The Mothra Chronicles

Of all the Toho monsters, Godzilla may be the most internationally renowned, but our first love is undoubtedly the giant, multicoloured Mothra. I think it’s perhaps the sheer lunacy of the concept. A massive tyrannosaur that breaths energy: yep, I can see how that’s scary. Three-headed dragon? Absolutely. Oversized, rainbow-hued lepidoptera? Not exactly quaking in my shoes. That’s perhaps why Mothra is more often portrayed as a guardian of mankind, or at worst as a moral wake-up check, reacting to our ecological wrong-doing. There’s something almost maternal in the idea, which is why it seems almost unavoidable to use the feminine pronoun when referring to her.

This is also perhaps why the Mothra films often include the ‘circle of life’, with her laying an egg, which then hatches into a caterpillar, before pupating (typically against some landmark building), then emerging as a fully-fledged adult form (most closely resembling the Peacock Butterfly, Inachis io, rather than any moth, fact fans). It’s common for this final version then to sacrifice herself in battle, though her energy often sustains itself in some form or another. Another trademark are the ‘Mothra twins’, the two tiny fairies who act as ambassadors between Mothra and mankind: their song (lyrics and translation top left) are perhaps even more recognizable than even the theme of Godzilla himself.

Mosura ya Mosura
Dongan kasakuyan
Indo muu
Rusuto uiraadoa
Hanba hanbamuyan
Randa banunradan
Kasaku yaanmu
Mothra oh Mothra
If we were to call
For help
Over time
Over sea
Like a wave
You’d come
Our guardian angel

This set of reviews is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all Mothra appearances – I’ve restricted it to “significant” movies, decided by whether or not she gets a title billing. For completeness, the following entries also included, to some extent, her winged presence:

  • Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
  • Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966)
  • Destroy All Monsters (1968)
  • Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) (stock footage)
  • Monster Planet Of Godzilla (1994)
  • Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994)
  • Godzilla Island (1997)
  • Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002) (stock footage)
  • Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)
  • Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Mothra (1961)

Rating: B-

Dir: Ishiro Honda
Star: Frankie Sakai, Kyoko Kagawa, Jerry Ito, Hiroshi Koizumi

Based on the serial novel, The Luminous Fairies and Mothra, by Takehiko Fukunaga, this first entry establishes the basic parameters, and ways in which Mothra differs from her predecessors, Godzilla and Rodan. An expedition to ‘Infant Island’, in the wake of a search and rescue mission, finds two tiny women. Evil foreign entrepreneur Clark Nelson (Ito) – who has clearly never seen King Kong – returns to the island to scoop them up and create the ‘Secret Fairies Stage Show’, which wows Tokyo audiences. However reporters Zenichiro Fukuda (Sakai) and Michi Hanamura (Kagawa) are less impressed. And neither are the island natives, who awaken Mothra from her slumbers. The impressively-aquatic caterpillar that hatches, ploughs through the Pacific to reach Japan and rescue its mini-guardians, but Nelson returns to his home country of “Rolisica” with his captives. The caterpillar pauses briefly, to catch its breath and pupate, turning into the marvellous winged creature we know and love. Rolisica had better batter down the hatches, as there’s a large-eyed, winged storm coming… And she’s peeved

The big difference is that Mothra is a monster with a motive, not just destroying Tokyo for the sake of it. And, if the results do seem somewhat excessive, given the aim [she’s trying to rescue approximately 24 combined inches], it is a justifiable exercise, and one that makes her a much more sympathetic character. I note in particular the despicable bad guy is clearly intended to be Western. Ito was born in New York, of Japanese descent, and served in the US miltary during WW2; meanwhile, the Rolisican capital, New Kirk City, bears more than a passing resemblance to NY. The effects are a somewhat mixed bag: the models and blue-screen work are solid, but when the fairies are picked up, it’s painfully obvious that we are dealing with dolls. Indeed, much of the early sequences are more amusing than anything else e.g. the “silent alarm” which it appears everyone in a ten-mile radius can hear. However, once the egg hatches, the film acquires a stately grandeur which can only be admired and respected. Besides, how can you not love a film with the tagline, “Mightiest monster in all creation! Ravishing a universe for love!”

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Rating: C-

Dir: Ishiro Honda
Star: Akira Takarada, Yuriko Hoshi, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yu Fujiki

A giant egg washes up on the Japanese shoreline, following a typhoon – an entrepreneur buys it from the local villagers, and starts building a theme-park around it. He ignores pleas from the Mothra fairies to return the egg to her island; they say (in perfect unison, naturally), that if the egg hatches, the caterpillars will cause great destruction. Rebuffed, they take their leave and return to Infant Island, pouting somewhat. The egg is not the only over-sized arrival, howwver, as it has also awakened Godzilla, who begins his rampage. Reporter Ichiro Sakai and photographer Junko Nakanishi go to Infant Island, to beg for Mothra’s help: the fairies eventually agree, even though it will take the last of her life energy. Air Squadron Mothra heads for Japan, not just to protect them, but also save her egg, which is about to hatch.

