HCF REWIND NO.118. MOTHRA VS GODZILLA AKA MOSURA TAI GOJIRA, GODZILLA VS THE THING [Japan 1964]
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 89 min
FEATURED MONSTERS: GODZILLA, MOTHRA, MOTHRA’S TWO LARVAE
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A typhoon washes ashore a large scale and a huge egg. News reporter Ichiro Sakai, photographer Junko Nakanishi and Prof Miura arrive on the scene, but the egg has already been bought by rich entrepreneur Kumuyama, who wants to make it into a large tourist attraction. The tiny twin fairies the Shobijin appeal to Kumuyama and his boss Jiro Torahata to not keep the egg, which belongs to Mothra the god of Infant Island, but to no avail. The Shobijin escape an attempt to capture them and meet with Sakai, Junko, and Professor Miura, who also fail to get the egg back. Meanwhile the scale is found to be radioactive, and then Godzilla suddenly emerges out of Kurada Beach…..
Read just a small amount of writing about the Godzilla series and you’ll find that, after Godzilla [and occasionally even that movie is put in second place], it is Mothra Vs Godzilla that is regarded as the peak of the Godzilla series. It’s certainly a very fine candidate, taking its fantastical tale seriously [it’s actually darker than Mothra] and telling it with conviction, yet with small touches of humour and never forgetting to be fun family entertainment. It’s filled with commentary on Honda’s favourite issues such as capitalism and the environment, but never labours them, has mostly excellent special effects, and it has good human characters who see you through the first half an hour before the action begins in earnest. The brevity of its monster battle scenes, while very well staged, lets the side down a bit for me and I can never stop thinking that the climax doesn’t entirely work. There are four or five Godzilla films I personally prefer, including the next one, but this won’t at all stop this review from being full of praise.
The initial idea after the huge success of King Kong Vs Godzilla was to have a return match between the two monsters, then Frankenstein Vs Godzilla was considered, with Takeshi Kimura even writing a treatment, a huge amount of which would eventually end up in Frankenstein Conquers The World. Shinichi Sekizawa’s first script for Godzilla’s encounter with Toho’s most popular creation Mothra had Mothra barely in it. Godzilla’s body was to wash ashore, the country off Rolisica from Mothra was to feature, and the final fight was to be with the Imago version of Mothra, not the larvae. AIP, who had successfully distributed Atragon in the States, picked up Mothra Vs Godzilla before shooting had began and asked for a scene of Rolisica attacking Godzilla remain in the script but it be the US rather Rolisica. This is why Mothra Vs Godzilla is unique in the series in that its American version has some Godzilla footage not in the Japanese version, though why they changed the title to Godzilla Vs The Thing, avoided showing Mothra in all publicity, and renamed her the Thing, is anybody’s guess. Rights issues? An attempt to bring back fond memories of the 1951 The Thing? Regardless, the film was popular both sides of the Pacific, if not quite as much so as King Kong Vs Godzilla.
The early part of the film is more about Mothra, or rather her egg, and allows director Ishiro Honda to carry on his attack on unscrupulous capitalism, here even criticising the government for turning a blind eye to certain practises. How timely is this?! The three main human protagonists are variations on the ones in Mothra and even feature one of that film’s cast members Hiroshi Koizumi though in one of the other roles this time. The Shobijin appear very early and this time round show a wider range of emotion, though never stop being polite even after an attempt to capture them. After half an hour the film remembers that it’s also about Godzilla, and we are treated to one of his best ever entrances, with first what seems like gas emitting from the sand, then the earth shaking, then his tail emerging, then finally his body as he stands up, shakes off all the dust and dirt, and prepares to destroy. He battles the military in a series of well-staged and clever [in one scene it’s the foolishness of one man which makes a plan fail] sequences where the methods employed to try and destroy Godzilla are almost believable rather than being elaborate, hi-tech weaponry. And of course, he battles Mothra….twice.
The first fight has its amusing moments, such as Mothra dragging Godzilla along by his tail, but a great deal of effort has been made to make it really seem like two animals are fighting to the death. Close-ups and speeded-up photography are used to great effect, though as I said earlier I think the fight could have been a bit longer, plus Mothra, who is reduced in size from her first film to better match Godzilla’s, now has a yellow gas weapon which she didn’t have before. Then again, continuity is often ignored in this film, with Infant Island looking very different than before. Very bleak, desolate, full of skeletons [including one weird turtle] and with only one small area containing vegetation, it’s a far cry from the tropical land of the first film. What really sits awkwardly with me about this film is the climax where Godzilla is bested by two caterpillars. Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya make the sequence as exciting as possible, utilising the many rocks around very well, and you just want to cheer the heroic caterpillers on, but considering the way Godzilla is such a force of nature in this film, relentless, unstoppable, and even endangering the lives of children in the climax where some of them are trapped in a cave where he is rampaging, it doesn’t entirely convince.
Godzilla’s suit was changed again, less reptilian than the previous one, less bulky, shorter snout, fleshy cheeks, inhuman stare, and slightly greener skin. I prefer the one before, but the lighter costume allowed Haruo Nakajima more mobility and show more personality. Technically, Mothra Vs Godzilla is quite a stunner. Mothra moves far more smoothly than in her first film and the buying of a new optical printer allowed Tsuburaya to both show off and improve the quality of his matting considerably. There’s less model work and more footage of Godzilla moving amidst real buildings, often superimposed menacingly in the background. In one bit, he appears drunk as he slides into a pagoda, and you can actually see Godzilla’s head being singed with real fire in one scene. Some shots, like one of people crowded round the egg, or Godzilla and Mothra battling in the background while the humans watch in the foreground, are almost seamless and also great shots in their own right. Honda really seems to be letting himself go in this film, perhaps because it contains a scene which may have meant more to him than any other bit in his movies. Sakai, Nakanishi and Muira go to Infant Island to beg for Mothra’s help against Godzilla, and we hear very heart-felt talk about how the islanders, who have suffered from nuclear testing, should feel obliged to help because they are part of the ‘brotherhood of man’. It may be in a film featuring a giant monster, but it’s the heart of the film.
The barbed banter between Ichiro and his photographer Junko [who’s a little less pushy than the similar character in Mothra] is great fun in a film which has plenty of wit in its dialogue, while a funny egg-eating reporter is the best of the choice bits of comic relief. Akira Takarada, Yuriko Hoshi and Hiroshi Koizumi are fine leads – look for a great moment when Mothra’s egg hatches and his face superbly expresses awe, horror and worry together – and this overshadows some over-acting by others. Akira Ifukube’s score is more repetitious than King Kong Vs Godzilla, often consisting of sections of his grand Godzilla theme [a slight variation on the one in the film before] and his Mothra theme being played alternately, musically doing battle. A theme for Infant Island expands on one in King Kong Vs Godzilla, and you even hear Mothra’s Song briefly again, sung a capella. Ifukube also wrote a really beautiful and haunting song for the Shobijin to sing called Holy Fountain. Mothra Vs Godzilla is a cracking film all round, maybe not the best Godzilla film [there are less great moments for me than some others] but probably the most perfectly balanced between fear and wonder, seriousness and plain goofy fun.
Though it contains an extra scene of Godzilla being attacked by an American super-weapon called the Frontier Missile, the US version still runs almost the same as the Japanese version due to a few bits and pieces being removed, most notably much of the Holy Fountain song and a shot of someone being shot, though nothing that harms the film. Having Mothra being called the Thing [though the name Mothra is still used to describe her spirit] is rather annoying but, again, the film is not damaged by it. The dubbing is okay too.