Ishiro Honda (director)
90 min (length)
16 November 2020 (released)
18 November 2020
Another ‘kaiju film’ produced by Japan’s Toho Studios, the MOTHRA monster may not look as threatening as her counterparts Godzilla or Rodan though is just as destructive. This classic from 1961 particularly stands out thanks to its exquisite cinematography and lush colour codes.
Like so many ‘monster’ films dished out by Toho Studios during the 50s and 60s, ‘Mothra’ begins with an atomic test gone wrong, well, sort of. When a ship off the (fictitious) Infant Island – an apparently uninhabited site for Rolisican atomic tests (Rolisica being another fictitious place) – is caught up in a particularly fierce typhoon the vessel runs aground. Some of the crew-members survive, others are less lucky. A swiftly dispatched rescue party finds four sailors, all of whom display no signs of radiation sickness… attributed to a miraculous plant juice provided by the natives of Infant Island. Determined reporter Zen Fukuda (Frankie Sakai, providing some comic relief) and his female colleague, photographer Michi Hanamura (Kyoko Kagawa) are responsible for breaking the story after having infiltrated the hospital to inspect the survivors.
When news of the survivors and the island reaches the wider population, the Rolisican Embassy co-sponsors a joint Japanese-Rolisican expedition to Infant Island for scientific purposes. The Japanese team is led by linguist/anthropologist Dr. Chujo (Hiroshi Koizumi), radiation specialist Dr. Harada (Ken Uehara) and Fukuda although his boss, Nitto Editor Amano (Takashi Shimura), has no idea that his reporter has joined said expedition. The Rolisican team is led by Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito), an unscrupulous and uncompromising individual whose sole agenda lies in making plenty of money. When the expedition members are astonished by the jungle’s vast and extremely colourful flora they quickly realise the plants are mutated, with Chujo almost falling prey to a blood-sucking vampire plant. He is saved at the last minute by two tiny, fairy-like women called ‘Shobijin’ (played by twin sisters cum vocal group The Peanuts) who beg the strangers to spare the island from further atomic tests. As a gesture of goodwill for having saved Chujo from the deadly plant, Fukuda promises the Shobijin’s plea shall be honoured. Shortly after, the entire team returns to the mainland, with Dr. Chujo and Fukuda adamant to keep stumm about their discoveries.
Of course, while ‘gutless’ Fukuda is being told off by his editor for having kept quiet about what potentially could have been a sensationalist headline article, baddie Nelson returns to Infant Island with the dastardly plan to abduct the two tiny women, not shying away from killing some natives in the process. Just like King Kong found himself exploited in a Broadway theatre show in NY, the ‘Small Beauties’ soon are exploited by greedy Nelson in a so-called Fairy Show in Tokyo where they are gliding across the air in a fairy tale carriage and sing their signature song to a gasping audience (incredible how such tiny creatures can sing so loudly). What Nelson doesn’t know is that the Shobijin’s signature song is in fact a secret chant (transmitted telephatically) begging the island’s god Mothra (still in a giant egg) to come to their rescue: “Mothra oh Mothra, with the power of your ancestor grant the prayer of your lowly servants, arise and show your power!”
Earlier on, Dr. Chujo, upon studying the islanders hieroglyphs, came across a repeated symbol translating as ‘Mothra’. Photographer Michi, Fukuda and Dr. Chujo communicate with the tiny women who warn them that it is too late, Mothra will come to their aid and leave a trail of destruction in the process though initially Fukuda doesn’t believe them. As rumours (both hearsay and printed in the Nitto newspaper) spread that Nelson holds the ‘small beauties’ against their will he sues the paper but it’s too late because back at Infant Island the egg has now hatched to reveal a gigantic caterpillar swimming towards Japan, first destroying a ship and a dam before arriving on the mainland and destroying more cardboard buildings and dinky toys. Unaffected by all sorts of weapons aimed to annihilate the caterpillar instead it spins a cocoon… Following the attack on mainland Japan, the public turn against Nelson who continues to hold the small women captive and thus decides to flee to Rolisica (an amalgam of Russia and America) with Mothra, who in the meantime has finally metamorphosed into a gigantic moth, hot on his heels. Cue for Nelson and his henchmen to flee to New Kirk City (no prices for guessing which city it’s supposed to be) but now Mothra unleashes its full wrath upon the city and Nelson meets his much deserved demise, albeit at the hands of the local police. Like in a fairy tale ending, the Shobijin beauties are cared for by Dr. Chujo until, filled with gratitude, he conjures up a plan which sees the girls and Mothra returning to Infant Island.
Mothra would become Toho Studio’s second most popular monster (with Godzilla a firm first place) and over the decades has featured in 11 Godzilla films and even received its own trilogy.
As part of Eureka’s Ishiro Honda homage, MOTHRA is presented in glorious Blu-ray in a Limited Edition set (4000 copies) feat. hardbound case, 60-page collectors book and reversible poster. Other Special Features include audio commentary, interview with film critic Kim Newman plus ‘Mothra: 1974 Champion Festival Version – a 61 min special version of the film edited by director Ishiro Honda for the Toho Champion Festival 1974.