocky, scorched, nuclear hellscape that we saw earlier.  Wherever they shot this, it’s a perfect location: it’s barren and harsh without being visually boring or ugly.  As striking as this location is, it gives way to something even striking…er!

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Wuh-huh?! We get a horror-movie style musical sting to punctuate the shock and everything. It’s a beautiful sight to behold, but that doesn’t change the fact that it simply should not be.  The rarely-used part of my brain that spots plotholes woke up just long enough to point out that the search chopper at the beginning of the film probably should have seen and communicated about this, but the entire rest of me likes movies and imagination and being swept up in fantasy and responded thusly:

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For real though, I have no issue giving fantasy stories a pass on the occasional continuity goof (especially since this is the only one I noticed in Mothra).  In a weird way it actually fits with this being a King Kong remix: that chopper didn’t spot the lush, sprawling forest in the middle of a nuked-to-death hellhole just like King Kong could scale the tallest building in the world, but not a fifty foot wall.

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Big ups to friend of the blog Ted Johnson for blowing my mind with that logic bomb in my Kong: Skull Island review.

Of course they hustle into the jungle, excited to take readings and examine samples and do all the things that cool nerds do when exposed to the unknown.  Bulldog gets another great, surprisingly deadpan physical comedy moment with Nelson while Chujo wanders off and gets into trouble.  Science trouble.

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Oh sure everything’s groovy in the Alice in Wonderland mutant fungus cave…

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But shit gets dicey…

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…when Chujo stumbles onto…

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…the vines…

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…that watched Evil Dead.

I’ve seen a lot of killer vines in my day (just talked about some in Ultraman!), and these are pretty solid! They’re animated convincingly, and I love the eerie violet light they have.  The jungles of Infant Island are one of my favorite kaijuified locales, and it’s mostly because of Chujo’s ill-advised escapades here.  Just as he’s about to pass out, he glimpses some even crazier bullshit:

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“What is in these vines and how do I smoke it later?”

Luckily for the Chujster, the haz-mat suits are all outfitted with panic buttons that trigger a loud alarm.  Chujo manages to hit his before passing out from vine-suffocation and too-much-weird-bullshit-in-one-dayitis, and the rest of the expedition quickly find him prone but unharmed.

When Chujo wakes up back on the boat, he tells everybody about everything, even the tiny women.  And since he’s respected scientist Chujo (and not say, intrusive reporter Bulldog), everyone more or less believes him, and they are way stoked to go back to the island again the next day.

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Some for shittier reasons than others.

Chujo has the bright idea of using his distress signal to lure out the tiny ladies.  They’re generally referred to as Shobijin (meaning “small beauties”), a term Bulldog off-handedly coined.  They’re also referred to as fairies in this film, and later movies call them “Cosmos” and “Elias” too. Those are all fine enough, but for some reason “tiny ladies” always felt the most accurate for me personally.

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They are very fancy and very small.  Not “little broads” or “short gals,” they are tiny ladies.

Chujo’s plan works! The little broads tiny ladies come out of the woodwork to the astonishment of all:

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Chujo’s able to understand their obscure dialect, and reveals that they’re asking our guys to leave their peaceful island alone and secret.  Surely a bunch of reasonable, level-headed scientists would hear a plea like that and–

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The guy literally says “All right baby, come to papa,” when he manhandles them.

FUCK YOU NELSON YOU DIRT-ASS TURD-BABY.  Nelson’s been a douche all movie long, but this removes any question that he’s complete shit.  Of course without his greasy ass we don’t have a movie, so really he’s a perfectly hateable villain.  He’s not as delightfully, entertainingly evil as the pair of shyster shitheads in Mothra vs. Godzilla, but he’s pretty damn close.

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“Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

The visual effects for the actual lady-grab are a mixed bag.  In the screencap above you can see the blue outline on the ladies’ arms and hands: the composite is ambitious but Toho’s tech at the time wasn’t quite up to the challenge.  Other composite shots are nearly seamless in comparison: the quality of the composite seems to mostly depend on what the ladies are in front of (static sets typically work well, but human-sized co-stars cause problems).  Dolls are used occasionally as well, with their own unique pros and cons.  Doll shots give our normal-sized human actors real physical props to act and interact with and look decent enough in partially obscured/split-second shots, but whenever the camera lingers on them too long the illusion falls apart.

