Sunday, May 28, 2017

Godzilla Chronicles: Mothra vs. Godzilla

After the initial mega-success of the original Gojira film in 1954, as this series has already shown, Toho immediately jumped into production of a sequel to capitalize on that success, even using a different director. The resulting film, which came out under a year later, Godzilla Raids Again, is a solid film, and notable because it featured the first time Godzilla (or any Toho monster) would fight another kaiju, but it also came off, ultimately, as rushed, smaller-scale, and smaller budget, than the original classic that terrified and mesmerized audiences. As such, the film didn't have nearly as great of success at the box office, causing Toho to functionally shelve Godzilla for the next near-decade.

Daikaiju Baran.

In the meantime, for the duration of the 50s, Toho continued to dabble and experiment in the science fiction and monster movie genres, most such attempts being directed by Ishiro Honda, such as 1956's Rodan, 1957's alien invasion flick The Mysterians, and as seen above, the 1958 monster film, which would later be bastardized and released in the states as Varan the Unbelievable. Unlike Rodan, and a certain other kaiju who received their own solo film during this time period, poor Varan would not be heavily featured in future Toho monster movies, only having a (very) brief cameo appearance a decade later. The decade would end with a semi-sequel to The Mysterians, featuring the same "Earth Defense Force", called" Battle in Outer Space.

The only Toho monster to almost rival Godzilla. Almost.

Come 1961, Ishiro Honda directed what would be a surprisingly popular film, featuring a giant moth trying to retrieve a pair of immortal fairies who were stolen by greedy humans. That film, of course, was Mothra, and it was enough of a hit, to merit them resurrecting the idea later on. After the smash success of the first true "Kaiju Battle" film, 1962's King Kong vs. Godzilla (King Kong got people more excited than poor Anguiras), Toho decided to pull the trigger on just such a resurrection.

The Egg of the Gods.

Now in Japan, a big part of the reason for Mothra's success, was the popularity with fans of all ages, of the two immortal fairy girls.  who dwell on her island and act as intermediaries, communicating with the "god" Mothra for the humans, and vice versa. The "Shobijin" (small beauties, as dubbed by one of the humans that initially encountered them), were played by real-life twin singers Emi and Yumi Ito. Their "Mothra Song" became something of a hit, and it was with this in mind that the set-up for a showdown between Toho's two most popular monsters formulated.

The basic set-up to 1964's Mothra vs. Godzilla, is very similar to the original Mothra film. In the original Mothra film, which features the mysterious "Infant Island" being irradiated by nuclear testing of the fictional nation Rolisica, and the expedition of said island leading to the discovery (and kidnapping by nefarious persons) of the twin fairies. In this movie, a great storm causes an enormous egg to be washed away from Infant Island, to the shores of Japan. The people who find the egg, naturally decide to try and make a profit off of the unusual spectacle, claiming ownership over it and planning to go so far as to build a theme-park of sorts around it. In the original Mothra, the fairies kidnapping prompts a larval Mothra to hatch on the island and go looking for them, eventually cocooning and later hatching as the adult form of Mothra. This time, it is the fairies who come to Japan on their own, trying to plead with the humans to help them recover the egg, because if these new larva hatch, they will likely cause great destruction, just milling around searching for food.

The Ultimate Showdown?

The way in which the two are most similar, of course, is that greedy humans want to try and capture/own the fairies, and use them as a spectacle to make money. In both cases, good humans who aren't scumbags, try to help free the fairies, before shit gets too ugly with their guardian, Mothra. The twist in this second film, of course, is that there also happens to be a Godzilla lurking around somewhere. I mean he basically has to be in the film, he's in the title!