While highly regarded, I definitely didn’t feel this was anywhere as good as the original. The basic concept is flawed: how can a giant moth fight Godzilla? The answer is, apparently “very badly”, and the larvae are no great shakes in this department. Without wishing to give much away, watching caterpillars squirt silk at a giant lizard for ten minutes… Not exactly enthralling stuff. Even the scenes of destruction are disappoint: it’s more like DrunkZilla; he brings the Tokyo Tower doen by accident, after his tail gets stuck in it. Silly Gojira! There are still some memorably images e.g. the giant egg on the beach, Godzilla rising up out of the earth, or Mothra protectively cradling the egg with her wing. However, the overall impact just isn’t there: while the two leads are fine on their own, they make a poor fit, and the end result is like watching a romance starring Angelina Jolie and Adam Sandler.

Godzilla vs. Mothra: The Battle For Earth (1992)

Rating: B+

Dir: Takao Okawara
Star: Tetsuya Bessho, Satomi Kobayashi, Takehiro Murata, Saburo Shinoda

It was another 28 years before Mothra would get title billing, though she had supporting roles in some other Toho works in the meantime, so kept busy. When she returned, it was a massive improvement in just about every way over its predecessor, even though, in many ways, it’s more a remake than a sequel. Again, a typhoon washes up Mothra’s egg, and an unscrupulous businessman has his eye on the potential profits it could bring, despite the plaintive pleas of its two tiny guardians. However, the threat of Godzilla – here, apparently freed after a meteorite crashes to earth – can only be stopped by Mothra. The main addition is an anti-Mothra, Battra. He was created by the Earth millennia previously, to counter the threat caused by humans at that point, but has also returned to action. Initially, it looks like he and Godzilla will be an unstoppable force of destruction, but Mothra convinces her sibling to do what would be called “a face turn” in pro wrestling, and switch to the side of good. Can the two winged behemoths (hohoho!) work in tandem to stop Godzilla?

Giving the two moths a ranged weapon, in the form of energy beams, was a wise move, making them more credible as an opponent to the big G, and particularly when working in tandem, the battles here are excellent. However, the movie also has what’s perhaps the most beautiful sequence in any Toho film, in which Mothra hatches from her giant cocoon, propped up against the Japanese parliament, with virtually the only sound her guardians’ song, and flaps her way off over the stunned onlookers to take on Battra. It’s simply awesome: I’d embed a Youtube video of it here, except something something Sony Corporation something blocked. 🙁 As well as the usual large-scale carnage, I also thoroughly enjoyed the way both Battra and Mothra were given genuine back-stories to explain their behaviour, rather than just being rampaging for the hell of it. Truth be told, those were rather more convincing than most of the humans get, but there’s no arguing who the star is here: she has wings, and is absolutely wonderful to behold.

Rebirth of Mothra (1996)

Rating: B-

Dir: Okihiro Yoneda
Star: Kazuki Futami, Sayaka Yamaguchi, Megumi Kobayashi, Aki Hano

As part of the re-invention of kaiju around the turn of the millennium, Mothra had the dust blown off her wings, though this entry seems more targetted towards a juvenile audience, with a clunkily obvious environmental message. The basic concept remains: in this case Death Ghidorah is released from its 65-million year captivity beneath a Japanese mountain when developers pry the seal off its tomb. Understandably, it’s somewhat peeved, and begins laying waste to everything within reach of the three heads and flame breath. The Mothra sisters (no longer twins) fly to the rescue – now riding a mini-Mothra, which presumably gets better mileage – only to be confounded by their evil sibling Belvera, who intends to use Death Ghidorah for her own purposes. A couple of insufferably cute kids help, and the full-scale version comes to the rescue, albeit at the cost of her own life, sacrificing herself so that her caterpillar can escape. Pupation ensues… And a sleek, new Mothra 2.0 returns to battle Death Ghidorah before any more spotted owls can be incinerated.