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“If it was good enough for Mothra, it’s good enough for us!” –Clint Eastwood probably

Infant Islanders suddenly and eerily appear from the shadows, staring hard at our Japanese interlopers and ominously beating hand-drums.

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The primitive natives are played by Japanese people painted brown, because 60s monster movies insist on including the occasional racial/ethical quagmire.

Nelson of course pulls a gun because he’s a dickhead, but the scientists convince Nelson to drop the gun and let the ladies go.  Seeing this sign of good faith, the natives back off instantly because they’re like a hundred times cooler than turbo-douche Nelson.  The tiny ladies are surprisingly chill about the whole thing too.  The expedition ends, and Chujo and Bulldog try to make sense of it all once they’re back home.  Bulldog shares the (conspicuous lack of) information he was able to dig up on Nelson, and Chujo shows off the rad text he was able to copy down in the Alice in Wonderland cave.

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“It says, ‘For a good time, call Battra.'”

Go nerds! Guess what Nelson’s doing while you dorks compare research notes?

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Did you guess “Something shitty”?

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If you did…

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… congrats on being right! Nelson’s a soulless cock-knocker.

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But he’s a soulless cock-knocker with a knack for show biz!

Yep, Nelson, like King Kong’s Carl Denham, sees a priceless scientific discovery, steals it by force, and decides the best use for it is a tacky-ass live show.

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That said, people are lined up around the block for the show, and lose their goddamn minds when the little carriage floats down to the stage:

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Plenty of Kong parallels here, right down to the actual details of the show. Gaudy fake natives dance around to fake native music, but instead of a huge chained-up, sedated monster, the audience is treated to two tiny depressed ladies singing.

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You catch glimpses of the backup dancers through set decorations, and the composite is crazy-good.

The tiny ladies are played by the Peanuts, who were a singing duo back in the day that had nothing to do with Snoopy.  Twins Emi and Yumi Itō were a big hit in Japan and even had some exposure in the U.S.. Despite this being their film debut, they do a great job: Ishiro Honda has gone on record that they were extremely professional and picked up acting quickly. It doesn’t hurt that they’re also objectively lovely and adorable. The Peanuts reprised their roles in Mothra vs. Godzilla and Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster, where they continued to do a bang-up job, especially compared to the actresses that would attempt to take over the roles in later movies.

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The post-Peanuts actresses just don’t measure up. Because the Shobijin are short, you see.

But little does Nelson or his audience know that that catchy, pretty song isn’t just a song!  It’s also a FUCKING TELEPATHIC PRAYER TO THEIR INVINCIBLE MONSTER GOD MOTHRA.  FUCK YEAH!

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Thousands of miles away, the Infant Islanders are singing the song at the exact same time.

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Their version is a lot more intense: hammering drums, thunder and lightning crashing down from the sky.  You know, the kind of headbanger shit Mothras listen to.

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ROCK’N’ROLLLLLL

After the show our heroes barge into Nelson’s office to tell him to quit being a butthole and let them talk to the tiny ladies.  He “graciously” gives them exactly three minutes with them, and takes away Michi’s camera before letting them in.

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Good thing Michi’s a fucking gangster and snuck in her little James Bond spy-cam! 😉

It turns out the tiny ladies understand our heroes just fine… through telepathy!  Our heroes apologize for Nelson enslaving them and explain that they’re trying to find a way to free them and get them home.  The tiny ladies thank our heroes and appreciate the effort, but ominously imply that they’re wasting their time: Mothra will take them home soon enough, and the tiny ladies are bummed that “All you good ones are sure to be hurt.”

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Prophecies of inevitable doom don’t go down any smoother if you’re super sweet when you deliver it.  “Tee hee, sorry you guys are bone-zoned!” Really just makes it creepier.

Our heroes don’t really love this development, but Nelson’s goons shuffle them out before they can really do anything else.  Guess what’s happening on Infant Island right about now?

