Godzilla and Mothra were the two most well-known and respected kaiju in the genre, and with Toho owning both characters, it was only a matter of time until we got to see the two monsters interact with each other. It is fitting that Ishirō Honda came back to direct this film since he is the creator of both characters. Mothra Vs. Godzilla has the same light-hearted feel as Mothra but mixes it with the monster vs. monster formula used in other Godzilla films while making sure that both characters are shown with respect.
After nuclear tests on Infant Island caused a Mothra egg to wash up on the shores of Japan, a news reporter named Sakai, along with his photographer Junko, investigate the mysterious egg. They are interrupted by Kumayama, the owner of Happy Enterprises, who explains that he bought the egg from the local villagers, and plans on opening a theme park centered around the giant egg. Even after the Shobjin warn him about the lengths Mothra will go to get the egg back, Kumayama still refuses to return the egg. I love how this film explores the themes introduced in both 1962’s Mothra and 1954’s Godzilla. Godzilla represents the nuclear tests that caused the egg to end up in Japan in the first place, while corporate greed – the theme of 1962’s Mothra – prevents Kumayama from returning the egg, which of course causes Mothra to attack later in the film.
Godzilla appears later to cause his usual destruction on the city – which looks fantastic, as always. This time we do get to see some of the destruction from inside one of the buildings, which I thought was really neat. One of the characters is inside the building when it gets destroyed, and we observe some of the support pillars fall and the walls come down from the inside. Not only did this look really good as an effect, but it also gave us the opportunity to really see the destruction from the character’s point of view.
When Sakai and Junko travel to Infant Island to try to convince Mothra to help take down Godzilla, we get to see firsthand just how bad the island really is after the nuclear tests. Rather than the colorful lush jungle we saw in Mothra (1962), we are left with a bleak, lifeless island. The natives are angry and refer to the bombs as “the devil’s fire”. The natives are of course unable to trust Sakai and Junko, as they have lost all hope for humanity. Sakai and Junko convince the natives after a heartbreaking speech about how many good people are being killed by Godzilla, and how even the bad people do not deserve a fate this bad. Godzilla’s attacks are a clear metaphor for the WWII bombings, which were still fairly recent. Mothra agrees to help, and it is explained that Mothra is dying soon but will be reincarnated after the egg hatches, which I thought was a really neat concept.
While Godzilla is destroying the city, he makes his way to the Mothra egg, just as Mothra approaches him to kick off what might be the most entertaining fight in the entire series. Mothra flys over Godzilla and flaps her wings repeatedly with enough force to knock the king of monsters on his back, sending him sliding. Mothra then drags him by the tail and starts punching Godzilla with her moth legs. To make things worse for him, Mothra blasts him with poison pollen, which is a new addition to her powers – and I loved it. It’s fair to say that Godzilla is absolutely getting his ass kicked until he finally blasts Mothra with his atomic breath, burning her wings. Mothra crawls her way to the egg to die. Just when it seems Godzilla has been beaten, the egg hatches into two Mothra larvae. This confuses me a bit because earlier it was explained to us that Mothra will be reincarnated with her memories intact – so is her consciousness split between the two larvae? Whatever the case, they avenge their mother by defeating Godzilla in one last battle. The two larvae know they can’t outpower Godzilla, so they use their wits to outsmart him. They each take a different side and take turns attacking him when he is focused on the other, wrapping Godzilla in strings of silk until he is completely wrapped head to toe before knocking him into the ocean. The two larvae celebrate and head back to Infant Island.
Mothra Vs. Godzilla earns its 92% Rotten Tomatoes score by combining an intriguing story, heartfelt moments, and great action sequences. Sadly, this marks the last time Godzilla is presented as an antagonist. Mothra went on to have her own franchise with multiple sequels and remains a fan favorite to this day. For me, this film earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating. Mothra vs. Godzilla is available on HBO Max. Join me next week as we watch Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, which came out the same year as Mothra Vs. Godzilla, marking the only time two Godzilla films were released within the same year.