The other main sub-plot early on, besides the arrival of the giant egg, is the unusual presence of radiation on the shores of Japan, after the great storm. Trying to tie these early films together is a bit of work, because they ARE tied together, and all technically happen in the same universe, but the continuity isn't always as iron-clad as, say, the 80s/90s Heisei era films. Basically, at the end of Raids Again, Godzilla is buried under tons of ice on a glacier. Then in Kong, he reawakens and breaks out of the glacier. At the END of Kong, both monsters tumble into the sea, and while Kong resurfaces and swims back to his island, Godzilla is presumably still under the ocean, taking a nap or something.  Where it gets tricky, is how he first appears in THIS film.


It needs to be said, that the reason Godzilla first appears the way he does in this movie, very likely boils down to the fact that somebody just thought it would look really fuckin' cool. And admittedly, it does. It just doesn't make all the much sense, for many reasons. So, reaching a bit, I'll just say that since the last movie probably left the Big G napping somewhere on the ocean floor or something, this big huge mega-storm must've, in the process of washing up tons of sand and other ocean shit, also magically deposited Godzilla on the Japanese shore. Underneath a ton of sand/ that nobody notices an enormous monster sleeping, like, right there. As I said, admittedly, the entrance IS pretty cool looking, as the main reporter characters are investigating shit, all the sudden the ground begins to churn and shake, and the next thing you know, BAM, Godzilla just up and rises out of the very EARTH itself, like "Surprise, bitches!"

The first thing of note about this, other than the sheer silliness/awesomeness of Godzilla nonsensically rising out of the ground, is that this movie established the start of an undated, cooler look for the G-man. While in his first three films, he had a much more dragon/reptilian look, with eyes on the sides of his head, a longer lizard-like snout, etc., this new look saw him begin to appear a bit more humanoid, with eyes set in the front of his face, and a somewhat shorter snout that looked a bit more canine rather than reptilian in appearance. The various suits, in Godzilla fandom, have been given different names to differentiate them, and this suit specifically, is known as the "MosuGoji" suit, because it first appeared in a Mothra (Mosura) film. This is not my VERY favorite Godzilla look (that would be the very next suit, used in 1965/66), but it set a precedent for the overall look (outside of a certain "Son of" aberration), for my preferred OVERALL Godzilla look, which he had throughout the 1960s.

Not cool, bro.

So, with Godzilla showing up, shit breaks down, and he sets about trampling some more of Japan. I first saw this film myself, as part of TNT's MonsterVision in the early 90s. And one thing I will say, while it is not one of my TOP favorite Godzilla films, is that Godzilla in the early going, is absolutely established, perhaps moreso than in any other Showa film outside of the original, as being a totally unstoppable badass. That is, at least, against human weapons. Artillery shells, missiles, you name it, he shrugs everything Japan tries to throw at him, completely off, and I think they tried to establish that tone with the "ground rise" entrance. Even as a kid, as silly as the idea is when you think about it too much, I probably was shocked that he just came up out of the ground, like "You can't fuckin' defeat ME!"

As far as the rest of the story goes, with Godzilla unstoppable and on a rampage, the main human protagonists decide to travel to Infant Island to ask the fairies who had visited them earlier, for the help of Mothra. Initially skeptical, saying Godzilla was Japan's problem, they were finally able to convince the fairies to convince Mothra to battle Godzilla. Though they also left the warning: Mothra is growing weak from natural causes, and doesn't have long left to live. Mothra swoops in to save the day nonetheless, and discovers Godzilla about to smash her egg, making it obvious she should have come in the first place. Mothra does her damnedest to beat up Godzilla, but there is a huge difference between a godlike moth guardian, and a walking engine of destruction. In the end, Godzilla is too much for Mothra to handle, and in a desperate last ditch effort, she unleashes her "poison dust" from her wings, an attack that drains what little is left of her life force.

Like a Phoenix?

In the end, Mothra distracted Godzilla long enough to give her children a fighting chance. Yes, children. In a twist, instead of merely one larva hatching from the egg, this time there are twins. Most likely because even the producers realized that if a fully grown Mothra can't beat Godzilla, how is ONE larva going to do so? Regardless of logistics, the twin larvae hatch, and follow a suddenly disinterested Godzilla to Iwa Island, where he randomly decided to mosey off to, threatening, of all things, some innocent school children (that bastard).

