Despite the fact that the original solo Mothra film, which debuted in 1961, is well regarded amongst fans of Japanese giant monster movies, most know the character from her various supporting appearances in the Godzilla movies. Well, in the late nineties, Toho decided to give Mothra another solo shot and thus were born three films in the Rebirth Of Mothra trilogy. Sony, as part of their ongoing line of Godzilla related Blu-ray reissues, is reissuing the first two movies and debuting the third one with this high definition debut (the first two movies were released as a double feature DVD but the third film was never released until now).
The Rebirth Of Mothra (1996):
The first film begins when a logging company goes into a forest in Japan with the intention of clear cutting the entire thing. While in the midst of this, they uncover some ancient ruins and when the foreman in charge of the operation opens up those ruins and takes the seal, he unwittingly unleashes a three-headed fire breathing monster named Desghidorah! Enter three fairies, good twins Moll (Megumi Kobayashi) and Lora (Sayaka Yamaguchi) and the mischievous Belvara (Aki Hano). They want to get the seal back from the logging foreman because without it there will be no way to control Desghidorah. There's a catch though, the foreman gave the seal to his daughter as a gift, completely unaware of the power it holds.
When Moll and Lora witness Desghidorah trashing Japan, they do what they do best: summon Mothra to come to the rescue. There's a problem though, because Mothra has just exhausted herself by laying an egg. She gets into a brawl with Desghidorah but is easily defeated in the first fray. When the egg hatches and Mothra's larva comes to her aid, they send Desghidorah packing but only temporarily and Mothra is killed in the battle. This leaves the larva to go into cocoon mode so that it can regenerate as a newer, more powerful Mothra and save not only the humans but the very Earth itself.
The Rebirth Of Mothra II (1997):
The second film in the series begins when a little girl finds a creature called a Ghogo on the coast of Japan. Moll and Lora (Megumi Kobayashi and Sayaka Yamaguchi again) show up to advise the girl and request that she help Ghogo return home to Nilai Kinai, an ancient city long forgotten by Japan's human population. She and two pals decide to take the cute little furry critter back home to his city beneath the sea just as a monster named Dagahra, a massive horned and winged beast and the result of rampant ocean pollution, emerges from the ocean depths. As Ghogo's home city rises from the floor of the sea, Dagahra starts trashing the place. Meanwhile some treasure hunters hear about Nilai Kinai and set into motion some devious plans of robbery!
Thankfully Mothra, having regenerated in the first movie, is still in fighting form. She shows up when the twins call and does battle with Dagahra but will need to once again evolve into something more if she's going to be able to win the day. Thankfully, Ghogo can help her with that and she morphs into a new underwater version of her previous self and launches straight into battle to save the underwater city.
The Rebirth Of Mothra III (1998):
In this third film, none other than King Ghidora shows up in modern day Japan and he's there not only to trash tall buildings but to steal Japanese school children and hide them away in a giant pulsating bubble that he builds out in the middle of a forest. While he's doing that and causing all of Japan some serious stress, Moll (Megumi Kobayashi reprising her role) and Lora (now played by Misato Tate) put aside their differences with a kinder, gentler Belvara (Aki Hano also reprising her role) and decide to collectively bring Mothra into the picture to save the day.
A school boy winds up coming into contact with the twins, his parents believing him to have been abducted, but when Mothra shows up King Ghidora takes her down and injures her. She's not dead though and figures out that the only way to really defeat King Ghidorah is to travel back to the age of dinosaurs where he was younger and weaker and take him out there to prevent him from destroying the future. So Mothra does just that: she travels back in time and gets into a pretty great brawl with King Ghidorah, who is busy running around eating dinosaurs. Even if she wins this battle though, it won't be quite that easy to take down one of the deadliest giant monsters of all time…
Those expecting the more sci-fi tinged aspects of the Godzilla movies may be taken aback by the fact that these three Mothra films are played almost entirely as straight fantasy pictures and fantasy pictures geared towards a younger audience at that. Not to say that they don't offer up some decent monster battles but do go into these films, if you haven't seen them before, with realistic expectations in terms of child characters and story development. Like many of the early Gamera films, these films all feature central child protagonists, the kind that movie watching kids like in their films and that studio heads typically include in order to give that target audience someone in the film to relate to. These kids all arrive with varying degrees of annoyingness and depending on your tolerance for such things they could hamper your enjoyment of the films.
Having said that, there are aspects of these three films that adult viewers should have no problem appreciating. They never get as dark or intense as any of the more popular Toho monster movies but those who appreciate the way that Toho's monster movies have traditionally crafted their creatures without the use of CGI will like what they see here. Mothra's various designs are often impressive, genuinely pretty even, and the films all feature some really remarkable, colorful and quirky design work. The use of nineties era digital effects and green screen effects tends to stick out like a very sore thumb indeed but the monster designs and miniature work employed throughout the three films is decent.
Some of the battles that take place throughout the trilogy are pretty impressive as well, with the fights against Desghidorah in the first movie and against the different versions of King Ghidorah in the third movie being the highlights of the run. In that third movie is the most intense scene of the three films where Mothra takes out King Ghidorah by clawing away at his middle head, actually drawing blood at one point. This is about as dark as it gets though, again, these were meant for younger viewers.
As kids' movies, they're fun. There are good morals in the picture not only about the obvious environmental themes that run through the pictures but also about the importance of accepting the viewpoints of others, as illustrated by Belvara's speech to the twins about putting aside their differences and working together, and about staying brave, no giving in to fear and trying to do the right thing. It's all very heavy handed but that doesn't diminish the fact that material like this can have a positive impact on kids who go in with open minds. These are fun if you're in the right frame of mind for them. Think of them as ‘Kaiju-light' and go in with the right expectations... watch them with some kids!
All three of the Rebirth Of Mothra movies arrive on Blu-ray for the first time framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. The first film gets its own disc while the two sequels share the second disc. Like a lot of the Toho releases that have come out through Sony in the last year, the detail levels aren't mindblowing and sometimes things look a little flat. Compared to the DVD releases of the first two films, however, there's some obvious increase in clarity and color reproduction is actually quite good in all three of the movies. Black levels are alright if not reference quality and while there is some video noise at least there isn't any obvious noise reduction. These aren't amazing looking transfers but they do offer noticeable upgrades over the past DVD release.
Audio options are in Japanese and English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo options with optional subtitles provided in English, English SDH and French. The Japanese tracks are a little easier to take seriously when compared to the goofy dubbing on the English tracks but both audio options offer clean, clear and properly balanced sound for each of the three films. Music has decent depth throughout and Mothra's screeches have good clarity to them. There are plenty of sound effects used throughout all three movies and they have solid presence but don't bury the dialogue in the scenes where it's all mixed together.
Extras are slim but we do get theatrical trailers and teasers for each of the three movies in the set in addition to static menus and chapter selection.
Sony's Blu-ray release of the three The Rebirth Of Mothra films is light on extras but features decent audio and transfers that, while far from perfect, do improve over what DVD was able to provide. As to the movies themselves, the real draw for most will likely be the inclusions of the previously unreleased third film, which just so happens to be the best of the three movies in the set. Go into this one knowing that these are monster movies for kids and you can have a good time with them. They're fun to watch with younger viewers and offer up some solid creature design. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.