||There are certain givens in a Japanese monster movie, or kaiju eiga, the main one being that one or more cities are going to get absolutely trashed. These symphonies of destruction became a staple of studios like Toho from the nineteen-fifties onwards, and that was down to one particular creature, the hundreds of feet high Godzilla, or Gojira as he was originally known. Director Ishiro Honda, the defining talent behind how we regard these bashes, took was essentially a rip-off of the Ray Harryhausen epic on a budget Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and with his team imbued it with a sense of national identity for a country still nursing its wounds.
World War II had ended around ten years before Godzilla was released, but having atomic bombs dropped on you can have a huge impact in more ways than one, and the pop culture reflected that. Britain was obsessed with its cinematic war in the fifties as well, but it did not do what Japan did with those memories, transform them into wild fables as a coping mechanism: the kaiju were the most visible result. Honda, while allowed to indulge himself with drama at Toho, was increasingly offered more monsters to tackle, until those efforts were more or less exclusively what he was known for, along with his more science fictional tales.
Therefore after Godzilla was a hit around the world (America had its dubbed version with Raymond Burr inserted into conversations - the young audience were unbothered by this subterfuge), Honda helmed another dinosaur on industrial strength steroids kaiju, which was the giant reptile bird movie Rodan. This caused chaos merely by flapping his enormous wings as it travelled at supersonic speeds in the skies above Tokyo, but while he was a hit, he failed to have the same cultural impact, and was regarded as something of a also-ran in the genre. But Mothra (Mosura) from 1961 was a different matter, for she was a she for a start, and more Japanese than ever.
That Japanese strain of sentimental yet bizarre fantasy was rarely so purely portrayed as it was in Mothra, and that is the reason the film is so treasured by the kaiju fans. Although her first film begins as a hardboiled newspaper reporter yarn with comedic asides, focusing on a pair of journalists investigating a new island found when a ship's surviving crew are washed up on its shore, once an international team were employed to accompany them (or vice versa), thing grew gradually more wacky until by the final act the project had gone completely, charmingly nuts. Really this was like nothing in the West, nor even in most of the East Asian cinematic landscape.
Take the catalyst for the eventual mayhem, The Peanuts, a pair of twins (Yumi and Emi Ito), who in any other nation's movies would be singing starlets captured by the monster, a la King Kong (a blatant template for this plot), yet here were Mothra's representatives who spoke in synthesiser tones when we initially meet them until they swiftly learn Japanese to communicate. The unscrupulous villain Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito, no relation) has the twin fairies grabbed for a nightclub attraction, and to add to that infamy has his henchmen gun down some of the natives on Infant Island who attempt to intervene, thus leading Mothra to be hatched from an egg.
All the better to rescue the twins from a life in showbiz - this movie did not like exploitation one bit, though in a storyline reminiscent of Gorgo, Britain's try at making a kaiju later that decade, it is the monster who does the saving, and is actually our heroine which you could not say of Godzilla in 1954, but won over so many audiences that it assuredly was the case in the big green guy's following appearances. At this stage Mothra is not a moth, she is a caterpillar, swimming the ocean to the fictional land of Rolisica, which is not quite Japan and not quite America and Russia too, but she certainly treats the place like a kaiju treats the Land of the Rising Sun, by smashing it to pieces.
These featured those painstakingly crafted miniatures which special effects expert Eiji Tsuburaya would create for all the classic phase of Toho's monster mashes, which as always leads one to ponder the psychology behind manufacturing such lovely models only to destroy them with your own creature effects. But Mothra was no ordinary creature, and as Nelson steals the trilling fairies away she is hot on his trail, pitting the nurturing female against the destructive male impulses writ large - very large. Eventually, thanks to a cocoon, she emerges as… well, it's not really a moth, despite the name it's a colourful butterfly, a curiously fragile-looking construction that holds great power, another reason for her peculiar appeal. This was such a strange movie that it's little wonder so many find it irresistible, more than just a cash-in on a then-lucrative style, it's a celebration of the ideal of the protective feminine if she happened to be a hurricane-causing enormous insect. There's nothing like her anywhere else.
[Eureka release Mothra on Blu-ray with the following features:
Reversible poster featuring the film’s original US and Japanese poster artwork
Includes both Japanese and English versions of each film (101 mins & 90 mins respectively)
Original mono audio presentations (LPCM)
English subtitles (Japanese version) and English SDH (English version)
Brand new audio commentary with film historian and writer David Kalat
Audio commentary with authors and Japanese sci-fi historians Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski
Kim Newman on 'Mothra' - an interview with film critic and author Kim Newman on the history and legacy of Mothra
Stills Galleries featuring rare archival stills and ephemera
PLUS: A Perfect Bound 60-PAGE Collector's Booklet featuring essays by Christopher Stewardson and Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp (Midnight Eye); a new interview with Scott Chambliss (production designer on 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters); an extract from Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski's Ishiro Honda biography; and archival reviews and stills.]