Sunday Matinee: Mothra

MothraOut of all of Toho’s giant monsters, Mothra was a little different. Based on the novel The Luminous Fairies and Mothra, Mothra seems to owe a little more to Universal’s King Kong than Godzilla.

Made in 1961, the movie starts with a ship sinking during a storm near Infant Island, an island that is believed to be deserted but was used for nuclear testing by the fictional government of Rolisica. The surviving sailors make their way to Infant Island where they are rescued. The survivors are then isolated and tested for radiation poisoning. Strangely none of the survivors have any radiation on them at all. Further more they all claim that the island’s natives helped them. When the news that there might be people on the island, Rolisica claims that they checked out the island before they tested on it.

A expedition is mounted to check out the claims and Rolisica agrees to help out the project with Japan. The party is lead by Rolisican capitalist Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito) along with Japanese scientists and a reporter. They encounter vampiric plants and two tiny women only 12 inches tall (The Peanuts) along with their tribe of normal sized people. The expedition leaves but Nelson and his men return to kidnap the women. Nelson takes them to Japan where he forces them to sing in a show. The natives pray to their god, a giant egg to return the women. The reporter, along with one of the scientists tries to get Nelson to release the girls. He refuses. Mothra finally hatches as a giant caterpillar who starts swimming towards to Japan to save the girls. The girls inform the reporter and the scientist that Mothra is coming. Again Nelson refuses to give up the girls. Japan attacks Mothra but the attacks are futile. Mothra attacks Japan and then cocoon’s itself on Tokyo Tower. In the meantime Nelson has grabbed the women and ran back to his native Rolisica. Mothra emerges as a giant moth and flies to Rolisica to save the women.

Mothra isn’t a force of death and destruction like Godzilla or Rodan are, instead Mothra is a creature worshipped by natives and it’s mission is to protect it’s people. It’s terrible that innocent people might get hurt but it can’t be helped if it’s own people are in danger. Mothra is actually the hero of the story, not the villain. One entertaining thing of note is the fictional country of Rolisica which is clearly a stand in for the United States. The final fight even takes place in the Rolisica city of New Kirk City aka New York City. In the Japanese cut of the film, when the Rolisicans speak, they all speak English while the rest of cast speak Japanese, hint, hint. And of course an evil businessman wants to exploit a world wonder for profit regardless of the cost.

Mothra would become so popular that she would star in seven Godzilla movies and a trilogy remake in the 1990s. The fourth Godzilla movie, Mothra vs. Godzilla would have the big G fighting Mothra in a similar plot to the first Mothra film. A storm washes Mothra’s egg to Japan where an evil corporation claims ownership of the egg, refusing to return it to Infant Island. In the meantime Godzilla shows up and threatens the egg and Mothra turns up to save the day. From then on Mothra became part of the Godzilla franchise, in the next film Mothra has to convince Godzilla and Rodan to team up to fight King Ghidorah. These later films get a little goofy but the original is pretty damn good. It was just announced at the San Diego Comic Con that Mothra will be appearing in Godzilla 2. Hopefully they don’t screw it up.

Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka spends most of his life watching movies and reading comic books, using his vast knowledge of genre culture for evil instead of good.