The Godzilla 28 Movie Challenge: Number 4 - Mothra Vs Godzilla (1964)

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope…

King Kong vs Godzilla was a huge financial success for Toho and they hoped to repeat much of that success by bringing another established monster into the Godzilla universe. Though not as iconic, Mothra had already starred in a film of her own and was now pitched against Godzilla in what is regarded as one of the best films of the franchise.

The first Godzilla film was a dark reflection on the power of atomic weapons and the second film was still quite brooding. King Kong versus Godzilla started to get a bit silly – but it’s in Mothra Vs Godzilla where things start to get bonkers …and the result is pretty amazing!

The Toho-Godzilla dream-team are back with Ishiro Honda directing, Tomoyuki Tanaka producing and Ifukube and Tsuburaya providing the score and visual effects, respectively. Familiar acting talents return with several cast members from previous Godzilla (and other non-Godzilla Toho movies) gracing the screen – the most obvious being Akira Takarada, Horoshi Koizumi and Yu Fujiki. 

Personally I felt that King Kong vs Godzilla represented a drop in quality, the King Kong suit was often poor, and the whole thing felt a little thrown together and a bit too insane. Now, Mothra V Godzilla is far less plausible and contains more bizarre elements, but it somehow feels more grounded. Perhaps it’s because the characters are treated more seriously with less physical comedy, but I suspect it’s mainly due to the narrative (strange though it is) working incredibly well.

The miniature work is amazing and the film opens with a showcase of tokosatsu (special effects) as floodwater destroys structures on a storm-hit beach. The typhoon feels convincingly powerful and even the water pumps used to drain the aftermath look realistically articulate. 

Being a Kaiju film through, water isn’t the only thing to invade the beach and slowly floating to the shore is a giant egg. Investigations into what the egg may contain are initiated but (as in King Kong vs. Godzilla) corporate interference gets in the way of science as Kumayama of “Happy Enterprises” announces that the egg is his company’s property after completing a successful purchase with the locals. This introduces an interesting “science vs corporate greed” debate (which is half-heartedly pursued). Happy Enterprises are more than happy to allow the public to view the article, for a small charge of course. As for what hatches – well, it will be the centre attraction of a new Happy Centre theme park! Personally I’d wait and see what it is first, memories of Godzilla, Anguilas and King Kong rampaging through cities would make me a little cautious. Just to make things even more weird, twin faeries appear and (while talking in perfect synchronicity) claim the egg is theirs and contains “Mothra”. They warn that once the egg hatches, the young Mothra will unintentionally cause havoc in her quest to get back home.

Why are thing always so perilous in Japan?!

This film always brings two things to mind; Firstly, Mothra – my personal favourite Kaiju (more on that later), and secondly – the catchy Mothra song which is equal parts annoying and awesome. The song is a hark back to Mothra’s original stand-alone film and would go on to feature in future Mothra films. Although Ifukube’s score is (as usual) both beautiful and menacing, this is a rare occasion where the most memorable audio moment is not his. Yuji Koseki’s recycled Mothra song has a fun element to it, but the way it’s performed as a harmonised duet really makes it quite haunting. The faeries (combined with giant creatures) should make a mess of the film but they have a magical quality which ties everything together.

Now let’s look at the monsters…

Godzilla emerges just over half an hour into the film, but not from the sea – he bursts through the sandy earth in what has to be one of his best entrances. He stands and shakes the dirt from his body (complete with wobbly face) revealing a fantastic design. 

He’s woken up in a pissy mood, trampling through an industrial area and purposefully destroying buildings with tail flicks and atomic breath, you can tell he’s just woke up – he’s clumsy, first of all pulling a pylon onto himself, and then tripping over into a castle and taking his anger out on the innocent structure by clawing it to the ground. 

The design of the suit is exceptional, the fins are fat and spiky, the face has attitude and the body is well proportioned. The base is wide but not ‘baggy’ like it was in KKVG where there sometimes looked to be excess suit. So far in the Godzilla franchise there hasn’t been a bad suit and this is the best of them so far. 

Godzilla looks leaner but more aggressive, it actually looks less like a man-in-a-suit than the previous costume and looks to have more movement. Movement certainly looks more natural and the tail swish looks more controlled and not as jerky. There are some interesting shots of Godzilla, we see him trip, we see him waving his arms in annoyance and we get close ups of his feet – which might sound odd but up until now we’ve not really seen shots just of Godzilla’s legs!

The clawed hands look lethal rather than fat rubbery gloves and the arms have a distinguishable shape with recognisable joints – in King Kong vs Godzilla, Godzilla’s arms stuck out awkwardly from the side of the suit and resulted in a silly hand clap being the only real arm movement possible other than just letting them flap.

