Thursday, January 20, 2011

Conqueror worms: Mothra Vs Godzilla(1964) - revisited

Perhaps the Godzilla film I watched on television most often as a kid was Godzilla Vs Thing, the Americanized version of Mothra Vs Godzilla, which was originally released to theaters back in the spring of 1964. Seems like the American version(released in America by AIP) was on TV quite a bit when I was a kid growing up. If only that had been true for so many other Toho kaiju films. No matter.

I remember my father telling me once he saw Godzilla Vs The Thing while on a business trip in New York. He liked the film but kept pronouncing Mothra as "Mothar". This and the '61 Mothra film are the only two Toho films my father ever saw, both in theaters.

I submit some more personal observations on Mothra Vs Godzilla(1964), my second favorite Godzilla movie(after 1954's Gojira). As always some of these observations may look familiar and some not:

Thumbs up:

1. Godzilla's entrance in this film is simply outstanding. The monster's appearance is preempted by the emission of mysterious radiation, a small, shiny radioactive object discovered by photographer "Yoka" Nakanishi and finally strong geiger readings from Professor Miura's geiger counter. All of these things perpetuate an effective accumulation of suspense leading up to Godzilla's appearance. The monster slowly erupts out of the beach, shaking the strata and other debris off himself.

2. the score in this film is IMO outstanding and among my favorites. The opening theme nicely projects what will be the serious tone for this film, set against the backdrop of heavy winds and seas caused by Hurricane Abe. Watch this opening sequence and you definitely get the impression the movie is going to be a serious treatment of Godzilla and the other elements of the film.

3. the special effects are marvelous. There are, to be sure, some things I didn't like: the puppet effects and what looked like limited stop motion effects are things I could easily have done without. Overall, however Eiji Tsuburaya and his technical staffers created some great effects: the animatronic larval and adult Mothra are terrific, the use of high speed filming is liberal which meant the vast majority of monster movements were slowed down as they appeared on screen, adding realism to the actions by Godzilla and the adult/larval Mothras. I also liked the fact that Godzilla's use of his oral beam was not over-done. The creature employed the weapon mostly when engaged with the adult Mothra and the twin larvae. The larval Mothra's use of silk, the two creatures relentlessly spraying it at Godzilla was also an extremely well rendered sequence. I also like the napalm attack on Godzilla by the defense force airborne bombers. At one point Godzilla appears to briefly be on fire. This effect may have been unintended but it looks good on screen. The miniatures also look great, especially the structure built by Happy Enterprises to house Mothra's huge egg.

4. the human cast in the film: these characters play off each other well, especially the conflicting personalities of no-nonsense reporter Sakai(played by Akira Takarada) and his free spirited, female photographer Junko "Yoka" Nakanishi(played by Yuriko Hoshi). Comic relief is supplied by boiled egg eating reporter Jiro Nakamura(played by Yu Fujiki) versus his gruff, surly boss, the newspaper editor Arota(played by Jun Takazi). Nakamura seems to regarded by his editor as a slacker and the clashing personalities here are often funny. In the English dubbed AIP version the egg eating, bumbling Nakamura tells photographer "Yoka" Nakanishi at one point that he fears his editor boss more than Godzilla.

5. the adult Mothra: I've read about how this creature was rendered for the film and I can only imagine the difficulties that Eiji Tsuburaya and his effects crews had bringing the monster to life. The adult Mothra looks terrific and provides Godzilla with a good battle.

6. the human cast villains in the film: both are played to the hilt. First up is Kumayama(played by Yoshifumi Tajima), a jittery fellow and pompous jackass who is owner of "Happy Enterprises". The name of this company couldn't possibly contradict the demeanor of Kumayama more as evidenced by Kumayama's testy relationship with the local fishermen and the human protagonists, even the Shobojin fairies(played the Ito twins Yumi and Emi). Kumayama is a man who seems to possess a general disdain for people altogether. Kumayama's business partner is Banzo Torahata(played by Kenji Sahara), a self aggrandizing, nefarious and greedy man, who would likely steal from his own mother if he needed the money. The character of "Torahata" is well played by Kenji Sahara and is IMO among the best villains of the classic Toho kaiju films, ranking right up there with Jerry Ito's performance as the despicable, egomaniacal "Clark Nelson" in 1961's Mothra and the creepy Xian leader played by Yoshio Tsuchiya in 1965's Invasion Of The Astro Monsters.

7. the "Mosugoji" Godzilla suit: there is considerable disdain among Godzilla fans for Godzilla's "wobbly" lip in this film. I understand the quibble but for me it detracts nothing from the film overall. The exaggerated and furrowed eyebrows lend a kind of "perma-scowl" to the monster's face. Given Godzilla's role in this movie as rampaging antagonist this effect works well. I also like the overall physique of the suit: the shoulders could IMO have been a little more pronounced but the rounded edges of the dorsals and long, rounded at the end tail all look good.

Thumbs down:

1. there were various distant shots of the adult Mothra-Godzilla battle that I thought looked kind of shaky.

2. the scene where Godzilla first enters a city setting: I would have liked seeing a longer sequence of the monster in a city setting. Even the Godzilla-adult Mothra battle in a city would have been preferred.

I know many younger fans may label this movie as "dated and boring", especially as it compares to the updated effects(CGI and otherwise) in today's films. When considering what Ishiro Honda, Akira Ifukube and Eiji Tsuburaya managed to create together with this film, I think this film stands the test of time quite well, a testament to the skills and imagination of these three men and those at Toho who worked for them in the creation of this movie.

The HD trailer for Mothra Vs Godzilla(1964):