Michael Reviews Mothra (1961)

This week we are taking another break from the mainline Godzilla series, this time we are watching 1961’s Mothra directed by Ishiro Honda. This of course is to gear up for next week’s review of Mothra Vs. Godzilla. Much like Honda’s other Kaiju ventures, Mothra focuses on a specific theme and social issue, this time it is greed. Unlike “Godzilla” and “Rodan” however, Mothra takes a more lighthearted approach to conveying its message. 

Scientists are shocked when a group of sailors shows no signs of radiation sickness after being rescued from the nuclear test site near Infant island. One of the sailors explained that the island’s natives provided them with a special juice that negated the effects. Upon learning of this, Japanese and Rolisican scientists set out on a joint expedition to investigate the island. As they are traveling through the jungle, one of the men gets grabbed by a vine from a carnivorous plant and would have choked to death if it weren’t for the help of two, one-foot tall women known as “Shobijin”, or “small beauties” rather than speak with dialogue, the Shobijin communicate through song. Clark Nelson, the greedy businessman in charge of the expedition decides to steal the two Shobijin, killing many of the island’s natives in the process. Infant Island is a large lush jungle landscape that provides the best-looking set in this franchise so far.  The vine grabbing one of the scientists looked convincing enough that I was very intrigued with what else this island could have been housing. 

Upon returning to Japan, Nelson makes a fortune charging guests to watch the Shobijin sing. Here we learn the Shobijin possess telekinetic powers and use them to call out to Mothra in a song that I am certain will be stuck in my head for days on end. This is cross-cut with the natives of Infant island praying and singing along to awaken Mothra, whom we see hatch from a large egg to begin her rescue mission as a giant caterpillar, crossing the ocean toward the two Shobijin. Along her path, Mothra destroys a cruise ship full of innocent passengers  The public is made aware that Nelson is holding the Shobijin against their will but he, of course, denies this and actually attempts to sue the media for slander. The Shobijin warns that if Mothra has to come to save them, many more innocent people, and this is not said as a threat as they are both saddened by this. Nelson, of course, ignores all the warnings and takes no responsibility for any of the destruction Mothra is causing 

Upon arriving in Japan, Mothra is heavily attacked and cocoons herself against Tokyo Tower. Nelson takes this time to flee to New Kirk city, taking the Shobijin with him. When Mothra awakens, she is now in her final form as the beautiful moth-inspired Kaiju that we all know and love and takes flight after Nelson. The police and residents of New Kirk city all take part in a widespread manhunt for Nelson while Mothra wreaks havoc on the streets. This is really the first time in this franchise where the destruction sequences feel unrealistic which is a shame because they are usually done really well. All of the miniatures look like miniatures rather than the convincing set pieces we have become accustomed to. The film comes to a close after Nelson gets killed in a shootout and the Shobijin get returned to Mothra, who immediately stops the destruction and returns the Shobijin back to Infant island 

Mothra earns its 80% Rotten Tomatoes score with its charming characters, beautiful set design, and a loveable title character, even if it falls flat in some of the action sequences. The plot is goofy but is treated with enough respect that it’s actually a lot of fun. It is easy to see why Mothra went on to be one of the most beloved Kaiju that actually spawned a film series of her own. For me, this film earns the “Not quite golden, Ponyboy” rating. I was very close to listing it as a must-watch, but I am unsure if non-Kaiju fans would get as much of it as I did. If you are even remotely interested in Kaiju films, then I am very confident you will have a blast with this one. 

And that takes us to next week where we will be watching 1964’s Mothra Vs. Godzilla, which is available on HBO max so come watch along and start a conversation in the comments.

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