Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (2.5/5)
January 22nd, 2005 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

The most successful Godzilla outing of all time, in terms of revenue, Godzilla vs. Mothra is actually a rather forgettable entry in the long running series. The story itself is a rehash of previous films, the characters and acting are sub par, the Mothra and Godzilla characters aren't handled nearly as well as they should have been, and the special effects are adequate at best. However, despite its flaws, the film is a tolerable entry in the Godzilla series that at least can boast decent pacing and features an amazing score by maestro Akira Ifukube.

To give a brief summary of the plot, one could simply call it a crewed remake of Mothra (1961) with Godzilla and Battra thrown into the mix. To sum up the story: a meteorite collides into the Earth, which sets off a chain reaction that unearths Mothra's egg on Infant Island and wakes Battra out of his artic confinement. An expedition is quickly dispatched to Infant Island to assess the damage. While there, the expedition stumbles upon Mothra's egg and two tiny Cosmos, an ancient society that once ruled over Earth. The Cosmos expose their follies, how their scientists had constructed a weather changing device which angered the Earth and spawned the Black Mothra: Battra. In the end, Mothra rushed to their aid and defeated Battra; however, the machines were destroyed in the confrontation, causing massive floods that only allowed a few Cosmos to survive. The expedition decides to ferry Mothra's egg back with them. Battra, upset by humanity's development, makes a quick stop in Japan itself, causing widespread damage, before the beast retreats back underground. Meanwhile, Mothra's egg is assaulted by the freshly awoken Godzilla, who briefly battles Mothra and later Battra, as both the King of the Monsters and the Black Mothra become trapped in an undersea volcano. Mothra returns to Infant Island, and the expedition returns home. Kenji Andoh, the man in charge of the expedition, refuses to come back empty handed, however, and kidnaps the two Cosmos. The Cosmos quickly pray to Mothra for help, who makes her long descent toward Japan. Meanwhile, Takuya Fujita, another member of the expedition, steals back the Cosmos. However, Takuya, instead of help return them, attempts to sell the two in order to make a tidy profit. The plan doesn't pan out, as Mothra arrives outside of the hotel where Takuya is staying and the Cosmos are released so they can assure Mothra that everything is fine. Mothra then goes to the country's capital and builds a cocoon. Meanwhile, Godzilla rises from his volcanic confinement near Mount Fuji, as Mothra emerges from her cocoon and Battra bursts from the sea: all three head toward Japan.

While the climax differs greatly from its 1960's predecessors, the overlying story is mostly a reiteration of Mothra (1961), excluding the very weakly explored environmental subplot and the expanded kaiju "roster." This film doesn't borrow exclusively from the 1961 film, though. The introduction to Godzilla vs. Mothra's lead character, Takuya Fujita played by Tetsuya Bessho, sets up a scene obviously made to imitate Raider of the Lost Ark's brilliant opening sequence. This is complete with the lead escaping only to find himself surrounded at "weapon's point" (spears in the Raiders of the Lost Ark, guns in Godzilla vs. Mothra) forcing him to forfeit the excavated artifact. Unfortunately, Tetsuya Bessho is no Harrison Ford, and the scene is poorly executed with bricks actually falling onto the lead during the sequence. Another event that was obviously culled from another film, although this one is thankfully from Toho, is the end of the climax. The finale, in which Godzilla is dumped into the water by his adversaries, is clearly just a rehash of the ending to Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), and isn't any more satisfying the second go around. Beyond the obvious "inspirations" and borrowed plot points, there isn't a whole lot to Godzilla vs. Mothra's story. Furthermore, it would have been nice had the environmental issue been explored more, or just dropped altogether. As is, it feels like an afterthought, and the correlation between a meteor hitting Earth and humanity's disrespect for nature seems like a stretch at best.

As with most of the Heisei Godzilla entries, a cast of well developed characters become an issue here. One has to at least admire the attempts at character development shown, though, like the scene of the leads crowded around a fire as a picture of Takuya Fujita's daughter is discussed. Unfortunately, scenes like this feel like they are cut short, before they can actually dig very deep into the characters. The relationship between the divorced parents is an interesting angle, as at least it's exploring a new type of character for a Godzilla film. The "man out of his element" character, Kenji Andoh played by Takehiro Murata, is a nice touch for the exploration scenes on Infant Island, but like a lot of the other aspects it feels only half touched on. In regards to Miki Saegusa, played by Megumi Odaka, she ends up with her most unmemorable role yet. The character feels entirely tacked on, given almost nothing to do while her character is left completely unexplored. She worked fine as a minor character in Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), but two films later one would expect to learn a little more about her. Her psychic powers aren't even mentioned in this entry, something which will seem incredibly odd to those unfamiliar with the character as she tracks down the Cosmos with her telepathy.

