"Kudos to Honda and crew for making realistic settings and creature-shop effects."
Director: Inoshiro Honda
Writer: Takehiko Fukunaga (novel), Yoshie Hotta, Shinichirô Nakamura, Shinichi Sekizawa
Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka
Cast: Franky Sakai, Hiroshi Koizumi, Kyoko Kagawa, Emi Itoh, Yumi Itoh, Takashi Shimura, Seizaburo Kawazu, Kenji Sahara, Akihiko Hirata
Running Time: 101 min., Japan: 62 min. (re-issue), USA: 88 min., USA: 91 min. (re-issue)
Plot: See review below.
NINGEN'S REVIEW: Note that this was a subbed print I saw at my local revival theater, and which I'm assuming will be released by Sony. This is also the original Mothra, not the one where she first fights Godzilla-which I initially mixed up with this one-or the ones from the 90's. (It also looked damn good for its age, but then technicolor films usually do. It's usually prints from the 70's which feel like they were ripped off of bootleg tapes.) With this in mind, I'll get down to the plot. An island which leaks radiation catches the attention of a group of reporters and explorers. They find out that the inhabitants on the island include members of a Polynesian tribe which I'm guessing are really Japanese actors wearing maroon make-up, but who are passable enough for me not to care. (Wish I could say the same about Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's...) Additional natives include two fairies who look harmless enough for the yakuza in the party to kidnap and exploit as circus freaks-er-performers. Sitting atop or inside various stage props, the girls dress in the trendiest Japanese fashion of '61 while crooning a mysterious theme song, which unfortunately, is the key to hatching Mothra, a giant moth which will trash Tokyo to save them. When the reporters find out, they try to return the twins to Mothra before that happens, but their frequent run-ins with the gang expands the range of the destruction to "New Kirk City". (I'll give you three guesses where they came up with the name.) Can the reporters rescue the girls before it's too late?
Mothra is longer than most kaiju films, even the uncut ones. Even though the running time is 101 minutes on IMDB, it feels like over two hours. And that's partly because of the sub-plots, which were poorly written (10-15 minutes to chase a mouse, for crissakes!) as well as the fact that it's really a musical first, and a giant monster movie last. The fairies are the highlight of the film, the actresses an excuse to attract the teeny-bopper crowd. (Still, at least they can sing. People who wouldn't shut the hell up at the screening I was in would pause to hear them belt out their number one single. Well except for a brat or two who seemed more interested in playing their Nintendo DS's than appreciating a once-in-a-lifetime event.) In fact, you don't see Mothra in action until the last 30 minutes or so, and it's usually just her flapping around and trashing skyscrapers. Nonetheless, the production values on the scale models were pretty impressive for their time, and Mothra looks even more real than its cg-embedded counterpart in later films. (I don't think Hollywood caught up until at least Superman 2.) Kudos to Honda and crew for making realistic settings and creature-shop effects. Still, the dialogue sucks, and the American actors ham it up even worse than the Japanese actors. The Japanese actors also happen to speak better English than the American actors speak Japanese. (In fact, at the screening, the American actors would get the most laughs in the wrong places, while the Japanese actors usually got laughs whenever they were intended.) So I respect Mothra in terms of ambition, but in terms of delivery(i.e. action) it falls flat. But it's still worth checking out for those interested in seeing kaiju-eiga at its peak.
NINGEN'S RATING: 7.5/10