Movie Reviews

Number 1 – “Mothra vs. Godzilla” (1964)

 

 

I’m not afraid to admit, for all of cinemas’ subtleties, advancements, and vast range of storytelling, that would go no where if audiences did not have fun with these films. Cinema is certainly an art form, but it is also a form of entertainment, like any other media or art form. If art does not give you any enjoyment, then it fails.

The reason the Godzilla series means so much to me is because I have been entertained by its many films for most of my life. Even films as low on this countdown as “Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla” still have one or two things that I enjoyed, with each entry after that getting better than the last, until we get to the most entertaining movie I’ve ever seen, “Mothra vs. Godzilla.”

“Mothra Vs. Godzilla” taught me it was possible for a daikaiju film to have a strong narrative that was as interesting to watch as the monster scenes. That a monster movie should not be only about the monsters, but the people effected by these monsters and their attempts to combat them, or simply survive. This is not the first time the Godzilla movies did this obviously, but “Mothra vs. Godzilla” has the benefit of having impressive effects and Akira Ifukube’s best score.

 

 

 

The film starts with a massive typhoon hitting Japan, destroying an industrial park. More surprising though is that a giant egg washes up on a Japanese beach, leaving everyone surprised as to where it came from. Before researchers can find out about the egg, a business man by the name of Kumayama (Yoshifumi Tajima) buys the egg from the local fishermen and intends to make a theme park with the egg as the center attraction.

A local reporter, Sakai (Akira Takarada) and his photographer, Yoka (Yuriko Hoshi) look into the matter and find that Kumayama is being funded by one of the richest business men in Japan, Banzo Torahata (Kenji Sahara). As the two discuss their plans, they are visited by two unexpected guests – Mothra’s twin fairies, who claim that the egg belongs to Mothra and that it must be returned to them, before Mothra hatches and causes great damage across Japan.

Though this might be the least of their problems, as it seems that typhoon washed ashore something much bigger and more dangerous than Mothra.

“Mothra Vs. Godzilla” has an interesting atmosphere, unlike any other monster film out of Japan. Other than “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” this was the first film Toho would make that has two monsters battling each other. Prior to this, Toho focused on solo monster endeavors, like “Rodan,” “Varan” and most notably, “Godzilla” and “Mothra.” As such, Toho wanted to make this match-up feel grand and epic. They do this by combining storylines and themes from both “Godzilla” and “Mothra” to create a film that balances eerie destruction with a whimsical adventure.

 

 

“Godzilla” was a morbid, unforgiving look at the lives of a frail Japan being savagely beat down by a giant monster created by atomic fire. While “Mothra” was more about the horror of man, in particular greedy businessmen. In that film, Mothra’s twin fairies are kidnapped and forced into show business, with Mothra traveling across Japan to save them and destroying anything in its path. Ultimately, “Mothra” is about the pain that man inflicts upon itself, while still feeling like a light-hearted fantasy.

“Mothra vs. Godzilla” finds the perfect middle ground between these two oddly different monster movies that makes their final clash feel like more than just two titans battling it out, but also feels like a conflict of ideals.

Much like in “Mothra,” this film finds a way to use the giant moth’s property into a means of profit. Both Kumayama and Torohata are unwilling to give the egg back, since Mothra has no legal power. They boast about how rich they’ll be when they make an entire theme park around the egg and build up the mystery of what will hatch from it. Where this film differs is that these men are more fleshed-out than the villain in “Mothra.”

Kumayama saw an opportunity to make a name for himself and refuses to let it go. It seems to be less about the money for him, and more about reputation, as his projections for how much they’ll make out of this are much lower than Torohata’s numbers. When the fishermen complain that they haven’t gotten their money for the egg and the land to build the park, Kumayama insists that he will pay them back the next day, even though there’s a rumor the park will never open due to the bad press. Kumayama ends up paying the fishermen money out of his own pocket and sells all of his stock on the egg as collateral to Torohata.

I get the impression that Kumayama is a desperate man who wanted everything to be fair, only for Torohata to betray his loyalty and use him to become even more powerful. Simply because that’s how business works. Kumayama is less of a villain and more of a guinea pig and shield for Torohata, even though Kumayama is still consumed by greed and ambition to see his final outcome.

With a wonderfully charming performance from Yoshifumi Tajima that adds just enough humanity to Kumayama, his character is up there with Dr. Mafune and Katsura as one of the best characters in the franchise.

“Mothra Vs. Godzilla” takes the themes of greed and capitalism of “Mothra,” but gives it a more human touch by making the characters relatable and sometimes heart-breaking, like those being destroyed in “Godzilla.”

The size and scope of “Godzilla” is also still in full effect, though is enhanced by having superior effects. In particular, Godzilla’s opening rampage is one of the most haunting monster sequences I can think of. It starts off with Godzilla rising out of the ground, as if he were a zombie ready to feast again. There’s something even more haunting about seeing Godzilla’s dorsal spines slowly rise out of the Earth instead of the water that makes his entrance stand out.

