Mothra Vs Godzilla (1964) | DVD Review
“…what really makes the film stand out is Shinichi Sekizawa’s script, which is a pretty heavy piece of dramatic writing, and is as much about the conflict between the human characters as is about the conflict between the monsters…”
Coming directly from TOHO Studio’s golden age of science fiction straight to your DVD player is the ultimate monster versus monster battle, Mothra vs. Godzilla (released in the U.S. as Godzilla vs. The Thing), directed by the “Father of Godzilla” himself, visionary filmmaker Ishiro Honda.
Bizarre things are happening on Japan’s coast. A giant egg washes ashore after a hurricane, and a greedy land developer wastes no time in purchasing it with the intention of building a theme park around it. Two tiny twin fairies of Infant Island (played by real life twin 60’s pop singers The Peanuts) show up to ask that the egg be returned to Mothra, the giant moth that is sacred to the once lush island that has been ravaged by nuclear testing. Caught in the middle are hard-boiled beat reporter Ichiro Sakai and his protégé, photographer Junko Nakanishi, who are acting as a liaison between the fairies and the uncompromising land developers, and investigating a strange green object (maybe a giant reptile scale?) that turns out to be highly radioactive. Whatever the green object is, it can only mean one thing… GODZILLA! Soon the giant nuclear-charged reptile has risen from the hurricane’s wreckage, confused, dirty, and ready to stomp Tokyo to splinters, and the city’s only hope of survival is to strike a deal with Mothra – stop Godzilla, and the egg with be returned.
Like the DVD release of Godzilla Raids Again, this disc contains both the original Japanese version of the film, and the version that was released in the U.S. As far as I can tell, the U.S. version is pretty much a direct port, albeit dubbed in English. The only difference I can find between the two versions of the film is the inclusion of an additional scene in the U.S. version where U.S. military forces fire missiles at Godzilla as he attacks on land. Why was this scene absent in the Japanese version? It is speculated in the audio commentary by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski that it may have been considered in poor taste to show a major display U.S. military power onscreen, which sounds like a plausible explanation. The dubbing is particularly well done in the U.S. version, both in terms of the actors’ delivery, and the translation.
Another fact I’m going to steal from the audio commentary is that Mothra vs. Godzilla is a favorite among Godzilla and TOHO fans. And it’s not hard to understand why. The special effects work is superb, with scale sets (sets built larger to photograph the Infant Island Fairies, and miniature sets for the monsters) brilliantly combined with composite photography – really the grandfather of green screen work. The seams between the smoke and mirrors may be, at times, more visible than they are in a film like Lord of the Rings, but the trade off it that suit acting will always look slightly more real than a motion capture image. The same rules regarding effects work held true for Honda in 1964 and Peter Jackson in 2001 – the best filmmakers know how to combine practical effects with a manipulated image, and edit flawlessly between the two. Mothra vs. Godzilla has the experience of a film made by a director who is in complete control.
But what really makes the film stand out is Shinichi Sekizawa’s script, which is a pretty heavy piece of dramatic writing, and is as much about the conflict between the human characters as is about the conflict between the monsters. Godzilla does not even show up until about a half hour into the story, by which time the audience is involved in the conflict over the ownership of the giant egg, and the film’s themes of the corruptive effects of money and power. Still, good vs. evil remain a gray area. One cannot help but feel sympathy for the landowners as they meet their fates, blinded by, and victims of, their own greed. And though Godzilla looks particularly sinister in this film, with his menacing yellow eyes and protruding brow, his attack is not so much out of malice as it is out of his own nature and the circumstances – the giant radioactive reptile looks no happier to be in Tokyo than the citizens are to have him as a guest. He wakes up, buried under sand after being washed out to sea in a hurricane, and the destruction is really more a case of a monster waking up on the wrong side of the bed than an deliberate invasion. Mothra is a much more empathetic character, able to negotiate, wanting peace, loyal to her people, and willing to make a great personal sacrifice in order to benefit her allies and her country.
Included on the disc’s special features is an audio commentary with Godzilla go-to guys Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski. The commentary track is packed with detailed information about the production, the actors, the filmmakers, and the technical aspects of the special effects and the dubbing process. While loaded with info, this commentary track is really only recommended for film history buffs, as it is nowhere near as entertaining as it is informative. There is also a short documentary, a biography of composer Akira Ifukube, who did the majority of the music for the Godzilla films. Simply still photos edited together with a voiceover, but nonetheless interesting and entertaining, especially the parts about Ifukube’s work process – he was a rule breaker, someone who did things his own way, and he was brilliant – the kind of person it’s always fun to get to know. There is a poster slide show, which would be more fun if the viewer could advance from one poster to the next, instead of the track scrolling through the posters automatically. The original Japanese trailer of the film flat out rocks.
If you’re a fan of TOHO science fiction or giant monster films, this is a must have. If you grew up watching these films on TV, like I did, it’s really a blast seeing this again so many years later. The film hasn’t lost any of its staying power to entertain. It’s also not a bad gift idea for kids. The violence is PG stuff, there’s no nudity, sex, or language, and with a Godzilla video game coming to Nintendo’s Wii console by the end of the year (I caught a first hand preview of it at NYC Comic Con and it is a lot of fun), TOHO’s number one monster isn’t going anywhere.