Saturday, October 22, 2011

Monsterthon: Mothra Vs. Godzilla

DVD cover and Amazon link

Godzilla's bout with King Kong was a major box office draw, really giving birth to the Godzilla series proper by showing he was no passing fad. But for his next fight he needed another lofty opponent, and so Toho called up its second-biggest draw to give us Mothra vs. Godzilla. This particular entry is a fan favorite, showing Godzilla at his meanest and most relentless, Mothra at her bravest and most selfless, and still treating the whole affair with some degree of seriousness. Though it's not my favorite of the period, Mothra vs. Godzilla does what it sets out to do and makes us believe without reservation in an epic life-or-death struggle between a radioactive dinosaur and a giant bug.

A massive storm hits Japan and washes ashore a mysterious giant egg. Kumayama (Yoshifumi Tajima), a local entrepreneur, buys the egg from some local fishermen and plans to put it on display. A news reporter (Akira Takarada) and photographer (Yuriko Hoshi) are suspicious of his taking possession of it, and are contacted by the tiny twin Shobijin (Emi and Yumi Ito once again), who tell them that it's Mothra's egg, washed away from Infant Island in the storm. When it hatches, the baby Mothra might cause a lot of damage in looking for food, so they'd really like it back, but Kumayama- and his silent partner Torahata (Kenji Sahara) will have none of it, and Mothra and the Shobijin depart Japan in disappointment. It turns out, however, that the storm has also washed ashore Godzilla, who digs himself out of the earth and goes on a rampage. A fellow reporter (Yu Fujiki) gets the idea of asking Mothra for help, and the news team goes to Infant Island to try and persuade the natives, despite civilization having screwed them over royally. Despite being near the end of her life, Mothra is too kind-hearted to ignore their pleas or the potential danger to her offspring, so she sets out to confront the King of the Monsters.

More serious than Godzilla's last movie, Mothra vs. Godzilla dwells a lot on the monster as a deadly menace to all Japan, so serious that the people must call on a force of pure good to combat him. The costume has been slimmed down to look more lean and ferocious, and the scenes of destruction are some of the most impressive of the original series. The film adopts a strong moral overtone, with the innocence and purity of Infant Island tainted by greedy and irresponsible civilized men who have poisoned the island with atomic tests. Kumayama's story is of a ruthless and irresponsible man who finds himself scammed, his greed leading to folly, and Mothra and the Shobijin must inevitably bring themselves to do the right thing to protect all life.

It's easy, then, to see, why the film remains a favorite among Godzilla fans; it uses the monster as a villain and also delivers a truly epic and satisfying battle between him and an exotic foe. This is not to say it's without its flaws- it's too repetitive for its own good at times, with a lot of busy work and spectacle drawn out for the sake of it. While scenes of crowds running for their lives and Godzilla shrugging off futile attacks by the military are part of the fun, other films in the series show Honda as capable of much tighter work.

The effects sequences show Eiji Tsubaraya continuing to develop and refine his techniques. There are still some rough patches- the shots of a puppet Godzilla head are dodgy as ever- but there are some truly spectacular parts as well, including an attempt by the military to destroy the monster by smothering him with electrified nets. It seems odd how a creature like Mothra could ever really attack Godzilla, but the battle is both ferocious and convincing. Composer Akira Ifukube gets to score Mothra for the first time, adding his own theme for the creature that has a nice mystical power.

Mothra vs. Godzilla
may not be the best of the Sixties kaiju epics, but in some ways it helped set the tone and expectations for the series; mostly serious, but fantastic and colorful nonetheless, and not without its light and silly moments. Slow in places, especially near the opening, it ends up telling an oddly stirring and sincere story of idealism fighting against the corruption of the modern world. This would be Godzilla's last pure villain role for a while (twenty years to be exact), but he makes the most of it.

Written by Shinichi Sekizawa
Directed by Ishiro Honda

Grade: B+

No comments: