Mothra (Japan 1961)

Rating: **
Review Date: 2/9/20
Director: Ishiro Honda
Cast: Furanki Sakai, Hiroshi Koizumi, Kyoko Kagawa, Akihiko Hirata

A ship sinks during a raging storm, and several survivors find themselves washed ashore on the highly radioactive Infant Island, which was used for nuclear weapons testing by the fictitious nation of Rolisica (a satirical mash-up of Russia and America). After being rescued, they show no signs of radiation poisoning, and a joint scientific expedition is planned to investigate the island. Presumably, the survivors drank the same red berry juice that was featured in "King Kong Vs. Godzilla" (1962) to counteract the harmful effects of radiation. The Rolisican representatives quickly take charge of the mission and prohibit any media coverage, which makes them very suspicious. Once on the island, the Rolisican bad guys kidnap two tiny fairies and return to Japan to exploit them as a media sensation. This makes Mothra, the Goddess Of Infant Island, very angry and she bursts forth from her egg to rescue the fairies. However, the bad guys refuse to relinquish them, even as Tokyo gets levelled by the raging Mothra. The Rolisican government initially attempts to help Japan destroy the monster, but they eventually withdraw their support and demand the fairies to be set free. Wanted in Japan as criminals, the bad guys leave the country and head back to Rolisica, with Mothra in hot pursuit. After Mothra destroys New Kirk City, the Japanese heroes finally manage to appease her wrath and return the fairies to her.

Much to my astonishment, I never saw the original "Mothra" as a child. I saw every other Toho film that featured Mothra as a guest monster, but never the original. While Mothra has historically been Toho's second most popular monster next to Godzilla, I find her to be ridiculous. The silk-spitting larva stage is overly silly, and her adult form does nothing but create strong winds with her wings. That said, it's more the concept of Mothra as an Earth goddess that makes her appealing. In the film she's neither good or bad, and her sole purpose is to rescue the fairies no matter the cost. There are no other monsters in the film, and the antagonists are just greedy Capitalists. The film is overflowing with political satire and social commentary, which becomes tiresome pretty quickly. Then it sharply detours into religious territory at the end, when technology proves useless against Mothra. That's when the film goes totally bonkers and I lost my interest.

Despite the heavy-handed themes and awkward attempts at humor, where the film really pays off is in its impressive miniature work. The visual effects and destruction sequences are spectacular, and they only falter when they're unconvincingly composited with blue-screen footage of live actors. Mothra is an impressively destructive force of nature in the film, whereas her follow-up appearances are far less potent. It starts out as an entertaining monster romp, but the last forty minutes are a serious chore to get through.