Alternate Title: The start of the shared universe
So, you know how the Marvel Cinematic Universe is kind of a thing? Notable in that all the stories impact each other, and the characters intersect much in the same way they do in comics? Toho’s announced that, starting whenever they start making these movies in sequence again, they’re wanting to use a similar model for Godzilla films. Which is a little strange to me. Because they totally did that already. 40-some years before the Marvel films started having Agent Coulson hanging around.
So, there was a big gap in between the second and third Godzilla films. Of like seven years or so. But Toho wasn’t done with giant monsters in that meanwhile. In fact, they made a whole bunch of kaiju films after Godzilla gave that genre a jump start. And King Kong vs. Godzilla, being the most successful film in the Godzilla franchise, it made a buck or two. And Mr. Toho, he thought to himself, “I sure like having dollars. Maybe I should make another movie so I can get another dollar.” But how do you follow up on a clash of two of cinema’s greatest titans, crossing over from disparate universes? Well, you just do it again. Except you go back into one of the worlds you already own, so you don’t have to pay those crazy huge King Kong licensing fees. And wouldn’t you know it, you just had a really successful and well-received movie just a few years before. Maybe you could cross that over with your marquee guy.
And that’s how we ended up with Mothra vs. Godzilla, a sequel to both 1961’s Mothra and 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla. And in so doing, Tojo tied all their Kaiju films of the era together into one continuous universe. You start seeing monsters cross over in each others films, Godzilla himself gets a few recurring enemies that started in other movies, and you’ll even get a few films centered not on individual monsters but the people living within them, such as Destroy All Monsters, which we’ll be getting to in a few of these posts.
This is also regarded as one of the best movies of the Showa era, thus proving this was a concept with some real mileage. So no wonder they’d get some mileage out of it.
Note that this is not Godzilla vs. Mothra. That is a very different movie. Yes, the Godzilla franchise sucks at titles. Kind of an easy way of remembering it is that this move was made when Godzilla was undisputedly the bad guy. So Mothra, the heroine, gets top billing. As opposed to Godzilla vs Mothra, which was made when Godzilla was only sometimes the bad guy, so you could still cheer for him. So he gets top billing then. See, simple.
So, how does all this monster wreckage roll down? Well, it starts with the weather. Some pretty extreme weather, actually. Our monster playground this time around is Nagoya, which, at the opening of the film, is undergoing a pretty severe storm. Causes some tsunamis and flooding. In fact, it ends up completely flooding the section of Nagoya in which they were working on some industrial revitalization projects. The next morning, a news team comes up to cover it. This news team is made up of Dick, so called because he’s a loser and kind of an ass, and Arthouse Photographer. They are both very bad at their jobs. Dick because he lacks the instincts of a journalist and doesn’t follow through, and Arthouse Photographer, because she tries to take these grand photos with lots of artistic merit when that’s not really what the story’s really calling for. They find a pretty rock there, so they take it with them. Then they get distracted by some nearby hubbub.
Turns out the storm didn’t just bring them a whole bunch of water. It also brought, floating on the sea, a giant monster egg floating off their shoreline. A local fishing company figures out that, hey, they have the fishing rights to everything in that part of real estate, so if they go get that egg, it becomes their egg. So they do that. And they bring it ashore. You might recognize this as officially a Bad Idea.
Professor Miura, whose name I actually remember for some reason, is studying the egg. Dick and Arthouse Photographer come to talk to him. But the fishing company sold the egg to Mr. Happy, who cheerfully and friendly-ly shows up to tell them to screw off, because he’s going to make it into a giant monster egg theme park. You might recognize this as especially a Bad Idea.
Professor Miura and the reporter duo go to a hotel to talk about how much of an especially Bad Idea this is. Mr. Happy goes there too, because that’s where his boss, President Happy is. Their office is in a hotel or something. They talk about how their going to make tons of money from the egg by hatching it. And make plans for a giant incubator. Which you may recognize as a monstrously Bad Idea.