It’s a surprisingly rural monster movie: for once, Tokyo escapes entirely unscathed, with the only damage to a large tract of Hokkaido forest, which is kinda disappointing. It doesn’t seem a “real” Toho movie without scenes of townsfolk running and screaming. There’s also an over-lengthy air-battle between the Mothrettes and Belvera, round a living-room, and too much of the focus, especially early on, goes to the kids, who are barely old enough to remember their lines and basic actions, never mind becoming fully-rounded characters. The good news is, after the half-way mark, the monsters take over, and there is some inspired pyrotechnic work: Death Ghidorah is particularly…flamey. Mothra 1.0’s death is remarkably poignant, as she settles on to the surface of the sea, and sinks despite her offspring’s desperate efforts to keep her up. Not a dry antennae in the house. Damn that whole “circle of life” thing. Of course, it’s not the end, and her child has some spiffy upgrades. After a dodgy start, this recovers admirably, and when they restrain the desire to play to the prepubescent gallery, is indeed a rebirth.

Rebirth of Mothra II (1997)

Rating: D

Dir: Okihiro Yoneda
Star: Hikari Mitsushima, Sayaka Yamaguchi, Megumi Kobayashi, Masaki Otake

This feels less like a Mothra film, than some bizarre crossbreed of one with The Goonies, The Abyss and Indiana Jones, directed by Quentin Tarantino after a cocaine-fuelled Japanese pop-culture binge. To say it makes little or no sense, would be an insult to nonsensical things. Let me try to summarize the plot. As in its predecessor, the Mothra Not-so Twins team up with some kids, to defeat a monster awakened by humanity’s desecration of Earth. Here, it’s Dagahra, a pollution-eating monster that went wrong, who has been awakened by the level of toxins again present, and is now releasing mutant killer starfish into the ocean. The kids have a creature called Go Go, which looks like an oversized Furby, and which is the key to raising a giant temple out of the ocean. Inside there is supposedly the treasure which is the key to defeating Dagahra, but also as before, evil sibling Belvera is in the opposite corner, running interference for it. By the time of the final battle, there’s an awful lot of running around corridors, and the arrival of Mothra 3.0, a robo-aquatic version which can split itself into hundreds of mini-versions and fly around inside Dagahra.

I’m sure this all seemed a good idea at the time. All the end product does, however, is remind you of what a simple concept is at the core here: fighting monsters. Everything beyond that is superfluous – or should be, and because it isn’t the case here, this feels like a pro wrestling pay-per-view consisting entirely of promos and back-stage shenanigans. The kids are entirely unengaging as are Belvera’s minions, and if the first film was capable of appealing both to kids and adults, this one seems only interesting in pandering to the eleven and under demographic. The editing and pacing are way off, with scenes starting and stopping in what feels like the middle, and especially early on, there’s such a lack of flow it feels like you’re channel-surfing Japanese TV. Maybe it would have been better if we’d crammed our faces full of sugary snacks and caffeinated beverages before viewing; instead, by the end, both of us were surreptitiously using our phones instead. It’s a litany of our faith that Mothra movies are good. However, said faith has officially condemned this entry in the series to our version of the Apocrypha.

Rebirth of Mothra III (1998)

Rating: C+

Dir: Okihiro Yoneda
Star: Misato Tate, Aki Hano, Megumi Kobayashi

Full disclosure. We’d cracked open a bottle of wine with dinner, but Chris decided she didn’t like it, so not wanting to waste any, I polished it off. This likely improved my enjoyment of this a bit, though I was largely pleased to see the annoying kids back as supporting characters, rather than the focus as previously. A meteor brings Grand King Ghidorah back to Earth, who proceeds to abduct children, keeping them in an energy dome to feed upon their energy and easily repelling Mothra’s attacks. Worse, his spirit takes over one of Mothra guardians, Lora (Tate), turning her against her sister. Turns out the only hope is for the moth to turn into Light Speed Mothra, allowing it to travel back in time – yeah, we were making TARDIS noises at that point. This will allow her to battle the three-headed beast on Ghidorah’s previous visit to the planet, when he wiped out the dinosaurs. The trip takes its toll on Moll (Kobayashi), meaning it’s up to evil sister Belvera (Hano) to rescue Lora.

Really, I’m thinking a Doctor Who/Mothra cross-over really needs to happen. Not only does Mothra travel through time, she also regenerates into about as many forms here, as the Doctor has done since the series restarted. And the “alien abducting children” is similar to Torchwood: Children of Earth. That aside, there’s the question of, if Mothra stopped Ghidorah from killing the dinosaurs, why doesn’t this result in a modern era filled with T-Rexes? However, as ever, asking for logical sense in a Mothra flick is a bit of a forlorn quest, and this is made up for, with a number of spectacular battles, although the dinosaurs are remarkably plastic, to the extent where the T-Rex could have wandered in from Toy Story. The various versions of Mothra are also pretty cool, particular Armour Mothra, which doesn’t so much fight Ghidorah, as pull its wings off, and the trio of siblings finally get centre-stage, and (sort of) resolve their differences. A solid enough conclusion to the trilogy.

Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

Rating: C+

Dir: Shusuke Kaneko
Star: Chiharu Niiyama, Ryudo Uzaki, Masahiro Kobayashi, Mizuho Yoshida

Even though this was released the year after Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, it feels as much of a reboot as a sequel. While it acknowledges Godzilla’s existence, according to the film, he has not been seen in almost 50 years. Apparently, the twenty-odd movies in between, were all the products of a fevered imagination. The plot is relatively basic, even by the standards of kaiju movies. Godzilla returns from his ocean slumber and begins wreaking havoc. The trio of “guardian monsters” – Mothra, Ghidorah and Sir Not-Important-Enough-to-Make-the-Title, Baragon battle to defend Japan from his assaults.

There are a number of human beings running around as well. They can, as usual, be ignored.

For this is all about the monsters, though if we learn one truth here, it’s that not all monsters are created equal. There’s very definitely a pecking order here. Baragon is not just deemed unworthy of a spot in the title (though they could find room for a colon and four entirely superfluous words). If I can sprinkle in a few pro wrestling terms, he’s the nameless jobber already in the ring, a curtain-jerker sent out first for a squash match at the hands of the top heel. These metaphors is entirely appropriate, for their battle is overseen by a TV helicopter, whose crew provide a breathless running commentary on events. At least, they do, until Baragon attempts a high-risk maneuver, which Godzilla reverses, flinging poor Baragon into the helicopter, and ending this particular PPV.

We then get onto the semi-main event, a handicap match in which Mothra and Ghidorah team up, to take on Godzilla in, over and through Tokyo. This does not end well for Mothra, who [spoiler alert!] is disintegrated by Godzilla’s nuclear breath. But, wait! For her essence merges with Ghidorah to create the new, shiny Ghidorah v2.0 known as “King Ghidorah.” Adequately powered-up, and with minor aid from those tiny humans, he’s now able to take on Godzilla in an underwater battle,

Possibly the weirdest thing here is the motivation behind Godzilla’s resurrection. At first, I wondered if something had been lost in the English dub, because it appeared that he was resurrected by the souls of the people killed by the Japanese in World War II. Surely some mistake? I was so uncertain about this, I cross-checked it with Wikipedia, and yep: these tortured souls “wish to destroy Japan as punishment for people’s attempts to forget Japanese wartime atrocities.” Okay… I’m sure that made sense at the time.

I must award this a bonus point for its sly kick at the much-derided Hollywood Godzilla, made in 1998: “Monsters resembling Godzilla have been seen in the United States… The Americans said it was Godzilla, but all the Japanese scientists denied it.” But once Mothra has merged into Ghidorah, the film loses its heart [hohoho, that’s a little in-joke which will only make sense in the final shot here], and is content merely to go down the well-trodden (or perhaps, well-flattened) path we’ve seen before. Certainly not terrible, but not with much to separate it from any of the others, and certainly falls short of its delightfully over-enthusiastic title.

[February 2012] Pause for a moment and enjoy the glory of that title. Roll it around your tongue. Possibly the greatest name for a film of all time. Unfortunately, the movie itself isn’t up to par: the “All-Out Attack” takes far too long to get going. A missing nuclear submarine leads to the discovery of Godzilla moving through the ocean, inevitably, heading for Japan. Simultanously, three other monsters, Ghidorah, Mothra and Baragon (not deemed important enough for title-billing – or perhaps they just didn’t have enough room on the marquee) are also awakened. Investigating journalist Yuri (Niiyama) is contacted by the unquiet spirit of a dead scientist who explains the latter trio are the “guardian monsters”. However, convincing the Self-Defense Forces that not all monsters are the same, might not be an easy task. Turns out Godzilla is powered by the souls of those who died in World War II, and for obvious reasons, the majority of those are not too impressed with Japan. Still, it’s a radical shift from the original explanation of a radioactive mutation – of course, that was less than a decade after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Indeed, much of this could be seen as a re-boot, in almost the same way as the failed US version of Godzilla, which is slyly referenced in this early exchange:
    “Since that attack, there have been numerous sightings in various countries.”
    “The New York attack was Godzilla, right?”
    “That’s what all the American experts claim. But our guys here have some doubts…”
However, it’s not a great deal more successful, the mystical elements coming over like the WWE’s efforts to make movies which portray their wrestlers as well-rounded characters with emotional depth. Ghidorah is now heroic? Er… No. Please stop. It’s also fairly inconceivable that Godzilla would have been forgotten as portrayed here. The creators also adjusted the sizes, to make the villain easily the largest; this does explain why it takes three opponents to take him down. The effects are a bit of a mixed bag; some shots really work, but the submarine crucial to the final fight looks terrible, more like a bath toy. For the final (to date) appearance of Mothra above the title, it feels poorly thought-out and is a below-average entry on which to end things. C-

