Mothra (1961) Review

Ishirô Honda’s 1954 movie Godzilla is a sublime monster masterpiece. Pure proof that the horror genre is the the perfect arena to tackle any and all subjects his mythical tale of a god like creature that lays siege to Tokyo is as much about the passing of history and the nuclear fears of an entire nation as it is about entertaining audiences with action packed carnage.

Flash forward 7 years and over 25 films and the master director returns with another one of the most iconic Japanese kaiju ever created, Mothra, in a tale that although lacking the emotional and intelligent power of Godzilla more than makes up in its insane visual spectacle.

When a ship is run aground on the infamous Infant Island the sailors once saved become the talk of Tokyo having somehow survived the high levels of radiation left on the island by Rolisican atomic tests. Mentioning that the natives helping them on the presumed uninhabited land a joint exhibition is immediately mounted with Japanese scientists and experts including radiation specialist Dr. Harada (Ken Uehara) and linguist Shin’ichi Chujo (Hiroshi Koizumi) joining Rolisican entrepreneur Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito) who leads the group.

What the discover is beyond their imagination as Infant Island is a lush and exotic semi-paradise with the occasional blood sucking plant and mystical hieroglyphic filled cave. Most unusual of all are the tiny 1 foot tall twin fairies they find named Shobijin or small beauties by stowaway reporter Zen (Frankie Sakai).

When Nelson’s nasty henchmen grab the titchy twins the natives surround them and the Japanese members of the group convince the callous Rolisican’s to leave them and the island alone however Nelson has other plans and heads back to abduct the magical beings. Caging and enslaving them he sets up his Secret Fairies Show making huge profits from the public who are astounded by this miniature spectacle.

Performing each night for the baying paying crowds the Shobijin sing a mournful lament but little does Nelson know that they and the islands inhabitants are in fact summoning their mighty protector to aid them. On Infant Island a giant egg cracks and Mothra emerges ready to rampage across Tokyo to save its tiny friends.

Splitting half its running time to the build up, Mothra treats us to some amazing vibrant imagery that was unlike any other kaiju movie that had come before changing the landscape of the genre ever after.

From the sweet singing sprits to the primal rhythmic ritualistic dancing of the tribes people music is central to the film and twin sisters Emi and Yumi Ito better known as The Peanuts play the fairies and provided several hit singles from the films score.

When the 100 meter caterpillar leaves its home we move into familiar filmic territory as it takes down a cruise ship and survives an air strike before smashing down a dam. Next up are some epic military encounters with varying degrees of success special effects wise until the beast cocoons itself emerging in its more iconic form for the last part of the story which includes laying waste to the very American looking New Kirk City in Rolisica.

Although the film obviously panders to a Western audience as it was made with Columbia Pictures involvement thats not to say there isn’t a socio-political side to Mothra’s story. The fictitious country of Rolisica (an amalgam of Russia and America) presented as a “pushy capitalist superpower” according to authors Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski, subversively uncovers Japan’s attitudes to the countries at the time.

There is an obvious rejection of the rising commercialisation in the world shown by the fact that two nations are nearly destroyed by Nelson’s singular greed and only a joint effort from the main Japanese characters and the people of New Kirk City averts this disaster in a climax filled with religious-like iconography.

Brought to Blu-ray for the first time The Masters of Cinema Series Mothra offers up multiple versions of the movie alongside an island load of extras making it an essential purchase for monster movie fans far and wide.

With a story thats part King Kong part psychedelic fantasy and all Japanese, Mothra was and still is a cult classic that quickly gained popularity becoming Toho’s second most popular kaiju character and appearing in 11 Godzilla films and her own trilogy in the 1990’s.

Movie Rating: ★★★½☆ 

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Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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