Godzilla picture #3, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, was such a hit in 1963 that Toho realized their boy really should have an ongoing series where he battles other behemoths, so director Ishiro Honda, composer Akira Ifukube and effects genius Eiji Tsuburaya (plus Haruo Nakajima redonning the Godzilla suit) immediately got to work on the next one.
Getting the rights to another studio’s characters every time wasn’t gonna be sustainable (too bad – GODZILLA VS. CAT PEOPLE would’ve been cool), so this time they decided to pit the big guy against Mothra, the giant moth goddess from Honda’s own 1961 film. I’ve always associated Mothra with Godzilla, so it’s interesting to realize that they weren’t originally intended to cross paths or exist in the same world. In a way, MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA is like if M. Night Shyamalan had made SPLIT unconnected to UNBREAKABLE and then decided to combine them in GLASS. Or if James Cameron made AVATAR VS. THE ABYSS.
Another thing it’s easy to forget is that there was an entire decade where Godzilla was always the bad guy. Here he’s in his fourth movie and the guy is just a total dick still. Only in movie #2 could you argue he was kind of good, because the other guy was so aggressive. Otherwise he’s just causing problems for everybody. For this one he doesn’t show up until a half hour in (such a diva) so Mothra gets top billing.
It starts with a typhoon. Junko (Yuriko Hoshi, KILL!) is a newspaper photographer sent to take pictures of the wreckage; she has friction with her reporter boss/partner Ichiro (Akira Takarada, KING KONG ESCAPES, GODZILLA FINAL WARS) because he just wants her to point and click, but she’ an artist who wants to, like, do a good job. She tells him she’s “looking for a theme” and he condescendingly says, “This isn’t high art.”
While he’s being a whiny prick and terrible co-worker who sucks (but is very handsome) she’s in a ditch composing a shot of a beautifully colored chunk of unexplained biological material that no one else noticed. “A vision of beauty among utter destruction,” she calls it, before everyone realizes that it’s a genuine scientific discovery. I believe her philosophy in this opening is Honda’s mission statement for the movie.
With her artist’s powers of observation she’s always the first to notice things, such as the giant speckled egg floating in the ocean, which will be central to the plot. It’s Mothra’s egg, which got washed into the water by a mudslide during the typhoon. Scientists don’t figure that out – those doll-sized twins from Infant Island (Emi and Yumi Ito, a.k.a. The Peanuts) show up (they flew in on Mothra, who hangs back where people don’t notice her) to tell everybody. The funny part is they’re not worried for the egg – they know it’ll be fine. It’ll hatch and Mothra’s larvae will come home to the island but in the meantime it will fucking destroy everybody while looking for food. And they don’t want to “cause chaos.”
Problem is, a company called “Happy Enterprises” purchased the rights to the egg and have it housed in a huge windowed structure that they say will be the world’s largest amusement park, Shizonoura Happy Center. They figure whether it’s a bird or a monster that hatches out of that thing it will make a good attraction, but man does this not seem like an even remotely appealing tourist destination. It just looks like a water processing plant or something and then, hey – a giant egg in a hangar. Where is the amusement? Where is the Happy?
When the reporters and Professor Miura (Hiroshi Koizumi, LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS) bring the twins (in a fancy carrying case) to try to convince Happy Enterprises guy Kumayama (Yoshifumi Tajima, THE HIDDEN FORTRESS) and his financer Torahata (Kenji Sahara, NONE BUT THE BRAVE) to send the egg back to Infant Island, they instead offer to buy the twins. Kumayama also insults Junko while she’s taking pictures, and fucking Ichiro says nothing, and also says nothing when she later calls him out on not sticking up for her. And he didn’t learn jack shit from being so wrong after the typhoon and is telling her to “stop fooling around” exactly when she’s the first to notice movement in the distance that turns out to be Godzilla tearing out of the ground. At the end of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA he had fallen into the water – maybe a mudslide buried him? But he rises up with sand pouring off of him. Mrs. Vern said it was like Beatrix Kiddo coming out of the grave.
