Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
After his unsung comeback in Godzilla Raids Again, Toho's Big G lay dormant for seven years while the studios concentrated on alien invasions, a giant pterodactyl and various men that could turn to mist or be dissolved into atomic slime. Then, following a tonal direction toward younger audiences with the highly imaginative Mothra, Godzilla returned in a tremendous color and Tohoscope hit King Kong vs. Godzilla. Universal picked it up for American release in 1962.
Before the Godzilla series devolved into overtly childish monster rallies introducing fanciful guest beasts for the aquatic dragon to battle, the studio released one more relatively 'naturalistic' fantasy. Mothra vs. Godzilla brought back the giant moth and her two doll-sized fairy princesses played by the pop singer twins Emi and Yûmi Ito. With even more attention paid to high-quality effects work, this may be the classiest Godzilla picture aside from the sober original entry.
A typhoon looses a colossal egg from Infant Island and deposits it on a Japanese beach, in an area planned for future development. A pair of reporters (Akira Takarada and Yuriko Hoshi) is on the scene when a promoter declares the egg to be his private property and announces a theme park to be built around it. But Godzilla has been washed ashore in the typhoon and emerges from the earth to raise havoc. The reporters and professor Miura (Hiroshi Koizumi) travel to Infant Island to ask the fairy princesses to dispatch Mothra to protect Japan. The aged Mothra fights to protect her egg and, after a struggle, succumbs to Godzilla's radioactive breath. But the egg hatches, disgorging two colossal Mothra larvae to continue the struggle.
As in the previous King Kong adventure, Mothra vs. Godzilla produces more beautifully-lighted vistas of Godzilla walking through enormous miniature landscape sets, crushing buildings and battling armies before going into combat with the multicolored Mothra monster. The story is pitched at an adolescent level (as opposed to future infantile installments) and offers a mild message of social responsibility to go with its exciting and fantastic action. An elected official tries to rush a development project through even though radioactivity is found on the construction site, real estate with other G.R.I. (Godzilla Related Issues) as well. A greedy promoter and his shady investor put profit ahead of public safety, and become statistics of C.G.D. (Collateral Godzilla Damage).
The reporter heroes stay mostly on the sidelines as the movie concentrates on impressive set pieces. Godzilla rears up out of the tidelands mud, stomps through a giant oil refinery and marches across a landscape, action filmed from a low human point of view. Later Kaiju romps would raise the camera to the monsters' eye level, making the movies into elaborate fantasies about men in rubber suits. This more realistic Godzilla interacts with water, fire and on-set explosions. Percussive and flame bombs burst on and around him -- at one point setting his head on fire. The cel animation used to represent Godzilla's sizzling breath is more assured than in earlier shows, enabling the monster to fire bursts while rolling on the ground or during close combat with the hovering Mothra.
Although Godzilla doesn't stomp any major cities, the scale of the sets may be bigger than in any other of his shows. One angle of the beast standing on a shoreline shows at least forty feet of green coastline on both his left and right. The Tohoscope frame always seems filled with attacking vehicles or battling behemoths.
The movie touches again on the atomic theme with a return to Infant Island, where nuclear testing has ruined the environment. The set dressing for this sequence isn't impressive but the message is clear enough: The natives aren't happy that they have had to pay the price for atomic aggression, and the fairy princesses sing sad songs (with a much longer song in the original version). Although the Japanese visitors could simply say that the natives are blaming the wrong country, they instead make a heartfelt appeal for peace and understanding. The essential pitch is, "Yeah, we know we civilized people bombed your island and stole your fairy princesses and frazzled your Mothra God into an early death, but do you think you could see your way to helping us with our Godzilla problem?"
The American version of the film adds scenes (including an entire missile attack not seen in Japan), shortens others and contributes to the confusion of the Godzilla myth by hiding Mothra's identity under the title Godzilla versus the Thing. Again, this may have been another case of legal caution, as the original Mothra had been released by Columbia Pictures. Perhaps A.I.P.'s lawyers were concerned that the character name may not be free for use.
Savant saw Godzilla versus the Thing new in a crowded Saturday matinee, cheering with everyone else when the twin caterpillars go galumping after Godzilla and cramp his style by spitting a few tons of silk at him. The irate Godzilla ends up in a silken strait-jacket. Everyone is happy, Emi and Yûmi wave goodbye, and it's time to get more candy before the next movie.
We're told that the Mothra puppet this time around has improved articulation, and considering that it's just a big furry piñata, it works beautifully. Mothra's wings beat like crazy, her head bobs up and down and her little feet flex and grip at the air. Godzilla's new style sees him with legs that look less like tree trunks and a flatter head with larger eyes. I remember preferring the suit with a more hawk-like face from the previous film (as reflected in the famous old Aurora model kit).
Classic Media's DVD of Mothra vs. Godzilla includes the Japanese original in a sparkling, colorful enhanced transfer (2:35), and also A.I.P.'s Godzilla versus the Thing. That version also is in 16:9 but is compromised at a 1:78 aspect ratio, apparently the best transfer choice available.
The extremely thorough and listenable commentary is by Ed Godziszewski & Steve Ryfle, joined by several others. One phone interview with an American dubbing artist includes her comment that she thought the movie ridiculous, but the rest of the participants appreciate the film's rich vein of artful fantasy. The commentators approach the film from all angles and point out many technical details I'd never even considered, such as the virtually flawless operation of the Mothra puppet. They even identify the Japanese technician who perfected the Mothra larvae's ambulatory motion: He built conveyor belt mechanisms inside the models to create the rolling inchworm effect.
The featurette on this disc is a biography of the late composer Akira Ifukube. It has little or no music, obviously owing to rights issues, but looks quite deeply into the life of an interesting artist. The poster galleries don't include A.I.P.'s impressive advertising design (seen above). A Japanese trailer is included as well.
Along with Godzilla Raids Again, Mothra vs. Godzilla has for several months only been available online at the Classic Media Godzilla On DVD Store. Now it is in general distribution.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Mothra vs. Godzilla rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent (Japanese version)
Supplements: Audio Commentary by Ed Godziszewski & Steve Ryfle, Poster Slide Show, Akira Ifukube biography featurette , Trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 21, 2006 / March 29.2007
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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