First and foremost, Black Lives Matter, Arrest the Cops that Murdered Breonna Taylor, Defund the Police. Furthermore, Trans Rights, Love is Love, No Human is Illegal. Also, wear a mask, wash your hands, and social distance–it doesn’t matter if you’re not at risk for COVID-19, doing those things will save the folks that are.
So uh, everybody having an extremely cool, normal time here in the year or our lord two-thousand and twenty? I’ve been struggling (and failing) to get back on the monthly review train, and living in the middle of a hell shit nightmare garbage world isn’t really helping. BUT some slick new hardware (my very own first ever laptop!) should help me turn that around going forward!
But let’s not dwell on the fact that every time you make the grave error of accidentally paying attention to the news it’s a firehose spraying four hundred quadrillion gallons of boiling hot diarrhea directly into your open eyes, nose and mouth. How? BY REVIEWING A GOOFY-ASS, FEEL-GOOD, KID-FRIENDLY, VERY 90s MONSTER MOVIE MY FRIENDS.
I’m finally digging into the Rebirth of Mothra (or just Mothra in Japan) trilogy here on MONSTERS CONQUER THE WORLD! Reasonably enough I’m starting with the first entry in the trilogy, 1996’s Rebirth of Mothra. I’ve seen all three entries, but it’s been at least 10 years now (probably closer to 15?). Something about these left a… not-awesome taste in my mouth. The taste was so not-awesome that I knew I’d really need to work up some chutzpah to revisit and write at length about these films.
EXCEPT THAT SHIT ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT APPLY TO THE FIRST MOVIE. What happened? Did I change? Did the movie change? Is some other movie to blame for this trilogy’s dookie-riffic reputation (HMMM?)? Can Mothra save us from the relentless dogshit hell nightmare reality of 2020? Read on and find out!
Here, get a gander at the trailer!
It’s one of those classic “give away the whole movie” trailers, but being over two minutes long, how could it not?! Plus as a classic good vs. evil fairy tale, there aren’t exactly huge plot twists to give away…. with one exception. SPOILER ALERT FOR A CHILDREN’S BUG MOVIE THAT CAME OUT 175 YEARS AGO, DON’T READ ON IF YOU CARE ABOUT THAT
The trailer is in Japanese (since the film wasn’t released theatrically outside of Japan) but I gotta wonder–do they reveal that Mothra Classic croaks and that Leo steps up to take her place? If you’re fluent, lemme know! Speaking of the trailer, how about that cool-ass, sexy 90s take on the Mothra theme?
Never expected to hear the Shobijin channel their inner Sade but I’m FUCKING GLAD THEY DID.
The score is fittingly airy and ethereal but also doesn’t shy away from the classic kaiju bombast we know and love. It’s solid all around, but it really stands out when it’s capturing how outmatched the Mothras are by Desghidorah and when its conjuring up the awe, wonder and mystery of nature and life itself. Everything else might top out at adequate, but every time we delve into underdogs doing their very best and healing the natural world the score packs a substantial emotional wallop. Respect.
OH MY GOD BABY MOTHRA LEO I BELIEVE IN YOU
Composer Toshiyuki Watanabe is prolific, but I’ve only heard his work in this and its two sequels. More exciting than his numerous anime composing credits (to me at least) is the fact that he apparently had an uncredited cameo in 1967’s The X From Outer Space.
The other brains behind the camera include director Okihiro Yoneda. Prior to Rebirth, Yoneda was second unit director on the Kurosawa flicks Ran and Dreams, and 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. More relevant to this review, he later helmed Rebirth of Mothra III. Masumi Suetani penned the screenplay and went on to write both sequels.
Rebirth has a couple of Toho heavy hitters on the creative staff too! Veteran Toho visual effects director Koichi Kawakita (Sayonara Jupiter, GunHed, Godzilla vs. Biollante just to name a few!) is working his magic on the silver screen for the second-to-last time. Rebirth is also the final outing for Godzilla series super producer Tomoyuki Tanaka (Gojira, Rodan, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Yojimbo and a shitzillion others!). With a mix of fresh faces and experienced old hands behind the camera, let’s see what they cooked up!
As you might have guessed from the screengrabs I’ve used so far, Rebirth wisely gives us a nice big phat dose of Mothra right from the jump. It’s just her hanging out in her beautiful lair, but we’re here for some goddamn Mothra so we’re gettin’ some goddamn Mothra! It’s really just an appetizer though, the real story starts in a lush forest beset by rival logging companies, environmental protestors and… something else…
This is also where we met the Goto family patriarch, Yuichi (played by Kenjiro Nashimoto). In classic 90s family movie fashion, Yuichi is an overworked middle-manager that just can’t get enough time away from work to spend with his wife and kids. He’s busting ass before his guys unearth a huge ominous stone shrine, so naturally shit gets even more hectic when they dig it up.
