Monster Mondays: Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

By Ben Dower

In Mothra vs. Godzilla, a giant egg washes ashore during a typhoon.??Reporter Ichiro Sakai (Akira Takarada) and his assistant Junko Nakanishi (Yuriko Hoshi) head down to the beach where they meet Professor Shunsuke Miura (Hiroshi Koizumi), who has come to study the egg.??They are interrupted by Kumayama (Yoshifumi Tajima), who claims his company, Happy Enterprises, has purchased the egg.

Happy Enterprises plans to build a giant incubator and put the egg on display.  The head of Happy Enterprises is Jiro Torahata (Kenji Sahara).  Torahata and Kumayama are visited by the Shobijin (Emi Ito and Yumi Ito) who ask them to return the egg to its rightful owner, Mothra.  Instead, the two men try to capture the Shobijin. The Shobijin escape and meet with Sakai, Nakanishi, and Miura, but unfortunately they have no authority to return the egg.  In the end, the Shobjin return to Infant Island without the egg, leaving a warning that when the egg hatches, the Mothra larva will likely cause a lot of damage.

Godzilla appears and goes on a rampage through Nagoya, destroying Nagoya Castle.  The JSDF attempts to stop Godzilla, but the monster is too strong.  Sakai, Nakanishi, and Miura head to Infant Island and beg for the adult Mothra to come fight Godzilla, but the natives of Infant Island are reluctant seeing as Japan failed to return Mothra?s egg when asked.  Finally, an emotional plea by Sakai and Nakanishi convinces the Shobjin to send Mothra, but they say Mothra is very old and near the end of her life.

With Godzilla approaching the egg and Happy Enterprises? construction site, Torahata and Kumayama turn on each other.  Torahata shoots Kumayama and tries to make off with the remaining money, but Godzilla smashes the hotel they were staying in, killing Torahata.  

Just as Godzilla is about to crush the egg, Mothra arrives.  After a quick battle, Godzilla manages to strike the giant moth with his atomic breath.  Mothra flutters over to her egg, puts her wing over it, and breaths her last.

Mothra?s egg hatches and two caterpillars emerge.  They follow Godzilla to Iwa Island, where a teacher and some students are trapped.  While the teacher and students are rescued, the Mothra larvae wrap Godzilla in a silk coccoon.  The encased Godzilla falls into the sea, and the Mothra caterpillars carry the Shobijin back to Infant Island.

Mothra vs. Godzilla is generally considered by fans to be one the best Godzilla movies.  While the light-hearted tone and colourful imagery of Mothra is carried over, the comedic antics of the monsters that were prevelent in King Kong vs. Godzilla are not.  In fact, this would be the last truly serious portrayal of Godzilla as an angry destroyer until The Return of Godzilla in 1984.

Though its easy to think a giant moth is a ridiculous opponent for a creature like Godzilla, in many ways the two monsters are the perfect contrast out of which all great rivalries are born.  Godzilla is a nearly invincible nuclear reptile, dark, angry, and deliberately destructive.  Mothra, on the other hand, is a fragile insect, colourful, benevolent, and not willfully destructive.  When they clash, there is an inherent conflict of their natures unlying the action and it just works.

The country of Rolisica is not mentioned in Mothra vs. Godzilla, but a handful of the political themes from Mothra remain.  Infant Island is still a contaminated nuclear wasteland, the natives that reside there the victims of nuclear testing.  In keeping with these anti-nuclear themes, Godzilla is detected before he is seen, radioativity providing the first clues that he is about to make his return to Japan.

Also carried over from Mothra and King Kong vs. Godzilla are the themes surrounding greed and exploitation. Mothra?s egg has barely touched land before a greedy corporation has swept in and bought it up, looking to make a hefty profit.  Happy Enterprises then stalls on making payments to the fishermen that had initially claimed the egg.  When the Shobijin appear in the hotel room to ask Torahata and Kumayama to return the egg to its real owner, Mothra, the two men instead attempt to capture them!  While giant eggs and fairies may be fantasy, this disgusting level of corporate greed and exploitation is anything but, and its easy to see equally atrocious parallels in the real world.

While King Kong vs. Godzilla forgot to show Mr. Tako receiving any kind of comeuppance for his greed, Torahata and Kumayama are eventually done in by theirs.  With Godzilla approaching their hotel and on a path to destroy their construction site, the two men turn on each other.  They fight over the money that remains, with Torahata finally shooting Kumayama in the head.  Torahata, delayed by the fight and scramble for the money, doesn?t make it out of the hotel in time and Godzilla brings the building down on top of him.

Mothra vs. Godzilla was released in Japan on April 29th, 1964 and AIP released the movie in the United States on August 26th, 1964 as Godzilla vs. The Thing.  For its North American release, the movie was dubbed into English and had only minor cuts made to it.  A scene was also added of the U.S. Navy attacking Godzilla from offshore.  This scene was shot by Toho, but not included in the Japanese version due to the sensitivity around showing the America military firing onto Japanese soil.

The dubbed U.S. edit of Mothra vs. Godzilla was the only version available in North America for decades.  In 2006, Classic Media released both the U.S. version and original Japanese version of Mothra vs. Godzilla on DVD in North America on a single disk.  Only the original Japanese version of Mothra vs. Godzilla is currently available, and it is as part of The Criterion Collection?s Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975 Blu-ray set featuring the first 15 Godzilla movies.

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