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oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit

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YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA BABY POWER

Reports start streaming in about some kind of huge weird object moving towards Japan in the South Pacific, Nelson’s threatening to sue the paper Bulldog and Michi work for and dismissing the tiny ladies’ Mothra story as bullshit, and all the while the tiny ladies are bringing Mothra closer and closer to Japan with their mournful song.  Everything in the plot is coming together and is just about to tip over into full monster madness.  It’s funny how like, the first half of the movie is really all about the tiny ladies, and that story is absolutely compelling enough to carry the film up to this point.

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The movie illustrates the stories coming together with a really stylish and eerie crossfade of the tiny ladies carriage “leading” Mothra across the sea.

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It’s accompanied by a way spookier remix of the Mothra song.

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And this film definitely has Larva Mothra looking her best, strangest, and scariest.  That lighting makes her look supernatural and fucking creepy.

Wanna guess how many shits Mothra gives about anything that comes between her and her tiny ladies?

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I’m sorry “0 shits” is actually incorrect.  Mothra has done the impossible and found a way to give a negative amount of shits. R.I.P in pieces, boat guys!

With things getting, uh, not very chill, Nelson holds a hasty press conference where he desperately tries to convince everyone that there’s totally no connection between the tiny magical women he’s enslaved and the gigantic, sentient murder-log barreling toward their exact location.  BD and the Chooj decide to bail and go straight to the tiny ladies.  BD buys Chujo time by getting into a genre-standard awkward scuffle-fight with Nelson’s goons.

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With Sakai leading the scene, Mothra can at least claim it as an attempt at physical comedy, but you can’t say the same for every other Showa-era kaiju movie with a human fight. Was hand-to-hand combat choreography just not that great across the board before kung fu movies got big?

Chujo uses this brief opening to ask the girls to stop Mothra, but they sadly admit they can’t.  Desperate for a solution, Chujo gets in touch with one of his colleagues who might have found a way to block the tiny ladies’ telepathic communication.

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“I let a fruit roll-up get like, super-stale.”

He’s invented a special material that can block a variety of frequencies, including the ladies’ telepathic brain waves.  They’ll construct a little anti-brain wave box for Nelson to put the tiny ladies in, and then Mothra won’t be drawn to them!  Bing bang boom, movie over, we did it!

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Oh.

Nelson’s gotten the backing of the Roliscan government, who fly jets over and bomb the piss out of Mothra.  Mothra goes down without a trace, so Nelson is convinced Mothra’s dead, deems the brain-box is unnecessary, and is right back to thinking he’s King Shit.

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And I mean, he is, just not in the way he thinks. Also, check out homie in the back just chilling with a fucking sniper rifle.

But the movie’s called Mothra, not Nelson dammit! Mothra spectacularly reemerges by Kool-Aid Manning through a dam, forcing Nelson to cancel his crappy little show, and giving Bulldog the opportunity for a great hero moment:

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Just to be clear, there is a baby in this basket, and not just like, somebody’s picnic lunch.

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But I mean, who knows? There could be some sandwiches in there too. If there are, I hope they gave Bulldog one.

It’s a great little scene because it heralds Mothra’s cataclysmic entrance into our world with some terrific miniature effects and intertwines the story of our human characters directly with our monster.  I love shit like that.  I also think Gamera: Guardian of the Universe homaged this with its own perilous bridge-baby rescue.

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Though that movie was more into lethal amounts of fire than water.

The Rolisican government (wisely) drops Nelson like the sack of turds he is and orders him to release the tiny ladies.  Our heroes want to see Nelson eat crow and free the ladies in person, but when they get to his office, he and his thugs are long gone, tiny ladies in tow.

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Hmmmm. I’m starting to think that maybe these guys aren’t very trustworthy or honorable. It’s almost like they don’t have the general public’s best interest at heart. Weird.

It’s gonna take Nelson and co. a while to get anywhere though, because Mothra’s getting close!

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When I think of Mothra, I usually think of the pretty, fuzzy, colorful adult, but they have a lot of fun with her larval murder-turd (turder? turderer?) form in this movie.  She’s so long and so low to the ground, she’s like a huge living freight train that’s just decided to hop off the rails and start trashing shit.

