A new decade brought about the latest terrifying monster from Toho; a giant….moth? Yes, the company that you brought you Godzilla decided that it’s newest monster would be a giant moth and surprisingly, it became a big hit. In fact, Mothra is Toho’s second most popular kaiju, following Godzilla himself of course. The first time I ever saw Mothra (the kaiju) was in Destroy All Monsters and then later in Mothra Vs Godzilla. It would be several years before I would randomly happen onto Mothra’s solo movie showing on TNT but I was lucky enough to have a blank VCR tape ready to record so I could add it to my early collection back in the day. So here is today’s movie starring one of the few monsters that have a winning record against Godzilla, Mothra.
The plot: A Japanese ship called the Genyo-Maru is caught in the center of a typhoon and winds up being carried off course towards Infant Island, an island that was the subject of atomic bomb testings, when the ship ends up breaking apart and sinking due to the storm. The next day, a search and rescue team head towards the island and find four survivors on the island. The survivors are taken to the National Synthesis Nucleus Center, where the doctors find that the survivors don’t show any signs of radiation on them, which the doctors say is impossible. As the doctors bring the survivors in to question them, Michi Hanamura, a photographer for the Nitto Newspaper, takes there picture and when one of the doctor’s tries to take the camera and kick her out of the room, she calls out for her boss Senichiro “Sen-chan” Fukuda, a reporter that also snuck into the meeting. The head doctor allows them to stay and Sen-chan asks how the survivors were able to survive on an island with such a high radiation count. The survivors say that they were given red juice from the natives, surprising everyone since they thought the island was deserted. When the story is printed, Sen-chan goes to see Dr. Shin’ichi Chujo, an anthropologist specializing in Polynesian cultures, to ask his thoughts on the expedition to the island but Chujo says he has not been spoken too about it. A few days later, and expedition is planned but the leader of the expedition, a capitalist named Clark Nelson, bans reporters from accompanying the expedition, which arouses Sen-chan’s suspicions. Sen-chan sneaks on board the ship but is caught by Nelson, who threatens him with a small pistol until Chujo saves him when he shows up to question Nelson’s order to turn over all research to him first. Sen-chan is allowed to go on the expedition and when they reach Infant Island the expedition dons radiation suits and heads out to explore the island. Heading towards the interior, they find a lush jungle hidden in a valley and proceed inside. The group spreads out and Chujo ends up finding a cavern with strange plants growing inside it and some ancient writing carved into the wall. On his way back, he is attacked by some carnivorous plants and manages to trigger the alarm on his suit and just before he passes out, he notices two small women singing to the plants. Sen-chan and the others find Chujo and take him back to the ship, where he recovers but nobody seems to believe him about the girls. The next day, Chujo plays the sound of the alarm, which attracts the two woman, called the Shobijin, to his location, proving to the others that they exist. The Shobijin start speaking in a musical dialect and Chujo is able to figure out that they want them to leave their island alone. Sen-chan figures they mean the atomic testing and Chujo promises that no more bombs will tested on the island. The Shobijin smile and go to leave but Nelson has his bodyguard grab them. Sen-chan, Chujo and the others tell Nelson to release the Shobijin but he refuses. Suddenly, the group is surrounded by natives and after the others refuse to fight for him, Nelson has his bodyguard release the Shobijin and the natives retreat back into the jungle. Returning to the mainland, Sen-chan goes to see Chujo and shows him the file on Nelson, speculating that Nelson might be an illegal art broker. Chujo shows Sen-chan the pictures and engraving he made of the writing in the cave and when Sen-chan comments about a symbol that constantly appears, Chujo translates it into meaning Mothra. Meanwhile, Nelson heads back to Infant Island and manages to capture the Shobijin and when the natives appear, his men start firing at them as they head back to the ship with them . One of the natives heads towards their temple, calling out to Mothra and when he collapses, the cavern starts shaking and part of the wall collapses, revealing a giant egg. Back in the mainland, Nelson has the Shobijin performing in a show, where they sing a strange song as performers due an island dance around them. Sen-chan, Michi, Chujo, and his little brother Shinji attend the show, and Sen-chan and Chujo talk during the performance about how the country of Rolisican was hesitant to form the expedition due to financial difficulties until Nelson footed the bill. After the performance, they try to get Nelson to return the Shobijin to the island but he refuses and after Sen-chan says he will print a story about how they are being mistreated, he allows them to see the Shobijin for a few minutes. Entering the room where the Shobijin are being kept, they see them in a large birdcage and apologize that they are unable to free them just then. The Shobijin thank them, shocking Sen-chan and the others that they can speak their language. The Shobijin say that they wish to return to their home and that Mothra will come and rescue them, regardless of what it will do to the city, which the Shobijin says fills them with great sadness. Back on Infant Island, the natives begins praying to the large egg and a giant caterpillar, which heads to the sea and starts swimming towards Japan. After Sen-chan’s story about the Shobijin breaks, Nelson and his lawyer try to get it retracted but the editor refuses. Suddenly, Sen-chan shows the editor a report of a large object heading towards Japan and says that it is Mothra coming to rescue the Shobijin, but Nelson doesn’t believe it. When Mothra sinks a ship on it’s way to Japan, a press conference is held and Sen-chan and Chujo try to convince Nelson to return the girls but he refuses, saying that the girls have nothing to do with the monster. Chujo and Sen-chan manage to speak with the girls, after