Japanese release title: Mothra vs. Godzilla
International release title: Godzilla Against Mothra
U.S. release date: Sept. 17, 1964 by American International Pictures as Godzilla vs. The Thing.
Japanese audience attendance: 3,510,000
Director: Ishiro Honda
Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa
Sfx: Eiji Tsuberaya
Musical score: Akira Ifukube
U.S. version available on home video from Paramount’s Gateway video series.
A powerful typhoon causes the egg of the heroic giant insect Mothra to be swept away from its home on Infant Island, and to be washed ashore in Japan near the city of Nagoya. The egg is appropriated by a greedy capitalist named Kumayama, who hoped to earn a huge profit by putting it on display for his company, Happy Enterprises. Despite the appearance and warnings of the egg’s content by Mothra’s six-inch tall priestesses (the Shobijin), Kumayama refuses to return the egg to Infant Island, and the company builds a huge incubator around it.
Suddenly, Godzilla, who has been disturbed from his hiding place beneath the sea by the storm, rises from the ground, rampages through Nagoya and (in the American version) resists a Frontier Missile attack by the U.S. Navy. Meanwhile, an ethical reporter named Shiro Sakai and two scientist friends journey to Infant Island to ask for the adult Mothra’s help in saving Japan from Godzilla, but the Shobijin and the rest of the natives refuse, in part due to Kumayama’s noncompliance in returning the egg, and in part due to the fact that the adult Mothra is nearing the end of her life cycle, awaiting to be reborn from inside the egg.
Finally, Kumayama is shot to death by his equally greedy partner, Torahatta, who attempts to abscond with the money earned from the egg exhibit, and Torahatta himself is killed when the rampaging Godzilla destroys the company’s corporate headquarters. When the radioactive titan approaches the incubator housing the egg, the adult Mothra rushes to Japan to defend the larva within. After a fierce battle, Godzilla manages to slay the weakened Mothra by blasting her wing with his atomic breath. However, she did manage to divert the evil kaiju from the egg (though he succeeded in destroying the incubator), and Godzilla then engages in a protracted battle with the Japanese military. During the course of this battle, the military devises Operation: Artificial Lightening, an elaborate attempt to kill Godzilla using electricity generated simultaneously from several towers, and later from an immense electrified net dropped on the monster by jets. Despite coming close to killing the dreaded kaiju, he ultimately survives both phases of the attack, and continues on through Japan, finally making his way to the tiny Iwo Island, where he imperils a group of schoolchildren on a field trip.
Praying to Mothra’s egg, the Shobijin encourage the rebirth of the kaiju of peace, this time her spirit being embodied not in one, but two larvae. The twin Mothra larvae swim to Iwo Island and attack Godzilla, allowing the children to escape. Although Godzilla initially thrashes the two larvae about, they ultimately overpower him with the combined might of their silk cocoons. Helplessly enveloped in the ultra-strong cocoon, the defeated Godzilla falls into the ocean and retreats, and the triumphant newborn caterpillars return peacefully to Infant Island.
This brilliant film was Toho’s second (and final) entry in the Showa Series in which an evil Godzilla was pitted against an already established, heroic kaiju (and the first film in the series where it wasn't implied that the Big G may have died at the end of the film; this time around, he was simply defeated and driven off by the twin Mothra larvae). Director Ishiro Honda returned to the serious, adult tone of the first film, and also returned to using the movies as a forum for important socio-political themes, in this case not only a protest to nuclear power usage, but also against the rampant avarice promoted by capitalism (without trying to explain it away with that nebulous "human nature" rhetoric that's as much bogus science as that used to explain the origin of the various monsters featured in the sci-fi 'B' movies of the 50's). Further, some excellent casting and acting, punctuated by Toho veterans like Kenji Sahara and Akira Takarada, moved the no nonsense drama to a high plateau, and managed to seize an adult audience like no other G-film until the Heisei Series.