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According to IMDB, Godzilla himself (Haruo Nakajima) operated her head, while suit actor Katsumi Tezuka operated her neck. Wikipedia says a total of SIX(!?!?!) dudes were inside the larva puppet.

The small town showdown is a quick setpiece, but it looks great.  The score here caught me by surprise: it kind of sounds like the main theme from Young Frankenstein.  Of course that’s a total coincidence since YF came out over ten years later, and I doubt John Morris was like “let’s randomly homage Mothra in our tribute/spoof of classic Frankenstein movies,” but the emotional impact is the same: we’re witnessing a monstrous creature on the rampage, but it’s not evil.  More like misunderstood.  Maybe even kind of sad.

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Doesn’t make it any less unnerving though!

The Tokyo evacuation scenes are good and chaotic/frantic, and Mothra barreling down darkened streets with her glowing eyes is surprisingly freaky.  Tank squads are deployed, and we get a lot of fun monster vs. military action as Mothra makes a beeline for Tokyo Tower.

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Missile tanks, as usual, look totally bitchin’.

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Regular tanks also look bitchin’, but the goofy little mini-men sticking out the top are kind of mood-killers.

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The jeep-mounted missile launchers jolt forward satisfyingly with every launch, but are covered with mini-men. I love the ambitiousness, but the execution falls a little short.

Mothra King Kongs her way up the tower, but the missiles insist on cock-blocking (clam-jamming?) her awesome ascent:

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I can’t help but feel bad for poor sweet giant beeb when she bonks down on her back like a helpless derp.

So if this is a stealth King Kong remix, that means we’re done, right? (Two tiny) beauty(s) killed the beast, end of story?  HELL NO!  This is where the story splits off with its own new twist, building towards a happy ending for our mon-star.  Mothra has a couple more big surprises up her sleeve which make for some truly iconic, genre-defining moments.  Surprise #1: GOO-SHOOTING!

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😉

She takes out a helicopter with her weaponized spooge silk!

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“Jesus I guess just let her climb the thing next time guys.”

Surprise #2: She uses her goo to spin an enormous peanut-shaped cocoon!

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It’s an awesomely surreal visual and a totally inspired left turn for the story to take.  King Kong, Godzilla, and even the egg-hatching parent-monsters of Rodan never did anything this bizarre.  50+ years later and with Mothra now an established pop culture icon her cocooning up isn’t exactly a shocking twist, but I bet it was pretty damn surprising in ’61.

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And Gamera: Guardian of the Universe homaged it very effectively with Gyaos’ roosting.

Rolisica responds by sending over some bleeding-edge weapons tech: the monstrous, truck-mounted atomic heat guns:

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They are huge and bad-ass, but also depicted as ghastly engines of war.  They’re also a neat evolution of the more stationary superweapons from previous Toho sci-fi films, paving the way for the famous Maser Cannons of later movies.

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From the markalite guns from 1957’s The Mysterians…

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To the Maser Cannons of 1966’s War of the Gargantuas

Everybody has to put on dope BluBlockers to watch the atomic heat guns do their thang. It’s a small detail that really drives home the “ghastly engines of war” feeling.

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Sometimes the imagery looks straight out of actual atomic bomb test footage.

It looks pretty lethal, but Mothra’s got one more surprise for us!

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AWWWWWWW

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AWWWWWWWWWWWWW

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AWWWWWWWW SHIT!

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AW SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT

After all the fucking crap Mothra and her tiny ladies have had to put up with over the course of our story, seeing her big fuzzy final form burst out of the cocoon and effortlessly wreak havoc on every douche and schmuck in a ten-block radius is triumphant and satisfying as hell.  She literally blows the army away with every flap of her wings, and instinctively flies to her tiny ladies being held captive by Nelson in Rolisica. Our heroes quickly and easily book an intercontinental flight during an international crisis, because the world was a very different place before 9/11.

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Further evidenced by the fact that this is supposed to be the interior of an airplane, and not a luxurious night club.