The neck is slicker too, instead of a long thin neck with a head wobbling on top, the neck is shorter and more natural looking (again, making this look less like an obvious suit). The head is amazing, the close ups show lighter coloured eye brows (you know what I mean) which in long shots help to give a meaner look as Godzilla looks as though he is snarling.

This film is famous for Godzilla’s wobbly lip. During the previously mentioned scene where Godzilla loses his footing and falls into Nagoya castle (I don’t know if this was a deliberate fall or not!), the suit takes a battering and Godzilla’s face literally breaks. The suit developed a wobbly lip and it was decided to leave it as-is as it gave a soft realism to the lips, it’s very clear in some scenes (especially the initial scenes) when Godzilla moves his head.

As for Mothra, I have to admit I have a fondness for the great moth.

This is the first Godzilla monster to not feature suitmation. Okay, that’s not strictly true as models and puppets were used briefly in scenes requiring headshots, etc in the previous films – however, Mothra is entirely hand operated. This enables the Kaiju to look completely unique and move in a unique way.

It’s not easy to make a giant flying moth look like it’s flying but the wing movements are excellent and used to good effect as Mothra causes Godzilla annoyance with her powerful wind (as it were). Whereas most Kaiju stomp about, Mothra flies and the wing movements are fluid and fast – something which later films seemed to lose the art of, with flying monsters hovering with little or no wing movement. Mothra isn’t scary, she’s not all sharp teeth and vicious roars, she’s a defender of the earth (though not an actual member of 1980s TV Series Defenders Of The Earth like Flash Gordon and Mandrake!).

Instead of a palette of browns, greys and greens – Mothra is a vibrant creature, full of colour, she even has sparkly eyes! The truth is, Mothra is cute with that big fluffy head, little dangly legs, and massive eyes. She’s the monster you could cuddle! 

The idea of a giant moth against an atomic reptile seems ludicrous but her differences make her a success. She can’t throw a punch but she can generate strong winds which obscure vision and cause her foe to fall over. She might look like she can be swatted but she is capable of dragging Godzilla by his tail. 

There are kind of three Mothras in this film, the original Mothra and her two offspring – and her babies are nowhere near as cute! Massive maggot-like larvae move convincingly and aren’t simplistic figures dragged around rocks – they have moving mandibles and flashes of personality. I have to admit though that I do have to stifle a titter in the scene where one attacks Godzilla's tail resulting in Godzilla going mental and flinging it about while it's still attached to him.

Not convinced that Mothra is awesome yet? C’mon! She’s worshipped as a God and has 2 faeries as companions!!!

Godzilla really does get his arse handed to him by Mothra at one stage, and it’s not just Mothra who has it in for the Big G. I’ve mentioned before (in Godzilla Raids Again) that the suit artist really has his work cut out for him and here, the same suit actor (Haruo Nakajima) is hit with various explosives and you can clearly see Godzilla’s head on fire at one stage!

The creatures, particularly Godzilla who wanders over the landscape, look as through they are really part of the action. As I have often said, the blend between model work and real life action is superb and Tsuburaya’s genius really creates plausibility from the visual madness. The genuine landscapes and the model landscapes are indistinguishable from each other, not just in terms of terrain but also the colours – that’s not that easy to achieve, but here it looks effortless. Same with the transitioning from miniatures, stock footage and live action, it’s all perfect. Such perfection is needed in order to suspend belief, without such attention to detail you would be removed from the film but thankfully you remain absorbed throughout. Some scenes/effects do seem to be repeated (particularly aeroplanes and tanks) but not to any real detriment.

Although this is less dark than the original Godzilla film, this is the first time we see actual violence between men – there’s a punch-up and gunfire, although you accept that people must perish as buildings are destroyed by giant monsters, it’s quite shocking to witness bloodshed at the hand of another man. 

If anything these films tend to show camaraderie, but the fight here highlights the evil of greed which is one of the morals of the films. It’s not hammered home or vehemently depicted, but (as with King Kong V Godzilla) there is a warning here about corporate greed and a further eco-friendly message – after all, Mothra is a pseudo-Gaia guardian.

Cult Kingdom rating:  5/5 

This is the last film we see Godzilla as a baddie, for the following films he would tend to be a heroic figure as the series started to cater more for the younger audience. In Mothra V Godzilla he is an intimidating figure and exists within a solid story. Admittedly this has some of the most bonkers features you could imagine in a film and whereas some Godzilla films would become a mess of half told stories and feeble plots, this movie is rescued not only by excellent visual effects, but by a coherent narrative which despite the craziness, flows nicely and never feels laboured. Some Godzilla films are guilty of stringing together scenes which seem to be linked by the flimsiest of premises rather than progressing through to a satisfying conclusion to the events established. It’s easy to see why this is a fan favourite, it’s firmly in my top 3 and Mothra is my favourite kaiju, after Godzilla of course.

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