He’s also apparently never seen a single horror movie ever, because when he finds a weird little medallion covered with inscrutable, arcane symbols he pries it loose from the big eldritch shrine and pockets it.
Of course, movie characters don’t know they’re in movies, so there’s no reason to expect them to be aware of genre tropes. This ain’t Scream and dad ain’t Deadpool, so joking aside, I’m extremely glad there’s no winking at the camera self-aware gags. I love ’em when they’re done well, but they’re often… not. MOTHRA IS SINCERE AND GENUINE, DAMN IT. Anyway we meet the rest of the Goto clan. They’re pretty shitty!
I’m not letting Papa Goto off the hook either though–when he finally does come home, he stumbles in late and tipsy, tired and annoyed. The two kids (sister Wakaba played by Maya Fujisawa and brother Taiki played by Kazuki Futami) spend their time fighting, and so do Dad and Mom (Makiko, played by Hitomi Takahashi. Of note to genre fans, she was also in the movie Ultraman Cosmos: The First Contact!). Dad tries to make up for not being around enough by giving Wakaba the rune-covered medallion as a gift.
He also gives Taiki a book bound in human flesh, its pages inked in blood. But while the Gotos are bickering and that not-at-all evil woman is vamping her fanny off, our last two humanoid leads enter the picture!
Mothra’s tiny ladies, the Shobijin! Err…. the Elias, according to the Rebirth canon. Giving them a new name actually makes a lot of sense–like the Shobijin, they’re teeny women that serve as heralds for Mothra, but that’s about all they have in common. They’re not twins like the Shobijin, they don’t speak in unison, and they don’t seem quite as mysterious or as powerful as the classic Shobis. It’s not a bad trade though–instead of acting as one homogenous unit, the Elias are individual, unique characters with an interesting (if vague) relationship of their own. Lora is a little more whimsical and fun-loving while Moll is a little more determined and serious. Moll also comes across as something of a mentor to the perhaps younger, greener Lora. They both ham it up just the right amount, delivering all manner of gooftastic kid’s fantasy dialogue with delightful earnestness.
Sayaka Yamaguchi plays Lora and reprised the role in both Rebirth sequels. She’s also been in a TON of other shit, but none of it rings a bell for me. Megumi Kobayashi plays Moll, and she also came back for both Rebirth follow-ups. She also plays Miyuki, Toru’s Mom in Gamera the Brave! As of 2006 she started a new career as a jazz singer and just goes by “Meg.”
Also fuck it, let’s circle back and give that hilariously evil looking broad her intro too! She’s Belvera, and she FUCKING RULES
The Elias are pretty much just the Shobijin but made into distinctive, heroic leads, but Belvera is an EVIL Shobijin. Which just fucking rules. It’s wild that it took like 35 years for Toho to land on that idea, but it’s a fucking banger and I’m glad they figured it out eventually. Aki Hano plays Belvera–like her Elias co-stars, she knows exactly what kind of character she’s playing and exactly what kind of movie she’s in, hamming shit up appropriately. She snarls, she cackles, she digs her heels into her draconic steed’s sides, she literally terrorizes children for laughs. I’m tempted to say I wish she cranked up the ham another notch or two, but maybe that would have been too much?
Aki’s had a handful of other movie and TV appearances, but most excitingly (for me), she reprises Belvera for both Rebirth sequels. FUCKING GOOD. (Also unlike Lora and Moll, her costume is chef’s kiss).
LOOK EVIL IS COOL AND IF YOU CAN’T HANDLE THAT THEN I’M SORRY and I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings or offend you. Yeah Belvy’s like, not a good person, but she seems really happy, she’s really self-actualized, and she’s out there chasing her goals, making her dreams a reality! The last few years I’ve come to… weirdly sort of respect and maybe even idolize over-the-top villains like this.
Belvera, Moll, and Lora all notice that the seal has been taken, and they all chase down Daddy Goto. Belvera cruises after him riding Garugaru (the lil dragon), but what about the Elias? Do they hitchhike, confident that their huge bag of ultra dank Infant Island Kush will be enough to satisfy the “grass” part of “ass, gas, or grass”? Do they pool their money and rent something sensible, like a silver 2018 Chevy Impala?