How humiliating.

Now to me, as a kid first seeing this film, AND as an adult, I simply do not like the film's conclusion much. Granted, it would be sad if Godzilla toasted the larvae and proceeded to wreck shit unchecked. But as even as a kid, the final battle came off as equal parts ridiculous, and cheap bullshit. Not that I HATE this film at all, mind you. It's fine, enjoyable, and not lacking in positives aspects. But in short, the JUST hatched Mothra larvae, hunt down and confront Godzilla, attacking him with the same "silk" thread substance they would normally use to make their cocoons for metamorphosis. Somehow, the thread is strong enough, that it basically straight-jackets Godzilla, and he falls, ingloriously, back into the ocean, beaten like a total chump by a couple of baby bugs.

If you thought kid-me was incensed at his "losing" to a goofy looking King Kong, you can bet your ass I was pissed that he "lost" to baby Mothras, in THAT kind of fashion. Granted, in neither fight does he truly LOSE, as in getting totally beaten down. Both fights end with him just plunging back into the ocean, not to be seen again (til the next movie), so if anything, they are stalemates, and in this case, I think it's obvious the bugs get damn lucky, catching him by surprise with something no one would have really expected. Just the same, child me felt cheated somehow, that my monstrous "hero" was getting shortchanged like that.

Taking out his rage on the screenwriters.

All in all, as a final verdict, I would say that Mothra vs. Godzilla is a MOSTLY good film, that starts strong, but ends weakly. It is not AS entertaining, to me, as King Kong vs. Godzilla was, although that film is largely entertaining on how silly it can be. This is definitely an attempt to reassert Godzilla as a nearly unstoppable force, and it succeeds at that, yet that last act just feels anti-climactic. Which is odd, because this is, for most fans, widely considered to be one of the top best Godzilla films. I would say, that for a film called "Mothra vs. Godzilla", they should have done something to make Mothra herself more worthy to fight Godzilla. Granted, she's a giant moth, but much later down the line, they would establish that she has some kind of "antenna beam" or whatever, other offensive powers, and they could have easily done something along those lines to make her more formidable.

Even if the end goal was to have an emotional moment where Mothra gives her live protecting her egg, they could still do that, but the climactic act of the film, should have been the battle between MOTHRA and Godzilla, perhaps ending with the larva managing to escape back to Infant Island, with maybe Mothra's "last ditch" poison dust managing to knock Godzilla out long-term, sending him plunging back into the ocean, instead. That, I think, would have been a more powerful and more satisfying ending. With her last act, Mothra manages to "beat" Godzilla, at least long enough to save her babies. I still would have been pissed as a kid that Godzilla loses, but it would be a better ending. Newborn larvae wrapping him in a cocoon WORKS...but it's so damn silly. While I know we're talking about made up rubber monsters here, listen, goddammit, all I'm saying is REALISTICALLY, Godzilla should have charred baby moths in a matter of moments. Just saying.

It's Clobberin' Time!

On a last, odd, minor note, as the poster above illustrates, the American release of this film, while not greatly altered like some other early Toho films were, tried to rebrand and promote the film in a very weird way. They basically tried to make what was in the egg a huge mystery, so that moviegoers coming to see the film would wonder "Who is Godzilla going to fight?" That poster art is pretty bad ass, but the title is otherwise silly and pointless. It boardered on false advertising, as it seems as if some massive, terrifying beast is going to fight Godzilla, and instead, it turns out to just be Mothra (if they had even seen that first Mothra film and knew who that was).

Overall, it's a pretty good movie, though with a weaker final act, as stated. I would still recommend it, though I would not put it in my own personal Top 5 Godzilla movies. Top 10? Sure. But I would recommend several other Showa era classics over this, even though it's certainly still worth seeing.