MOTHRA

(1961)
(Japanese Title: Mosura)
With Frankie Sakai, Hiroshi Koizumi, Kyôko Kagawa, Ken Uehara, Takashi Shimura, Emi Ito, Yûmi Ito
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Reviewed by JB

This review is of the dubbed American version of the film.  

Searching Japan for a giant lightbulb!      MOTHRA is more of a fantasy than a giant monster movie, albeit a fantasy which owes much of its story to that great granddaddy of all giant monster movies KING KONG.   A group of scientists, reporters and evil capitalists (the core characters of any good Giant Monster film) investigate a strange island and find two identical tiny Japanese beauties there.  When the evil capitalist brings them back to exhibit them as part of a big show, the giant moth whom they protected on the island breaks out of its shell and heads toward Japan to rescue them.  (It could happen).

    MOTHRA is an unusual entry into Toho's daikaijû (Giant Monster) series in several ways.  The film is more than halfway over before the monster even shows up, and when she does, she is not really interested in destroying parts of Japan but instead, her goal is to restore things on her own island to the way they are supposed to be.  The destruction she causes is purely incidental and accidental, as she (in both her caterpillar and moth stages) relentlessly works her way through the city to find the twins.  Some of the miniature work is outstanding, especially a sequence where the larval Mothra breaks through a dam and causes the collapse of a bridge, but this is not really a film about monsters destroying man-made stuff.  

Don't worry, Kyoko     For most of its running time, MOTHRA is about a reporter, a photographer and a scientist who are trying to get "The Peanuts" back from the evil showman who kidnapped them.  You could literally remove Mothra from the film and it could still work as a fun adventure.  This trio, played by Frankie Sakai, Kyoko Kagawa and Hiroshi Koizumi, are very likable, sometimes funny, and carry most of the film. Kagawa, a charming actress with outstanding range (not seen much here), had an excellent resumé, having worked with Akira Kurosawa several times already as well as with Yasujiro Ozu in TOKYO STORY  and Kenji Mizoguchi in SANSHO THE BAILIFF.  She would appear in several more Kurosawa films in her career, including his final film, MADADAYO, and as of 2009, was still active in Japanese film.  Takashi Shimura also stars in what would be his at least his third daikaijû film for Toho, depending on which films you include in this particular genre. 1  This time, he's a newspaper editor.

When Jeff went missing, Pink Lady was immediately arrested    MOTHRA is also the first Toho Giant Monster film to introduce extra fantasy elements into the series 2, such as "The Peanuts", six-inch tall twin ladies who have a telepathic connection to the godlike Mothra.  One of the most memorable inventions of the series (for good or bad), "The Peanuts" are famous for their "Mothra" songs, variations of which are sung several times during the series.  Once seen and heard, they are never forgotten, no matter how hard you try, and you literally cannot have a Mothra movie without them.  While they work for the film itself, the introduction of such extraneous elements into the series would eventually devolve into such questionable additions and changes as evil aliens who want to take over the world (GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERODESTROY ALL MONSTERS,), more humanized monsters, and even a talking son of Godzilla (GODZILLA'S REVENGE).  Like the James Bond series, the Godzilla and Giant Monster films would eventually get so silly, the makers would almost be forced to return the series to its serious roots. 

    An enjoyable film, but perhaps a dull one for those who watch the films for the devastation and destruction of Tokyo, MOTHRA is most valuable for introducing one of the most interesting and intelligent monsters into the genre - the protective, sometimes self-sacrificing as well as self-reproducing giant moth, a creature who will often go to great lengths, even to death, to restore the balance of nature and save the Earth, or at least Tokyo. She would next appear in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, aka GODZILLA VS. THE THING. 3 - JB

NOTES:  1 and 2:  I am not counting some Toho productions such as The MYSTERIANS (1957) and GORATH (1962) as part of the series, as they were more of the "Space Opera" genre than the "Giant Monster" genre, although they did feature giant monsters and are often considered as daikaiju films.  However, these films would also influence the later Godzilla movies in which evil aliens appear.  Takashi Shimura would appear in THE MYSTERIANS, which came before this film, hence my uncertainty of how many daikaiju films to attribute to him..

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