Mothra beats our heroes to the Rolisican capital(?)… New Kirk City.

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I see what you did there.

New Kirk City of course is modeled after NYC, but it also has kind of a San Francisco-y vibe to it, largely due to the presence of a Golden Beige Gate Bridge.  Radio news outlets are blasting bulletins about how Nelson is holding the tiny ladies hostage, so in the middle of a kaiju attack, Nelson and his little shit-head friends try to make a hasty escape while actual angry mobs hunt for them. We know from earlier experience that Nelson will pull a gun when he so much as gets surprised by a maid, so let’s see how smoothly he deals with this.

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Oh, huh.  Weird.

When the mob stops his car, Nelson (rather tellingly) has flashbacks to the stern, disapproving faces of the Infant Island natives, flips a shit, and fucking smokes a cop.  Unsurprisingly, the cops blow the shit out of Nelson, retrieve the tiny ladies, and coolly enough confer with our heroes (deemed the closest anyone can get to being “Mothra experts” at this point) when they arrive on the scene.

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He’s in Hell now, ripping off devils.

So now everything’s okay, right?  …Right?

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Oh…

CHAOS1

Oh no…

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…. oh.

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Hey Mothra you ever hear that you catch more flies with honey than mass murder?

Mothra is still super duper pissed off: just popping the tiny ladies out of the brain box would bring her apocalyptic fury right down on their heads, so our heroes gotta cook up some way to cool her down bringing her in.  Mothra’s rampage is a ton of fun to watch, if a little uneven compared to her earlier action scenes.  Specifically, the shots of cars getting whipped around while the neighboring buildings stand undamaged take some of the ooomph out of this sequence. Even though some of the shots don’t hit as hard as others, a sobering news update brings it all together and makes it real. Simply:

Thousands dead, New Kirk City in ruins.

Fucking yikes.  I like it as a way to build pressure for our heroes to come through, but if you think about it too much it sours the movie’s ending and is kind of antithetical to the movie’s intended overall tone.  So let’s not think about it too much! With things looking their worst, our heroes look to the heavens for inspiration.

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Heavens, get it?

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You know, because it’s in the sky, but also because God-stuff? IT’S A GOOD JOKE LEAVE ME ALONE

Chujo makes the connection! The cross with the light of the sun blazing behind it reminds him of the Mothra rune he discovered on Infant Island.  It’s kind of a stretch, but they’re both powerful symbols of faith and spiritual love, so I’m onboard.  When Michi helpfully adds that the church bells sound like the tiny ladies singing… I don’t quite buy that connection, but the end result plays really well together, especially when you consider that Tsuburaya himself was Catholic. I have to think that Christian iconography saving the day in Mothra is also part of why we see it crop up in things like Ultraman and Neon Genesis Evangelion too.

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Though I’ve read (at least in the case of Evangelion) it’s also because Christianity seems arcane and vaguely spooky to Japanese viewers.

With the help of the local militia (must be a Rolisican thing? ;)) Chujo gets a huge Mothra rune painted on the nearest airstrip, and church bells all across the city are rung at 3PM exactly.

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All the pilots are going to be super confused tomorrow though.

It works! Mothra finishes butt-fucking the Beige Gate Bridge, lands on the airstrip, and is immediately visibly calmer.

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That is a surprisingly emotive giant butterfly puppet.

Our heroes deliver the tiny ladies, and everybody’s (miraculously) just pleased as punch! With Mothra and the tiny ladies back together and on good terms with humanity, they leave for their faraway island home, and they all live happily ever after!  Except Michi, who might get fired for forgetting to take any pictures of their close encounter with a telepathic insect monster-god.

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“Bye bye!  It was so nice meeting you!  Never let this happen again, you dizzy dildos!”

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So that’s Mothra!  It rules! It’s so damn watchable that I found myself forgetting to jot down notes.  It’s not perfect, but it tells such a fresh, ambitious, and wonderful monster story that it’s a pleasure to overlook a couple goofs and shaky effects shots.   It’s funny, scary, kaiju fantasy: a trailblazer for the whole damn genre and a treasure of a monster film.  So how about that deleted ending?!