They summon FAIRY MOTHRA! A magical, teeny, cotton candy-lookin’ Mothra that… well, I’m not actually sure how Fairy Mothra relates to… Big Mothra. Like it’s a magical extension of Big Mothra? Like she kind of is astral projecting a little helper for the Elias, maybe? But she must not be that tied to Big Mothra, because Fairy seems unaffected when Big Mothra bites the Big One later. So it’s independent of Big Mothra in some capacity. Whatever, this is a magical fantasy and the little details like this don’t really matter, it’s just kind of fun to think about. Maybe Mothra just cast Find Familiar and also has impeccable taste.
It’s fascinating to me that Fairy Mothra, unlike the Elias, Belvera, Desghidorah or Garugaru, predates this movie! Her first appearance is in 1994’s Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla (one of the best, most ridonkulous movie titles of all time)! Her role there is much smaller–basically a couple “what the fuck”, out-of-left-field cameos–but a lone Fairy Mothra does give Miki Saegusa a pep talk!
Not gonna lie I could really use some reassurance from Fairy Mothra right about now.
Going from “metaphysical, psychic oracle” to “flying jet ski that shoots lasers” is a pretty major downgrade, but maybe getting 100x more screen time balances it out? I don’t know. It’s weird, it’s fun, and it’s perfect for this movie. As great as Fairy Mothra is, Belvy and Garugaru had a head start, so they make it to the Goto homestead first. Belvy’s ambient magic radiation sets off the toys in the Goto kid’s rooms in a fun homage to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. More excitingly/spookily, Belvera puts Wakaba into a creepy trance… a creepy trance that gives her Carrie powers!
Wakaba cuts school the next day and makes like literally every single one of us in quarantine:
Papa Goto had to rush back to the work site and Wakaba’s a satanic couch potato, so Belvera coerces a dog into chasing Taiki up a tree(!!?!) and ties up Mom Goto offscreen(?!?!?!!). With the Goto clan sorted, Belvera starts turning the place upside down to find the seal–when Moll and Lora arrive on the scene! First they get Taiki down from the tree with some fun, goofy special effects:
Lora, Moll and Taiki get into the house and a teeny-tiny dogfight breaks out! HELL YES! Even though it’s an aerial shootout in the first act that doesn’t have any real bearing on the plot, I think you could make a strong argument for it being the action/special effects highlight of the movie. At the very least it’s a nice pop to keep the first act exciting!
It’s a terrific idea and it’s mounted ambitiously… but it ain’t perfect. The visual effects are a mixed bag–Garugaru pretty much always looks awesome. His face is evilly charming and super expressive:
A lot of the composite shots look great, but some just don’t. Fairy Mothra very weirdly and obviously switches from a good-looking prop/puppet to a too-smooth, too-glossy CGI asset. The physicality of the two combatants seems to change from shot to shot–sometimes they’re satisfyingly fast and really seem to have mass, other times they’re bizarrely slow and floaty. All the physical/practical/pyro effects are terrific and work wonders to make it feel like the Goto house is under siege by dinky, warring factions. The sound design is delicious, with lots of crazy, old west-style richocheting PWANGs and PI-TOOOs accompanying the laser blasts. It wouldn’t work in a more grim and serious flick, but it’s absolutely perfect here. The fight does run a little too long, wearing out its welcome even when it has good gags and moments left.
I know I started with “it might be the best action/effects scene in the movie” and followed it up with a list of things that suck about it, but that’s just a testament to how good the good stuff is! Lora, Moll and Belvera trash the house with laser blasts, scream through table legs and under a piano like its the Grand Canyon UFO chase in Independence Day (one of the most underrated sci-fi action scenes of all time, IMO) and scream at each other, all while Taiki tries to rescue his mom and sister without getting blown to bits in the crossfire. SHIT IS COOL AND FUN and works in spite of its flubs. The resolution of this micro-battle is appropriately kooky:
Taiki catches Belvera with a fucking butterfly net! Aaaaand he’s supernaturally airborne for a third time in the first act! Garugaru is STRONG and drags the poor kid around the house, even when Mom grabs a hold of him to try and keep him earthbound. It’s a great gag, but unfortunately Belvy gives ’em the slip WITH THE SEAL IN HER TINY GOTH CLUTCHES! More bad news, Fairy Mothra is WAY THE FUCK worse for the wear after the brouhaha:
It’s happened to Gamera, it’s happened to E.T., and now Fairy Mothra has the dubious honor of joining the ranks of heroes that have been brutally white dog poop-ified. POUR ONE THE FUCK OUT NOBODY DESERVES THIS ESPECIALLY NOT BABY COTTON CANDY MOTHRA
With things a little more chilled out, Moll and Lora explain that the seal was… sealing off a great, ancient evil!