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Rating: B+

Dir: Michael Dougherty
Star: Godzilla, Ghidorah, Mothra, Rodan, and some insignificant insects, crawling on the planet’s face

I fear I may need medical help, because the erection I got from this has lasted substantially longer than four hours. The main problem with 2014’s Godzilla was not enough Godzilla, and too much Aaron-Tayler Johnson. This time, there’s plenty of Godzilla – along with contributions from other members of the Gang of Four. There is still, probably, too much from the humans, in particular Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga as animal behaviorist husband-and-wife team with issues, Mark and Emma Russell. The plot largely concerns the latter’s efforts to create a machine, codenamed ORCA, which can ‘speak’ to the titans, which is then hijacked by eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) who intends to free them all, effectively doing a hard reboot on planet Earth.

The end result of these ill-conceived ideas is three-headed dragon Ghidorah rampaging around the globe, in charge of all the other titans with the exception of Godzilla and (SQUEEEEE!) Mothra. Humanity’s efforts to take out Ghidorah only succeed in grievously wounding G, who retreats to his underground lair to rest and recuperate. With the help of some thermonuclear therapy, he comes off the bench to join with Mothra and take on Ghidorah and Rodan. The resulting battle will open up a large amount of downtown Boston for redevelopment, shall we say.

This feels considerably more “for the fans” than the original film, and that might be part of the reason why it has under-performed at the box-office. Going from Godzilla to this, does feel like jumping straight from Iron Man to The Avengers. In the original Japanese series, we didn’t get this fatal four-way until the fifth Godzilla movie, 1964’s Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. So rather than building, for example, the importance of Mothra and her role in the kaijuverse through her own movie, here she just… hatches. We were perfectly fine with that – I loved both the use of her theme on the soundtrack, and subtle nods like Dr. Ilene Chen (Zhang Ziyi), the scientist who knows most about Mothra, being a twin. But it’s probably why we got ignorant reviewers writing Mothra off as “a giant disgusting moth.” Really?

Indeed, “Needed more Mothra” is probably my main complaint, to be honest. Even just a few seconds longer would have been welcome, to appreciate her beauty after she came out of the cocoon – rather than cutting away almost immediately to Millie Bobby Brown pouting or whatever it was. Similarly, at the end, giving the general audience some explanation about Mothra’s dust and its role in the final battle to power-up Godzilla, would have been nice. What’s not in question is that here, she is considerably more bad-ass, in both design and actions, than in the Japanese versions. This moth is pissed, and goes toe-to-toe with Rodan in a fashion that’s quite surprising.

I am extremely glad to have gone to see this, not just at the cinema, but in IMAX [our first trip there since Avatar, from which Chris’s stomach still hasn’t quite recovered]. For the fights here demand to be seen on the biggest screen possible, with a sound system that is being investigated by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction. No complaints there, although I’m a little concerned as to how this high-intensity spectacle will transfer to a smaller home screen. There were occasionally points where things were taking place in lighting conditions which work better in a cinema – especially compared to our living-room, which is more open-plan than theatrical. And is in Phoenix, where daylight rivals G’s radioactive breath in intensity. That said, at the movies, it was quite awesome. I’m struggling to think of the last movie I saw which was so overwhelming a sensory experience.

As usual, I could have taken or left the humans, who are a bit of a mixed bag [there’s nothing new here: the same goes for almost all the Japanese movies too]. In terms of human/monster balance, it’s certainly an improvement over the bait-and-switch of its predecessor. However, there are probably too many stories going on: Jonah’s Kaiju First terrorism; Emma’s Doctor Dolittle-like efforts to talk to the animals; Mark’s resentment over Godzilla having been responsible for the death of his son. The story could easily have lost one of these, and been better for it. This is rather nit-picky, like complaining about unrealistic dialogue in a porn flick. These scenes are necessary, simply to let you catch your breath and reset before the next overwhelming set-piece. Their content is borderline irrelevant.

It likely doesn’t count as any kind of spoiler, considering they’ve already announced Godzilla vs. Kong, to say that G triumphs, and the film’s final shot is near-perfect as a result. The remaining titans gather round him in what remains of Boston, and lower their heads in supplication. [“NOW, there is a god…”] They weren’t alone. Hail to the king, baby.