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YUP, there is one, and they even shot some of it!  Originally Nelson and his henchmen were going to kidnap Chujo’s son Shinji and fly out of Japan on Nelson’s private plane. The plane crashes in the mountains in Kyushu, Japan, our heroes track down the crash site, and Shinji releases the tiny ladies from the brain box, drawing Mothra to their location and blowing Nelson off a mountain with a flap of her wings. According to Honda himself, falling off a mountain alone wasn’t good enough, so Nelson was going to tumble “to his death deep into a volcanic crater.”

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I joked about it in a caption up above, but it would’ve been dope to see Nelson fall into (the real world equivalent to) a fucking lake of fire.

The deleted ending caused a suicide scare because they actually launched a full-sized human dummy off a cliff, and just kinda left it on a mountainside after the shoot.  Honda explains:

After a few days, it was spotted by a group of climbers, who took it as a suicide and contacted the local authorities. Causing quite the uproar, the police immediately formed a rescue party, and scaled down the treacherous precipice only to discover it was just a dummy. Needless to say we were soundly scolded. Despite the hardship in shooting the footage, none of the film was ever developed.

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If Ultraman is any indication, Nelson’s tumble down a mountain might have looked like this.  Which is to say, hilarious and awesome.

It’s still crazy to me that Mothra is based on a book.  Specifically a serialized novel called “The Luminous Fairies and Mothra” written by Takehiko Fukunaga, Shinichiro Nakamura, and Yoshie Hotta.  The biggest differences between the novel and the movie seem to be regarding the tiny ladies: in the novel they’re called “Airenas” instead of Shobijin, and there’s a whole race of them living alongside Mothra.  These are the first things screenwriter Sekizawa changed, though they would become five “Pichi Fairies” before streamlining down to the two Shobijin we know and love.

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Another concept they (wisely) abandoned was making Larva Mothra super fucking gross

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nope nope nope nope nope nope

I said Mothra was sort of based on a book in the intro because this strikes me as a chicken-egg moth-cocoon scenario.  When discussing the creation of Mothra, Honda is quoted as saying: “We asked three young novelists to create the original story…”  The Luminous Fairies and Mothra was pretty clearly designed from the get-go as a way to develop and market the movie, rather than as a stand-alone work of fiction that Toho later adapted.  Seems like a pretty genius way to do it, and I guess that’s why Hollywood loves adapting books and comics and video games and TV shows and toys and

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( ͡°Ĺ̯ ͡° )

Hooo boy this review got long.  But Mothra’s a star so she deserves it! Mothra brought fantasy to the genre and personality to its monsters, and became an iconic frenemy in the Godzilla pantheon.  Mothra is a terrific stand-alone monster, but might be even better as the gentle, maternal (but no less mighty!) foil to the furious, nuke-breathing King of the Monsters.  Mothra’s one of Godzilla’s most frequent co-stars, the only kaiju to defeat him more than once (she’s clocked three wins!), and such a big box office draw that she get her own spin-off trilogy after being absorbed into the Godzilla franchise.  If Godzilla’s King of the Monsters, there’s no doubt in my mind that Mothra is Queen. Long live the Queen!

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11 thoughts on “Happy Mothra’s Day!

  1. “Mothra” isn’t Shinichi Sekizawa’s first monster script. That would be “Giant Monster Varan” back in 1958 and he’d been writing off and on up to “Mothra”.

    “Inoshiro” is a perfectly valid translation of the characters in Honda’s name. What it boils down to is “Ishiro” is what he preferred to be called. It’s like the Dick/Richard/Rick thing here.

    Do they actually refer to “Infant Island” in “Godzilla vs. the Thing”? I coulda sworn they just called it “Mothra Island” in the dub.

    It cracks me up whenever Torohata and Kumayama show up in your reviews, but this time, it was the greatest intrusion of all. Sahara’s expression and that line; brilliance.

    I’m not exactly sure how Toho’s natives are racist. This seems to pop up a lot lately. People think they’re trying to make black islanders, is that it? Islanders in the Pacific are by and large Polynesian… Asian. The darker makeup is because these people have the sun blistering down on them all day so their skin isn’t as light as Japanese would be.

