Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (4/5)
Feburary 3rd, 2004 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Ishiro Honda's science fiction masterpiece, Mothra vs. Godzilla is easily one of the better Godzilla sequels and arguably the best entry in the series other than the 1954 film. Honda combines some of the comic overtone used in his previous Godzilla film, King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), with a more serious plot. The result is one of the best Toho science fiction films to date. It was this film that would catapult Mothra to one of Toho's top earners, and would guarantee her spot as one of the most recognized kaiju the world over. Despite the film's well deserved praise, it isn't flawless. The story here is pretty middle of the road, although it does make way for a good perspective at both of the title monsters, while character development is a mixed bag. Otherwise, the film handles itselfvery well, with solid performances from the principal actors, great special effect work by Eiji Tsuburaya and an excellent score from Akira Ifukube.

Mothra vs. Godzilla begins with the revealing of a giant egg, during a heavy storm, that washes close to Japanese shores. The local village deploys its fishing fleets, and retrieves the egg. Before it can be studied, though, the giant egg is purchased by Kumayama, an entrepreneur, on behalf of Banzo Torahata. Together, they plan to exploit the egg as a tourist attraction. However, Mothra and the Shobijin arrive and recruit Ichiro Sakai, Junko Nakanishi, and Professor Miura to try and persuade the two business men to release the egg before the Mothra larva inside causes un-foretold damage to the surrounding population. The plea falls on deaf ears, though, as the two entrepreneurs ignore the request and instead offer to purchase the Shobijin. Their offer is turned down, as the Shobijin and Mothra return to their home at Infant Island without the egg.

Torahata and Kumayama's plan for the egg is realized, but matters are complicated as Godzilla appears on the Japanese mainland. Convinced that the military will be useless in the fight against the nuclear leviathan, Sakai, Nakanishi, and Miura travel to Infant Island to seek the aid of Mothra to defend their country. The natives are understandably annoyed by the request, as Mothra's egg was not returned to them as instructed. The trio seek the Shobijin and try and convince them that they desperately need Mothra's assistance. Finally, Nakanishi explains the needs of their country, of the people dying at the hands of Godzilla as he rampages through their nation. The islanders take heart and agree to send Mothra.

Meanwhile, Godzilla continues his murderous trek across Japan, as Torahata and Kumayama have turned on one another after Kumayama demands back the money he invested. Kumayama is killed in the struggle, as Torahata dies shortly after as Godzilla slams his tail into their hotel, reducing the structure to rubble. Godzilla eventually arrives at the gigantic incubator, but before he can crush the egg inside Mothra arrives. The two giants do battle, but Mothra ends up being overmatched and, in her dying moments, collapses on top of the egg. Godzilla continues his rampage across Japan, following a series of failed military strikes, as Mothra's egg eventually hatches. The two Mothra larva swim out to meet Godzilla on a remote island and do battle with the monster.

The story of Mothra vs. Godzilla is rather simple, and slightly reminiscent of the one in Mothra (1961), with the egg in place of the Shobijin. The simplicity of the story aside, the film manages to overcome this with the handling of the monsters, and the unusual amount of depth that goes into them. Ignoring Mothra's roles in the films that followed, the giant moth seems like a weak opponent for the King of the Monsters. Well, as seen in the first battle, she is. However, this is what makes the fight between Mothra's Imago form and Godzilla so great. She's hopelessly outmatched, but still continues to fight with Godzilla, despite the fact that death is imminent. It's her sheer determination that keeps the fight going as long as it does, as Mothra tries everything in her arsenal to try and keep the monster away from her egg. It's interesting to watch, and a shame that this aspect of the character was, more or less, lost in the sequels that followed.

Mothra isn't the only monster handled well here, though, as Godzilla is also at his best in this entry. Once again, the creature is returned to an unstoppable force as he withstands the grand SDF strikes, the scale of which have increased over those seen in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), up until the military is forced to to use Plan C: simply evacuate those areas in the path of Godzilla.

The monster cast aside, the character development in the film as a whole is in need of some work. The trio of protagonists here are pretty underdeveloped by the time the film reaches closure. Surprisingly, the film's two villains are the most developed characters, despite the fact that they die half way through. The pairs motive, greed, is made clear from the get-go, and their political influence works well in tying up any lose ends the plot might have had with Happy Enterprises' plan to show off the giant egg. Of the two, Kumayama is the more memorable, as we slowly learn the amount of power Torahata has over his partner and the economic situation he is forcing him into. Their final scene, where Torahata kills his partner to secure his money, is excellent for showing how consumed by greed the two were. Truly one of the more interesting human relationships seen in a Toho science fiction film, and their death works as a nice closure to the sub plot as Godzilla presents the film with a far more serious dilemma.

In regards to the acting, all of the principal actors turn in solid performances. None of the acting really stands out, but, for the most part, the characters are enjoyable to watch while they are onscreen, which, given their lack of development is a testament to the actors. Akira Takarada, as news reporter Ichiro Sakai, does a nice job as the film's lead, in particular how he interacts with his photographer, Junko Nakanishi played by Yuriko Hoshi. However, when all is said and done, Yoshifumi Tajima as Kumayama really steals the show. He turns out a performance which is slightly over the top, making his character enjoyable to watch, while not overdoing it to the point that his performance loses credibility. He also handles his final scene extremely well, playing the character very seriously as the two antagonists turn against one another.

Being a science fiction film, special effects are always an aspect to consider, and Tsuburaya doesn't disappoint in Mothra vs. Godzilla. The special effects are spectacular for their time, and represent some of the best work of Tsuburaya's career. The Mothra Imago from this film remains one of Tsuburaya's best done props, and manages to look more convincing then its 1992 counterpart. Tsuburaya was able to do amazing things to the prop to add credibility to the character, such as Mothra's labored breathing as it rests next to its egg waiting to die. The Godzilla costume used here is a slight improvement over the one used in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), although perhaps not quite as impressive in terms of actual mass. The jaw appears to be a little more wobbly than it should, but rarely distracts from the viewing experience. The Mothra Larva, while impressive, are responsible for the biggest special effects blemish in the movie. This occurs as the two Larva leave the water onto the beach, at which point the wheels of both of the props are clearly visible. This not only distracts from that scene, but may also cause the viewer to watch for them for the remainder of the film, which can lessen the overall viewing experience. However, the scene of these two emerging from the egg, even to this day, looks wonderful and is one of the more memorable scenes from the film. Finally, the blue Godzilla scale could have been done better. It's very hard to make out, and is never explained during the course of the movie, but its role is limited and forgivable.

As for the score for the film, done by Akira Ifukube, it's nothing short of outstanding. The Mothra song, from the 1961 film, returns here, and is used more effectively than the song in the film's follow up: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964). The Godzilla theme also returns to the fold for this outing, although Ifukub'se scoring of the theme has definitely improved, and seems far more imposing then it had two years prior. However, the score, like many of Ifukube's, is rather repetitious as a stand-alone listening experience, but works well in the film itself.

Overall, Mothra vs. Godzilla is a highly entertaining Godzilla entry, which deserves every ounce of praise it receives. Definitely one of Honda's best.