In their essay for the "Godzilla in America" series in G-FAN #11, John Rocco Roberto and Robert Biondi asserted that many G-fans consider this the best Godzilla film of the Showa Series, others consider it the best G-film of any Godzilla series, while still others consider it “the last Godzilla film, period.” The sfx by Tsuberaya were glorious for the time, displaying Toho monster battles at their best, and much of it still holding up by today's standards, even after the advent of CGI. Further, the sfx crew gave us one of the best G-suits ever seen on film; the truly malevolent appearance of the head was unforgettable, and remains one of my two favorite Godzilla suit designs.
Like the previous G-film, Godzilla’s heroic adversary underwent a dramatic size change, but this time in the opposite direction. In the original Mothra three years earlier, Mothra’s larva stage was 100 meters long, and the adult wingspan was 250 meters wide. To more accurately match Godzilla’s then current height of 50 meters, the larva length was reduced to 40 meters, and the adult wingspan diminished to 100 meters wide. The adult Mothra also utilized her poison powder for the first time in this film, a weapon the Kaiju of Peace would not use again until the more powerful version seen in the Godzilla, Monster of Monsters! video game released by Nintendo in the late 1980's.
Luckily, the U.S. release of this film was handled by AIP, who did so with great respect and competence. Very little of the movie was excised, the only significant deletion being the graphic depiction of Kumayama’s phony-looking murder via bullet wound to the head (however, Torahatta pummeling Kumayama’s face into a bloody pulp prior to the murder was left intact, a scene sure to gross out any kids who saw it). We were even given the courtesy of quality dubbing and no needlessly inserted American-made footage or stock footage. In fact, AIP gave the American audience a special treat the Japanese theater-goers never got to see: the fabulous Frontier Missile sequence of the U.S. Navy vs. Godzilla, filmed by Toho at AIP’s request exclusively for the American version. Hence, this was the only G-film in which the American version turned out better than its Japanese counterpart, and it’s available from Paramount/Gateway home video.
The only drawback to the AIP release was its original theatrical title, “Godzilla vs. The Thing.” This was done in conjunction with AIP’s ad campaign for the movie, which attempted to add intrigue to the film for the American audience by not revealing who Godzilla’s nemesis was until the day of release (despite the fact that the original Mothra was released by Columbia Pictures two years previous, and was already known to American audiences), as well as an attempt to ride the then still ongoing popularity crest of the classic American 1951 sci-fi flick, The Thing From Another World. The ad poster issued by AIP depicted the then popular generic drawing of Godzilla, often seen on foreign movie posters, in which the Big G resembles a bipedal dragon, facing the mysterious “Thing,” who is mostly obfuscated by a large caption which read “Censored...behind this caption is the Thing...the producers have taken this precaution for those who cannot take the full horror...for those who can...[blah blah blah]", as well as other enigmatic slogans such as “What is it?,” etc. What can be seen of “the Thing” from behind the caption makes it look nothing like Mothra, but instead appears to be a multi-tentacled creature (how surprised the American theater-goers must have been when the vaunted “Thing” turned out to be a familiar kaiju, and a heroic one at that). Mothra was alternately referred to in the dubbing by her own name and as “the Thing,” which sounded very inappropriate to her fans, and it’s quite fortuitous that Paramount at least corrected the title (if not the dubbing) when they released it to home video in the early 1980’s.
This was also the last G-film in the Showa Series in which Godzilla was portrayed as a totally malicious creature for the entire film (Mothra was intended to be the hero of this movie, regardless of how American audiences may have been conditioned to perceive otherwise) and after this movie’s very successful release, Godzilla’s character was slowly rehabilitated by Toho, but this rehabilitation would not be complete until the beginning of the 1970's. It’s a terrible shame that today’s non-G-fans all too often judge Godzilla by the campy G-films of the 70’s, rather than this fine movie (let alone the first G-film, Godzilla, King of the Monsters ).
This film was successfully re-made in 1992 for the Heisei Era Godzilla movie series, though the storyline was a mixture of this movie, the original Mothra (1961), and the never filmed Mothra vs. Bagan screenplay composed for Toho in 1990.
back to Showa Series list