Sen-chan deals with the men guarding them, and they say they have no control over Mothra and that she will simply come to where they are, regardless of how many people get hurt. Realizing that telepathy might be how Mothra is tracking the girls, Sen-chan and Chujo go see Dr. Harada, who is working on a material that would be able to block telepathic waves. Meanwhile, the Rolisican Embassy announces that they are supporting Nelson, just as Mothra is sighted off the coast of Japan. Gas bombs and fire are used to try and stop Mothra and she is seemingly killed. Sen-chan, Chujo, and Harada speak with Nelson, giving him a case of the special metal to place over the Shobijin’s cage in order to try and prevent Mothra from causing any further damage should she return and Nelson takes the case but believes he won’t need it. As they are leaving, Nelson receives a call saying to cancel the show, just as Michi arrives and tells Sen-chan that something is going on at a nearby dam. Heading back to his office, Nelson has his bodyguard place the case over the Shobijin’s cage, then places them inside a suitcase so they can leave, Meanwhile, Sen-chan, Chujo, Harada, and Michi head to the dam and help with the evacuation just as Mothra appears in the lake and destroys the dam. When he returns home, Chujo finds a note from Shinji saying that he is going to take the Shobijin from Nelson and return them to Mothra. At the theater, Shinji manages to evade Nelson’s men and grab the Shobijin’s cage but before he can leave, Nelson returns and Shinji ends up being bound and gagged. Sen-chan tells his editor that the Rolisican government has changed it’s mind due to fear of losing ties to Japan and ordered Nelson to release the Shobijin. Sen-chan and the police head to the theater, where they are joined by Chujo, who came looking for Shinji. Entering the building, they find no sign of Nelson or the Shobijin but Chujo and Sen-chan find Shinji and free him just as Michi arrives and tells that Mothra is heading towards Tokyo. The JSDF tries to stop it but their weapons have no effect on the giant caterpillar. Mothra heads towards Tokyo Tower and begins scaling it but it is unable to handle Mothra’s weight and ends up breaking and Mothra begins forming a cocoon among the wreckage. Meanwhile, the search is on for Nelson, who has managed to disguise himself and make it back to Rolisica. Meanwhile, the Rolisican government sends the JSDF their strongest weapon, the atomic heat cannon, which they use to attack the cocoon, causing it to burst into flames. At his home, Nelson hears the report of Mothra’s apparent death and takes the special case off the Shobijin’s cage and laughs as the continue singing for Mothra. Back in Tokyo, Mothra emerges from the cocoon as a multi-colored moth and takes flight towards Rolisica, causing the authorities to realize that Nelson must have the Shobijin there. Nelson hears a news report that the police have been ordered to arrest him on site and he has his men get ready to leave, despite their protests that they will be arrested almost immediately. Sen-chan, Michi, and Chujo board a plane for Rolisica, as they have been asked to try and speak with Mothra but on the way, they learn that Mothra has arrived at New Kirk City. Nelson and his men try to get out of town but when they find their path blocked by the evacuating people, who recognize Nelson and try to prevent his escape. Nelson tries to shoot his way out but ends up being killed by the police while his men are arrested. Sen-chan, Chujo, and Michi arrive and open the suitcase the girls are in but they don’t remove the special case as they don’t want Mothra to destroy the small town. When the church bells start ringing, Chujo notices the sun shining behind the cross and realizes it looks similar to the symbol for Mothra. Sen-chan and Chujo come up with a plan and have the symbol drawn on the airport runway, then have the local church bells start ringing, attracting Mothra’s attention and causing it to land on the runway. Sen-Chan, Chujo, and Michi head towards Mothra and release the Shobijin, who thank them and hope that their lands can live in peace before climbing on Mothra and flying back to Infant Island. Watching them leave, Sen-chan realizes that this will be a great story and plans to call the editor but Michi realizes she didn’t take any pictures, causing Sen-chan, Chujo, and the authorities to laugh.
Mothra met with mostly praise form the critics, holding a 73% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Though there isn’t a critical consensus on the site, most people liked the tone of the movie and felt it was a good blend of fantasy and science fiction. This movie actually marked a turn in how kaiju were perceived in Toho’s movies, with monsters capable of being seen as protectors instead of merely creatures that cause wanton destruction. Many people felt that Rolisica, particularly New Kirk City, was based on the US but Toho revealed years later that it was actually a combination of Russia and the US, as shown by the country’s flag, which was a combination of the stars and stripes as well as the hammer and sickle. Mothra’s popularity made it a mainstay in the Godzilla movies, showing up in 10 Godzilla movies as well as 3 solo movies of it’s own in the 90’s. However, much like every other Toho movie, Mothra was delegated to the drive-in theaters, where it wound up sharing a bill with The Three Stooges In Orbit.
Mothra has never been my favorite monster but I can still appreciate both the monster and the movie. The acting was pretty decent although I will say it was kind of odd (since I was watching the subtitled version) to hear Jerry Ito (Nelson) going back and forth between English and Japanese. The story was pretty good as it showed an actual motive for the monster attacking the city instead of it just being a random event, making the case that the monsters had more intelligence than most people would give them credit for. I also thought the name for the major city in Rolisica being New Kirk City was pretty funny but I can’t really say why. The special effects were pretty good and I liked the introduction of the atomic heat cannons in this movie, though I liked them better in future movies when the props would be used as the maser cannons. All in all, this is a good sci-fi/kaiju movie and worth watching, even if you aren’t a Godzilla nut like me.
Rating: 3 out of 5