    I never noticed that guy with the sniper rifle before… and I just worked extensively on this movie to create a blu-ray of the U.S. version! Good lord… !

    I think Shoichi Hirose was inside the Mothra Chinese Dragon Suit-Thingy as well. If you look very carefully once Mothra’s in Tokyo, you can see their cute feet marching along the ground under the Mothra Chinese Dragon Suit-Thingy.

    Your gag about the Pan Am Jet not being a nightclub is more right than you may know; have you ever seen coach-class airplane from the 60s or 70s? They’re nice, extravagant things! You’d think it was the first-class of today. Plane travel got worse and worse ever since.

    You know how you were commenting on all the destruction Mothra causes near the end of the movie? There’s a great throw-away line in the Japanese dialogue of “Mothra vs. Godzilla” where the heroes inform worried policemen that the Shobijin have assured them something like “Mothra will try to cause as little damage as possible.” Maybe they should’ve just let Godzilla sink into the sea instead of turning him back into Japan with their damned Frontier Missiles? Yeesh. Of course you’re not supposed to think of any of that because… the 10-year-olds.

    The whole Nelson-mountain ending was scrapped when Columbia gave Toho some extra money, so they put together the whole Newkirk City ending we have now. Thanks, Columbia!

    Have you ever seen Toho’s laserdisc release for the 1996 Mothra? The title says in English– I kid you not– “Mothra, the Queen of Monsters.” Behold!

    https://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/kpgcm339/61984625.html

    Thank you kindly for the shout-out! 😀

    • Great stuff Ted, thanks for dropping in!

      I actually sat here and typed and thought and typed and thought for a long time regarding the natives. I think I can boil my weird feelings about them down to a couple points. (These thoughts apply to pretty much all Showa-era natives in kaiju movies)

      1. Why not just hire actual Polynesian actors? Would it really have broken the bank? Maybe it would have! It’s easy to forget that Japanese studios don’t have Hollywood’s bottomless budgets and endless talent pools to pull from.

      2. As an American viewer, skin darkening or race changing makeup will always remind me of either: truly foul, racist shit from our history, OR tone-deaf dumbshittery from old school Hollywood. This happens independent of context or intent, is purely a personal hangup, and might seem ridiculous (“the innocuous thing reminds me of the bad thing, derp!”), but it is (usually briefly) off-putting for me.

      On a more fun note, tell me more about this blu-ray you’re working on!

      I’ll have to keep an eye out for the actors’ feet next time I watch this! I gotta say, I prefer the suit over the motorized prop they use in later movies. I do love the speed and mobility of the hand puppets they use later, but they don’t have that epic mass to them that the suit does.

      I love whenever the Shobijin try to cover for Mothra. “She’s not killing everyone on purpose! She just… can’t help it? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯” Mothra may be the sweetest and gentlest of the giant monsters, but she’s still, you know, a giant monster!

  2. As I was typing last time, I thought to myself, “Are there any Polynesian actors? Today, let alone 1961?” This was just easier to do so they did it (and the Japanese wouldn’t give a damn anyway). And therein lies the thing– you’re applying stupid shit Americans did to Toho, a Japanese studio completely divorced from such nonsense. Toho has their own stupid shit to worry about.

    I found an HD master of the U.S. version of Mothra, so I snatched it up, brightened up the image (Sony’s masters are far too dark), degreened it, threw in some trailers, an 8mm short, and a closed captions track and made a blu-ray out of it. I doubt you’ll see it from Sony any time soon.

    I dunno… I’d say Minya is probably sweeter and gentler than Mothra. Although, M-money did ice King Ghidorah with a smoke ring, so…

    • Let us never, EVER forget that Minya earned his filled-in teardrop prison tattoo by fucking murdering Ghidorah.

      I’d love to see that cut of Mothra! I really like the color depth on my Icons of Sci-Fi Toho Collection DVD, but I’m always up for the closest thing to the original theatrical release!

  3. Pingback: Haruo Nakajima, 1929-2017 | MONSTERS CONQUER THE WORLD

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