Mothra is the origin film for one of Godzilla’s main foes. It has the same director as the original Godzilla, Ishirō Honda, who also did Destroy All Monsters and worked extensively with Akira Kurosawa throughout his career. While the film isn’t as good as Godzilla, as with all of the kaiju films, it has the fear of atomic warfare as it’s central subject.
There is an island where atomic tests were held. Two tiny fairies who guard a secret egg (the fairies are played by members of the Japanese pop group The Peanuts) are taken from the island by an expedition that has been sent to find out what happened to the island after the tests. They were looking for human life, but instead found the fairies. They are kidnapped, and one of the explorers, Clark Nelson, uses them in an exploitative show. The fairies then call on their god for help.
Inside the sacred egg is Mothra, of course, who hatches out in response to their plea and goes on to wreak havoc on Japan. At first it’s a caterpillar sort of thing that can swim. It goes after a cruise ship first, then makes its way to Tokyo, where it becomes a mega-moth. The script also features ‘Rolisican’, a combination of Russia and America as a single superpower. That would be Japan’s nightmare, since they have had wars with both countries… This is very in tune with Honda’s movies in general, which are filled with very understandable distrust of the US. This one is much sillier than the 1954 Godzilla, however, which is actually a fairly serious film.
It has very trippy cinematography for 1961, with incredibly bright, glorious, psychedelic colours that really pop off the screen. Of course, Mothra is really the most intelligent one in the film, and the hero of the story.
It’s a really nice set with lots of extras, and an excellent transfer. With this and the big Godzilla set that recently came out on Criterion, these films are films are finally getting the attention they deserve. It includes a Kim Newman interview; two commentary tracks with film historian David Kalat and with Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski, who are historians specialising in Japanese film; and both the Japanese and American (dubbed) versions, each with subtitles—there is 11 minutes’ difference between the two. Also included in the hard slipcase is a reversable poster with artwork from both versions, and a collector’s booklet with essays by Christopher Stewardson and Jasper Sharp, and interview with Scott Chambliss (who was production designer on the recent and underrated Godzilla: King of the Monsters), and an excerpt from Ryfle and Godziszewski’s biography of the director, plus archival reviews and stills .