As for the acting, it wouldn't be right to say that it was poor, but then the movie features no memorable performances either. It certainly pales when compared to its 1964 predecessor, Mothra vs. Godzilla. Overall, the acting is sub par. It does its job, but doesn't add anything to the film and there are a couple of cringe worthy moments, although thankfully they are often brief. One example includes Tetsuya Bessho wailing after Misako when she leaves him in jail, where the editor should have used some foresight and cut early. As always, the English speaking actors, and Tetsuya when he speaks English as well, are handled abysmally in this film. These segments are rare, confined to the introduction with the meteorite and the bartering for the Cosmos, but they are awful enough to be a distraction for anyone fluent in English.

Looking past the human roles, Godzilla vs. Mothra's other characters don't fare much better. The film is probably most infamous in this regard for its portrayal of Mothra. The spirit of Mothra, in arguably her best role: Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), was one of determination against impossible odds. The Mothra in the 1992 film, however, has been given a huge boost in power. She now boasts both antenna beams and the ability to shoot lightning from her wings, as her scales reflect energy attacks. Granted, Godzilla is still the most powerful monster in the film, but the gap has certainly shrunk between the two combatants. Also in this regard, Godzilla is no longer the clear antagonist in the film. There is no emphasis placed on his threat, like there was in the 1964 film, as the monster simply shows up on cue to battle the Mothra Larva and again for the climax. This was likely done to keep one guessing if Godzilla or Battra will be the film's true villain, but the overall product suffers for it. Also, the sound effect used for Godzilla's ray is noticeably weaker this go around, losing the pitch in frequency and making the ray sound "cleaner." Not nearly as imposing as it did in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991). It may be a small detail, but considering the fact that it's used so much in the film it does become an issue. Beyond the monsters, Mothra's trademark fairies, dubbed the Cosmos this time around, resurface after being absent from the big screen since the closure of Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966). The Cosmos do their job well, quickly explaining Mothra and Battra's back story in the film. Although it would have been even better had their explanation been accompanied by some flashbacks, but given the limited budget I suppose that's too much to ask.

As with just about every entry in the Godzilla series, the special effect work here tends to be uneven. Sadly, Godzilla vs. Mothra is one of those films that tend to do more wrong than right. Some effects do work well here, such as Battra's transformation, while many more segments, like Mothra's legs while lifting Godzilla, fail to impress. Also, the Battra and Mothra Imago props look rather stiff and completely unconvincing. Godzilla vs. Mothra is also the film which "pioneered" the astonishingly slow wing movement when the creatures are in flight. Granted, all of the shots with Mothra/Battra and Godzilla in them had to be slowed down for Godzilla to look right; however, special effects director Koichi Kawakita should have compensated for this by making the wings on both Mothra and Battra move faster so that they looked at least credible when slowed down. Despite the inadequacies of the flying props, both the Godzilla suit and the Battra Larva suit look nice, even if the Godzilla suit doesn't look as spectacular as it did in the previous two films.

On a more positive note, the pacing in Godzilla vs. Mothra is actually handled well until near the end. The film has a strong start, introducing the principal characters before sending them off on an expedition to Infant Island. The entire Infant Island segment is well done too. The location shooting works wonders here, as Ifukube's Infant Island theme gives a great nostalgic feeling. The sequence is padded, nicely, with the three preliminary characters' quirks, while a bridge action scene is done as to not lose anyone's attention. The film continues at this nice pace, quickly exploring the back story of Mothra and Battra with the Cosmos, before inter-splicing some attacks with Battra as the story continues to develop. The film then reaches the halfway marker with Godzilla, Mothra, and Battra battling in the water. The two antagonist monsters disappear, as the Cosmos are kidnapped so Mothra can have her own city destruction sequence. Mothra then emerges from her cocoon, in a sequence which seems to drag on, despite numerous inter-cuts with reactions from onlookers, and the film continues to go down hill from here, sadly. The pacing is further marred by the film's lackluster climax. It's not nearly as exciting as the earlier confrontation, due to the lack of performance permitted by the Mothra and Battra flying props, and goes on for far too long. Despite the poor closure for the film, the rest of the pacing is still handled relatively well.

Without a doubt, Godzilla vs. Mothra's strongest aspect is Ifukube's wonderful score. Where as his work for the previous year's Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) featured only updated themes, Ifukube does himself one better here with a nice balance of new cues while still including updates to some of the composer's classic music. Some of Ifukube's better work on the film includes Battra's theme along with an update of the Self Defense Force March, from The War of the Gargantuas (1966). As with just about any film featuring Mothra, the movie also features a great deal of vocal work. While most of the songs here are simply culled from Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), they still work well in this film. In particular is the song done for Mothra's decent into Akasaka, which occurs near the middle of the movie.

In conclusion, with a lack of truly memorable moments and a story that feels like a crewed rehashing of previous Toho films, Godzilla vs. Mothra is one of the more forgettable films in the Godzilla series. Despite the film's own shortcomings, though, it's still easy to see why the film ended up being a huge success. With a re-release of the 1964 classic Mothra vs. Godzilla in 1980 doing banner business, it attracted more of an audience than Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah during its theatrical run, it seems that simply any film with Toho's two best known characters would have been a success. In fact, the immense hit of Godzilla vs. Mothra prompted Toho to reuse the character often to try and repeat the film's success, with Mothra appearing in seven more films in the 12 years that followed.