Our heroes decide to head to Infant Island to try to convince Mothra to come fight off Godzilla. But nearby nuclear testing has destroyed the island since we last saw it – other than an oasis where the twins live, it’s all rocks and skeletons. The chief of the native tribe says that the Godzilla problem is “your fault for playing with the devil’s fire,” and the twins say “we have no faith in your world.” But an impassioned speech about peace gets these representatives of our world an audience with Mothra.
Here’s a cool mythological part: Mothra is near death, sitting on a “sacred rock” while “awaiting her final day.” When she agrees to help she knows she won’t ever return, except that she will live on in the larvae. I think that’s literal, but you gotta wonder how it works since the egg turns out to hatch twins. Mothras don’t die, they multiply!
I’m glad I’m watching these in chronological order, because it’s so exciting to notice them getting more sophisticated and trying new things as they make more of them. I believe we have our first daylight Godzilla attack on a city, which looks great. There’s a gorgeous shot of the sunrise reflecting on the model egg silo. Definitely the most impressive sequence is a little after dusk, when jets shoot missiles at Godzilla, he’s walking through flames and his head catches on fire! I read that it was actually an accident, maybe that’s part of why it looks so cool.
The fight with Mothra is great and unlike the previous 3 movies since this is the first time Godzilla has fought a large marionette rather than a fellow suitmation character. She uses all her tricks, especially blowing wind at him with her wings. There’s a funny part where she grabs his tail (which has grown longer) and just drags him around for a while.
Later she’s dead and her twin worm babies have to take him on. One of them bites the tip of his tail and he just flips out, thrashing her all around. Then they start spitting webbing onto him. It’s a very long process that goes from him looking spider-webbed to growing more and more restrained by a thick cocoon.
A non-special-effects-related image I love is when the protagonists show up on Infant Island in their yellow biohazard suits and are surrounded by natives painted red from head to toe. The rest of the tribe doesn’t do that – they must be the elite guards or something. But it’s such a striking visual. (Once they’re inside the cave the yellow suits are gone and we must question why they dressed formally for an inflatable raft rescue mission to a radioactive monster island.)
I’m not sure how intentional this is, but here’s a movie where men keep ignoring and disrespecting the female photographer, the little women from the island, and Mothra herself. But these women all prove to be right, and come out on top.
Like the original MOTHRA there’s just something mythical and beautiful about the story. Godzilla is a force of nature – the army pulls out all the militaristic stops and it’s useless. (Particularly good tank melting in this one.) Only this beautiful goddess, representing the circle of life and the peaceful ways of the indigenous islanders, knows how to stop him. And not by killing him. Just by making him cool it for a while.
(Wouldn’t it be cool if he hatched from that cocoon with wings, or at least Mothra colors?)
And of course this theme ties in with the story of human greed going on on the ground. There’s one scene that’s unlike and more exciting than any other twists we’ve seen in the human stories in the series so far. The amusement park CEO Kumayama and the financer Torahata fall out over money. Kumayama realizes the Godzilla situation is gonna force him to cancel the opening, but he’ll have to pay back the loan with interest. A confrontation about this leads to a physical fight over the actual bundles of cash. Torahata is on the ground with his face bloodied when he sees Godzilla out the window. Suddenly he gets up, grabs a gun, shoots Kumayama and tries to run off with a bag full of the money. But Godzilla smacks the hotel and he gets crushed.
Is that amazing, or what? He sees Godzilla coming and his thought is to get the money and that he might as well kill Kumayama. He figures nobody will know because the building will fall on top of him! We’ve never seen this kind of devious opportunistic behavior during a kaiju attack. Thank you, screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa (who also wrote MOTHRA and KING KONG VS. GODZILLA).
I’m gonna keep watching these and I hope there are some more surprises like that along the way.