Savant Revival Review Notes:
Available on DVD as of 8/18/09
1961 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic Tohoscope / 101 min. / Mosura
Starring Frankie Sakai, Hiroshi Koizumi, Kyoko Kagawa, Ken Uehara, Emi Ito, Yumi Ito, Jerry Ito, Takashi Shimura.
Cinematography Hajime Koizumi
Production Designers Teruaki Abe, Takeo Kita
Special Effects Eiji Tsuburaya
Film Editor Kazuji Taira
Original Music Yuji Koseki
Written by Yoshie Hotta, Shinichiro Nakamura, Shinichi Sekizawa from the novel Hakkou Yousei to Mothra by Takehiko Fukunaga
Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka
Directed by Ishiro Honda
By Glenn Erickson
Note: This is a slight reformatting of the quick 'screening notes' mini-review that appeared in the regular DVD Savant column on March 1, 2005. I've been asked about this film several times and would like to be able to link to these notes, if only to encourage its release on DVD.
Note: August 18, 2009: Mothra has been released on DVD; Savant's full review is at this link.
... Back to important news ... you know, Mothra: The print last night at the New Beverly was splendid, with great color that made all video copies here look like dirt. The audio appeared to be monaural. I'd seen the full-length Japanese version without subtitles but Columbia's new subtitles explained a lot. The country called "Rolisica" is clearly a combination of Russia and the United States. Rolisica is the trouble behind everything - they assume control of the expedition to Infant Island, which they once used as an atomic blast site. Roliscia denies that the island is inhabited even after witnesses say it is, kind of a pre-echo of Radio Bikini. The Rolisican bad guy Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito) is an exploitative combo of Carl Denham and Al Capone, committing theft and mass murder against native populations with the complicit backing of the Rolisican government (at least until things get too hot, when Mothra arrives to wipe out "New Kirk City.") Clark uses semantics to wiggle out of charges of kidnapping and slavery by claiming that the tiny princesses are not human but just merchandise. They like to sing and dance, so he's making them happy! Only the bare bones of this anti-U.S. fervor is left in the American redub. The Russian aspect of Rolisica can be seen in the combination of symbols on the flag of the Rolisican Embassy and the Russian-looking uniforms of the Rolisican generals helping to fight Mothra. Maybe those were the only foreign military costumes Toho had.
The Japanese view of America is really funny. Every Anglo that could be rounded up (including familiar faces like Robert Dunham and Harold Conway) is used to play Rolisican citizens. New Kirk City has skyscrapers, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Harbor Freeway. We also see a short clip of the row of hotels where Santa Monica reaches the bluffs over the beach. Nelson's thugs are silly gangsters who speak in English every once in a while (Jerry Ito is said to be bilingual). He and his main crook pal laugh themselves silly: "Mothra is dead! Now we can be happy and filthy rich! Ha ha ha ha!" Nelson's last twenty lines are the same: "SHUT UP!" I hadn't noticed before, but when he's finally shot down, he's in the act of knocking a cane out from under an old man! I think there were some happy subversives at Toho that year.
In the original, the loveable Frankie Sakai's nickname is "Snapping Turtle," not "Bulldog" as in the American dub version. He never lets go, see, and is a master of the obscure martial art of slapping bad guys on the head with folded pieces of paper.
Mothra is a kooky combo of fairy tales, environmentalism, Kaiju and pointed anti-West criticism ... how can it miss? As always, Yuji Koseki's music is what makes it so magical. The print last night has the second song by the Peanuts (Emi and Yumi Ito), performed in kimonos on a little apple blossom set. Interesting that the huge audience watches the tiny princesses sing in rapt attention, when nobody beyond the first two rows should be able to see them.
From August Ragone on the Mobius forum we're told that Columbia is doing the same theatrical restoration on Battle in Outer Space and The H-Man, guided by repertory theatrical executive Michael Schlesinger. The space movie has some new footage and a great original music score to restore. H-Man is incoherent in its US release version, and not all that understandable at full length without subtitles (which is how I've seen these on old Toho laser discs). So besides being about fifteen minutes longer, a new subtitled version will hopefully explain what the heck's going on. Columbia restoration and their repertory department are certainly being responsive - I hope the Sony/Columbia DVD people notice the web attention and revival-house popularity and follow up on their new Godzilla series with these wonderfully amusing classics. Thanks! Glenn Erickson
End Note, 12.28.05: Sony-Columbia has been releasing plenty of latter-day Godzilla movies; I hope someone over there wakes up and does the same with these older classics. Colorful and packed with wonderful music, Mothra is a monster fairy tale that little kids love, and the 1990s remakes don't recapture the original magic.
Review reposted December 28 , 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson