Mothra (Limited Edition Box Set) – film review
Director: Ishirō Honda
Cast: Frankie Sakai, Hiroshi Koizumi, Kyōko Kagawa
Release Date: 16th November 2020
Runtime: 191 mins (includes both Japanese and English versions of each film (101 mins & 90 mins respectively)
Jamie Havlin delivers his verdict on cult monster movie Mothra, produced by Japan’s famous Toho Studios.
Four shipwrecked sailors are washed up on Infant Island after a typhoon. This is an area of the South Seas where atomic bomb tests have taken place, and which it’s believed has long since been abandoned. When rescued, though, the sailors speak of a tribe living there. Not only that but none of the men have been contaminated with any level of radiation sickness. One man suggests that this might be due to the juice given to them to drink by the natives.
An international scientific expedition is speedily set up to investigate. Consisting of Japanese and Rolisicans (Rolisica being a composite of Cold War superpowers America and the Soviet Union), the mission travel by ship to the South Seas with journalist Zen’ichirō Fukuda (Frankie Sakai) surreptitiously stowing onboard too.
In addition to a jungle dwelling tribe, the island is also home to some blood sucking ‘vampire’ plants, and two twelve inch high fairy twins, played by The Peanuts, a bestselling Japanese pop act of the time.
These tiny twins are kidnapped by Clark Nelson, an exploitative Rolisican showman, hell-bent on making as much money as he can from this exotic find. Audiences pack into a Tokyo theatre for the ‘Secret Fairies Show’, where the girls soon dubbed the ‘The Small Beauties’ spectacularly take to the stage in a flying gold carriage. Surrounded by a troupe of dancers, they sing, telepathically contacting Mothra, who they firmly believe will rescue them and transplant them back to their home.
This is undoubtedly one crazy movie. And it just keeps getting crazier. Back in the South Seas, a glowing egg hatches a giant moth caterpillar, Mothra.
Its larval form swims in the direction of Tokyo, causing much mayhem as it does so. You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet, though. Crawling across the streets of Tokyo, it pulverises cars and buildings and even the newly built Tokyo Tower before spinning a cocoon around itself. Once transformed into its giant moth-like incarnation, it flies around the metropolis, causing chaos with every flap of its wings.
You may have seen Mothra in last year’s Godzilla: King of Monsters, a slickly realised gargantuan beast that was somehow strangely graceful but which also oozed power. This latest reinvention of Mothra bore only a passing resemblance to Ishirō Honda’s 1961 original.
Honda’s creature is rather cute, an enchanting, almost cuddly kaiju, that completely lacks the menace of the 2019 version. How her wings generate such hurricane strength gusts of wings remains a mystery, as does the fact that, although pocket-sized, the little ladies don’t even require microphones in order to be heard in a large theatre and can presumably be seen by everyone without the need of binoculars.
The storyline is often ridiculous. The special effects might strike film audiences of today as being absolutely amateurish. Embrace the absurdity, though, and the movie is fantastic escapist fun. It has a great cast with Frankie Sakai particularly good as Fukuda, while Jerry Ito’s pantomine portrayal of the arrogant and underhand Clark Nelson deserves a mention too.
Some of the special effects are actually very inventive when you consider that Honda’s movie was made around sixty years ago, when directors had to rely on miniature models, very primitive green screen techniques, and painted backdrops to achieve their results, rather than CGI.
A money-spinner at the Japanese box-office, Mothra would go on to become one of Toho Studio’s Big Five kaiju characters, along with Rodan, King Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla and, of course, Godzilla. Mothra has to date appeared in eleven Godzilla films and due to her popularity, she was given her own trilogy in the 1990s.
I’m now looking forward to seeing two more Honda movies, The H-Man and Battle in Outer Space, which are released in a double bill by Eureka on the same day that Mothra comes out.
The Masters of Cinema Series presents Ishirō Honda’s Mothra on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.
Special features include a limited edition hardbound slipcase [3000 copies]; a reversible poster featuring the film’s original US and Japanese poster artwork; a brand new audio commentary with film historian David Kalat; Kim Newman on Mothra – an interview with the film critic and author on the history and legacy of Mothra, and a limited edition 60-page collector’s booklet featuring essays by Christopher Stewardson and Jasper Sharp, and a new interview with Scott Chambliss (production designer Godzilla: King of the Monsters).
For more on the film click here.
All words by Jamie Havlin. More writing by Jamie can be found at his Louder Than War author’s archive.