Then these two tiny girls show up out of nowhere. Literally tiny. They fit in your hand. They tell the two Happys that hatching the egg is a horribly Bad Idea, because it’s a Mothra egg, so please give it back to Mothra. The Happys do not give it back to Mothra. Instead, they try to capture the two girls so they can have them in the kaiju theme park, too. Dick takes advantage of the commotion to insert himself into the situation, pretending to be a Happy employee. They see right through him, but he provides enough of a distraction for the Mothra girls to escape. They chat with Miura and the reporters, asking for help in getting the egg back because a) the baby Mothra will destroy a whole bunch of stuff after it wakes up and b) they’re purchasing a monster baby, what the hell Happy Corporation? In the days that follow, the reporters work to turn public opinion in the direction of returning the egg, but the Happys counter that with the genius technique of not caring. The girls get disappointed, and Mothra shows up to take them home.
Miura gives the reporters a call to let them know that their shiny rock from the flooded industrial area was radioactive. Together, they go to test the radioactivity of that area, from which the water has since drained, and it’s now a layer of mud. Turns out the radioactivity of that area is going wild. And wouldn’t you now it, that mud over there looks to be moving. And……… surprise! Godzilla!
Except, Godzilla’s drunk or something. He runs rampage, as he’s known for, but he does most of his damage seemingly out of clumsiness rather than intention. He gets his tail wrapped up in the lattice of a broadcast tower and pulls it down on himself. He trips of a small cliff and runs head first into the local Nagoya monument. I don’t recall if he even breaks a building on purpose, this movie.
The military’s got a plan for what to do about Godzilla. Back at the newspaper, the staff are chatting about what to do. Newspaper boss has watched the previous movies, and knows the military won’t be able to do anything against Big G. There’s this comic relief character there, a newspaper employee who’s a total idiot and is always eating eggs. He pops up in scenes several times throughout the movie, but he almost never has any real impact so I’m not going to talk about him much. Still, though, he’s my favorite character this movie. Stupid dude is stupidly entertaining. He does like his only important thing this scene and suggest that maybe Mothra could beat Godzilla and make him go away.
Mothra comes from Infant Island, which used to be a nuclear testing site and now is a total hole. There’s still people living there, though. And also tiny people. And Mothra. Our crew is pretty convinced that the Infant Islanders will refuse, but they go there anyways. And hey, it’s Japanese brownface again! Also orangeface, strangely enough. Is it problematic to be imitating an oompa loompa? In any case, the islanders are not friendly to the outsider. They force them to drink a magic brew that makes everyone speak the same language, then tell them to screw off. Our guys ask them for Mothra’s help, and as expected, they say no, on the grounds that their outsiders and outsiders were the ones that screwed up their island. Then our crew asks the tiny twins, and they give the same response for the same reason. Arthouse Photographer correctly points out that that’s crazy racist, but changes no minds. Except for Mothra. There’s three things Mothra likes in life; being friend to all children, dying, and kicking sweet monster tail, and this will allow her to fulfill at least two out of three. In fact, as it turns out, she’s already got a jump start on that second one. As it turns out, moths, even kickass giant moths, don’t really live that long, and she’s already nearing the end of her natural lifespan. So she decides to get busy and get awesome with what time she has left, and scoots off to Japan.
Meanwhile, Mr. Happy never actually paid for the egg, and President Happy never gave him anything for this venture, intending to screw him over. So Mr. Happy beats up President Happy and starts robbing him, but President Happy has a gun, so it doesn’t end up well for Mr. Happy. But then Godzilla sees the giant egg, and figures a good old Mothra omelet would be the perfect snack in the midst of whatever bender he’s on. He starts heading that area. President Happy sees him coming, and starts packing up all the cash he can while everyone else it evacuating the hotel, but this slows him up too much and he dies when Godzilla drunkenly stumbles into the building.
Godzilla attempts to get at the egg, but Mothra shows up, and battle ensues. And honestly, this is probably the best battle the franchise has seen thus far. It’s exciting, momentous, a bit simple but you still get some variety of action in it. And Mothra is frankly overwhelming to Godzilla. She opens up by kicking up such a gale she’s able to force him off his feet, dive bombs at him a few times, forcing him back into a pit, then goes for her ‘final attack’, shedding the poisonous scales on her wings that allow her flight to paralyze Godzilla. All Big G can do is flail wildly, firing off his atomic breath randomly. He ends up scoring a lucky blow on one of Mothra’s wings, and she glides away, coming to a rest on her egg.