Vigo Desghidorah! He killed the civilization on Mars! He wiped out the dinosaurs! He is not the same as King Ghidorah! …I think? I’m not sure if the Rebirth movies are canon with previous Mothra/Godzilla movies, or if they’re their own thing entirely. I think they’re their own thing. Let’s go with that. 🤣 We don’t actually see him just yet, we just know he’s about to POP OFF right next to Dad Goto’s work. Understandably but maybe not wisely, Mom Goto packs up the kids, the two lil’ broads, and Fairy Mothra’s horrible, catatonic husk and they all hop a flight to go rescue dad. It’s the 90s so the TSA doesn’t harass them about carting around supernatural creatures or like, a water bottle.
The Elias are dressed up as “dolls” in a little shoebox that Wakaba carries around, and Fairy Mothra is a “toy” moth skeleton that Taiki holds onto. It’s a funny gag but also creepy as fuck. But maybe things are less weird with Dad?
To be fair Papa Goto action-dives out of the bombdozer before it busts Desghidorah out of the dirt-slammer. To be fair-er, he’s not suddenly evil or having a nervous breakdown, he’s being influenced by that lil’ stinker Belvera!
All the miniatures and pyrotechnics look fantastic here. Some shots are so good I wasn’t sure if they were miniatures or not–I can’t think of higher praise than that! In the ensuing chaos, the rest of the Goto family arrives on the scene. It’s a really fun, well done panicked evacuation scene, with salarymen scrambling all over the place, scooping up anything valuable while piling into Subarus that are already pulling away:
In all the mayhem, what can the Elias and Gotos even do?? Belvera’s flying around on Garugaru and Fairy Mothra is so crusty she’s about to get licked by poor, bullied Brennan from Stepbrothers. GOOD THING TAIKI’S A WIZ WITH A SPORTS KITE!
With some fancy flying they get the seal back but uh…
Desghiddy’s intro is accompanied by a shitload of extremely cool pyro effects (a lot of them juiced up with the fun glowy green optical animation you see above). Lora and Moll use the seal to un-poop Fairy Mothra, so that’s good!…
Desghidorah has a pretty stupid name–it’s an impressively sloppy portmanteau of “Death” and “Ghidorah”, sort of like how Pokemon is such a clunky portmanteau of “Pocket Monsters”. Japan is crazy about catastrophically bad portmanteaus, I guess? But anyway, Desghidorah!
I love this Ghidorah. Its personality and backstory are right in line with King Ghidorah. Plus they’re both winged, three-headed dragons, but even with all that in common they’re distinctly different beasties!
We’ve had a plenty of different Ghidorah designs over the years, and I’d say Loch Des Monster up there is the best of the Ghiddys that heavily deviate from the original silhouette. Godzilla Final Wars made another attempt at a dark, quadrupedal Ghidorah 8 years later… and it just ain’t nearly as good.
Desghidorah is also less frantic and manic than Showa Ghidorah… but none of the later Ghidorahs can match the original’s cackling, coked-up lunacy. Dessy’s played by Mizuho Yoshida, a fella whose name I didn’t recognize but who boasts a resume monster fans are sure to appreciate! In addition to providing (Japanese) voice acting to multiple Metal Gear games and Capcom survival horror video games, my guy has played:
- Raiga, Deep Sea Monster Raiga
- Zedus, Gamera the Brave
- GODZILLA, GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK
- Dagahra, Rebirth of Mothra II
- Legion, Gamera 2: Advent of Legion
Hell yeah Mizuho! He’s played one of my absolute favorite Godzillas, battled Mothra twice and gone toe-to-toe with Gamera twice! He may not have the long and storied career of someone like Haruo Nakajima, but he absolutely imbues his big-screen baddies with aggressive malice and raw powerful presence!
June (and May, and April) took thousands of years to excruciatingly crawl by while somehow simultaneously blowing past me at the fucking speed of light. That’s 2020 for ya I guess! What I’m saying is that I want to get this first half of the review out while it’s still at least technically June, then knock out the back half in the next week or so. I’m HOPING to get a more regular review schedule going, but we’ll see how hard modern life decides to mentally punch me in the balls with cinderblock knuckledusters. 😅 I’m jazzed for the other half of the review: we’ve got whole-ass Mothras to meet yet! Buckwild battles to recount! And some really beautiful, trippy, and deeply 90s (bordering on vaporwave-y?!) fantasy imagery to get immersed in! This movie is a LOT cooler than I remembered, gang. Meet me for much more merry moth-mashin’ mirth momentarily!