Once Godzilla reaches Nagoya, we start off with seeing Godzilla’s figure way off in the distance, only for the camera to get closer and closer, until Godzilla is destroying a building right in front of our faces. It’s like the opening shots of Godzilla in “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” where his dominating figure continues to grow.

 

 

This sequence makes full use of rear projection and super-imposing images of Godzilla over live shots of Nagoya fleeing from this monstrosity. “Godzilla” used this a few times, but here we see Godzilla tower over the massive city landscape, to the point where it looks like he is still miles away and is already bigger than most of the skyscrapers.

For this reason, and many more throughout the film, “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” has the best effects of any Toho monster film. During the 1950s and 1960s, no other film studio was doing what Toho did and was doing so well – they made creatures bigger than anything we had constructed up to that point and made them seem believable and still terrifying. We would fight it with everything we had, even though we were sure it wouldn’t do anything.

The filmmakers understand the scale and power these abominations possess, and that they provide a struggle we might lose but certainly worth fighting.

This works in “Mothra vs. Godzilla” because the defense force is intelligent for once. They understand what they are fighting and know that Godzilla cannot be stopped, but can be incapacitated or moved to less populated areas. They lure Godzilla away from the most densely populated areas with fire and explosives, with the effects crew accidentally setting Godzilla’s head on fire at one point (though it is shocking to see on film). Once there, the military unleashes millions of volts of electricity on Godzilla, which do down Godzilla at one point.

This is why “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” is the most entertaining movie to me. It takes my favorite movie genre of giant monsters, never skips on a chance for exciting action with impressive effects, and still plans out every scene, character, and monster fight to the last detail to give us a movie that respects its audience. It combines eye-popping visuals with a great story, something you don’t see too often in the monster genre.

Of course, the crowning moments in the film are the fights between Mothra and Godzilla. Mothra, being a creature of beauty and kindness, does not fight like any other monster. She prefers to out-wit her opponents and get them in a position where they cannot hit her, using her maneuverability and wind to keep them away. Godzilla is monster of brute strength and will take a threat directly to the face if he has to. Together, these two have a cat-and-mouse style fight, where Mothra blasts Godzilla with hurricane-force winds and drags him around by his tail.

This is made more suspenseful when we’re told that Mothra is dying and has little strength left, but will use the last of it to stop Godzilla.

 

 

The battle at the end of the film is equally as fun to watch. Mothra’s egg finally hatches and gives birth to two Mothra larva, who immediately head for Godzilla to fight him. This turns into a battle of brains against brawn and the monster equivalent of David against Goliath. The twin Mothra’s can only dodge Godzilla’s atomic ray (which apparently is now strong enough to melt solid rock) and use their webbing to slow him down.

What helps sell these fights, as well as any scenes with Godzilla and Mothra, is the music. Akira Ifukube’s style of music was not to accompany the scene, but enhance the atmosphere and give some moments a bigger emotional punch. This is the film where Ifukube would nail down the classic Godzilla theme, which would be used in nearly every Godzilla film from that point on. That theme carries a power that matches Godzilla’s slow methodical pace, but also his immeasurable strength, like a bomb that has crashed and could go off at any moment.

Yet the quiet almost lullaby of Mothra’s theme provides a nice contrast to the Godzilla theme. These pieces of music perfectly capture their respective characters, and makes their fights far more intense when their themes are also fighting for control.

“Mothra Vs. Godzilla” is a great example of every film aspect coming together to produce the most entertaining film in the Godzilla franchise. The effects have never been better, the writing is logical and relatable, the acting matches the writing perfectly, the music is larger than life and makes so many scenes better, and the monsters are still amazing to watch. This film manages to take what “Godzilla” and “Mothra” started and makes it even better, providing a film that always makes me excited when I see it.

 

 

But above all else, it captures everything I love about Godzilla perfectly. “Mothra vs. Godzilla” takes a monster of immeasurable strength and power and uses it as a way to show people’s strengths and flaws. Some people like Kumayama and Torohata grow greedy and selfish in the face of these creatures, while others like Sakai and Yoka are quicker to make their fellow man better and act selflessly.

Godzilla isn’t just an allegory, or destroyer, or protector, or even a monster – he’s a mirror that brings out the best and the worst in people.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of my Godzilla-thon. All 31 films reviewed and categorized from best to worst. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing these reviews and recounting everything that I loved and hated about this series. If you’re interested in any of the Godzilla films, I highly suggest you check them out, especially since the Criterion collection just bought the rights to nearly every Showa film. Plus, there are plenty more Godzilla films being made as we speak, so don’t expect me to be done with the King of the Monsters for good.

 

 

 

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