Godzilla, significantly weakened from the fight, decides he doesn’t want to tangle with Mothra any more, and screws off. The military enacts their plan from earlier, which basically involves making use of Godzilla’s elemental weakness to electricity by erecting a bunch of giant tesla coils, using electrical wires to guide him in between them, then airdropping a couple of conductive nets on top of him and sapping those. And their plan goes off mostly without a hitch. In spite of the whole Godzilla theme of the kaiju being greater than the forces of men, this whole plan goes off almost without a hitch. They get Godzilla in position, cover and zap him, and essentially have him down and at their mercy. I guess the military can stand up to him, huh?
Oh, nope, no they can’t. They’re doing just fine with the system working at intended, but the captain decides to kick the voltage above capacity. Which his engineer warns him is a Bad Idea. So it melts down, Godzilla gets up, and screws off again. He starts heading for Iwo Jima, which they get evacuated in like a second. Except there’s a class on a field trip that they just leave there. So it’s a bit of a problem.
Mothra passes away peacefully on top of her egg, which then begins to hatch. Turns out Mothra’s having twins! And the Mothra larvae know what’s up. They head off in pursuit of Godzilla, swimming across the sea towards Iwo Jima. Once there, they prove themselves pretty adept, actually. Turns out that not only did Toho invent the Marvel Universe, they came up with the cover based shooter forty years early as well. The Mothra larvae pop in and out of rock cover, spraying silk all over Godzilla, who has not had a good day already. Our guys show up to rescue the field trip, and Godzilla gets completely bound and stumbles into the sea. And everyone’s happy forever. The end.
Given the two pages worth of summary I’ve got there, you probably can’t tell, but I feel Mothra vs. Godzilla made big strides in both simplifying and polishing the core of what is has to offer. There’s less moving parts than there have been in previous films, the human drama takes much more of a back seat, and even the anti-profiteering messaging of the film isn’t as in your face as all the other messages have been. What it does do, though, is deliver whats on there in a much more clean and nuanced fashion. With the characters not having to react to as much, there’s room for a little more nuance in how they’re behaving. Concepts are developed, rather than being thrown at you. And there’s only a few action scenes here, but you can tell they put a lot more into them. Mothra vs. Godzilla feels like a film that’s becoming more comfortable in itself, that’s starting to eschew the unnecessary and focus a lot more on what makes it work.
The special effects seem to have taken a step up as well, although it does come along with a half step back. The monsters look the best they have yet. Godzilla in particular, the suit was trimmed down, looks a lot leaner, and as a result, you can see a lot more of Haruo Nakajima’s acting through it. As the suit becomes less heavy, he becomes a lot more animalistic, and a lot less ‘guy in a big suit’. Mothra as well looks fantastic, even better than some later movies make her. Even their accidents seem to have gone well. The point in the movie where Godzilla faceplants into Nagoya Castle, which occurred off-script when Nakajima just stumbled, and it ended up dislodging Godzilla’s upper jaw which wobbles about for a bit, but strikingly, that accident actually makes it look better. Similarly, there’s a part where Godzilla’s getting bombed, and the pyrotechnics accidentally ignited part of his head, but it just ends up looking awesome. That said, this is not in an era where special effects were particularly strong, and there’s some signs of it here. They made absolutely no effort to hide the strings holding Mothra up, and they’re completely visible in many shots. Similarly with the treads that provided for the locomotion of the Mothra Larvae. And just like in the Godzilla Raids Again, there’s a few shots where it seems the camera was undercranked, and you get Mothra and Godzilla wrestling at a comically high speed.
I feel like this is a movie that’s become weaker by imitation, too. If you watch this one before watching others in the Godzilla series, it will seem a lot stronger. But so many other movies in the franchise call back to or repeat story beats from this one, and most of them do it worse. It kind of cheapens the impact of Mothra sacrificing herself for her kids and for Japan when she’s done the same thing in most of the rest of her appearances.
Even with that, though, there’s a reason this film is considered the best of the Showa Era. I would say that this is the one where they settled into their groove, confidently showing what makes these kaiju movies so great and so much fun and setting the standard for what’s to come following it. So yeah, this film gets the official and highly coveted Aether Seal of Approval.