A final send off to the evil Godzilla before Toho Studios morphed him into a defender of the Earth, Mothra vs. Godzilla stands as one of the franchise’s highlights. Even with the rather primitive effects of the day, the climatic battle between the two giants is a classic and flawlessly executed. It’s rightfully deserving of praise.
Following two years after King Kong vs. Godzilla, a campy, fun giant monster romp, Mothra’s defense of her egg is in serious contrast with the action of the previous entry. Godzilla returns to his evil, hateful, lumbering self in his quest to take out the egg containing the insects twin larvae. A recognizable staff of Japanese special effect masters including Eiji Tsuburaya, Akira Watanabe and Teruyoshi Nakano bring the creatures to life better than any other film in the series.
Surprsingly, this film does focus on its human element. While there are some stunning miniature sets destroyed in the early moments along with a few military strikes, the storyline paces itself into a satire on human greed. Yoshifumi Tajima plays a sly businessman, purchasing Mothra’s egg after it washes onto the Japanese coast to use as nothing more than an attraction. His performance sells the over-the-top character, leading to a deserved death by the one man he trusted to partner with.
The Japanese version also introduces a nuclear element, absent entirely from King Kong vs. Godzilla. While the U.S. cut makes a few brief mentions of the implications, the message is held together better by the time the cast makes their way to Mothra’s devastated island. While the set never reached the scale director Ishiro Honda, the barren lands of Infant Island try to show what nuclear tests have done to a small group of people. The impact is there even if the sets (with obvious matte painting backgrounds) do not.
Mothra vs. Godzilla is one of the rare few in the Showa era of Godzilla films to make the human drama work without veering off into a bizarre and oftentimes ridiculous angles. It’s a believable backdrop to the non-stop monster action that finishes rather early in the script to give the creatures the final act to themselves. That begins a showcase of every effect the Japanese film industry had available.
The suit used for Godzilla was heavily modified, as it usually was for each new outing before cost cutting stopped the tradition in the 1970s. An accidental success is Godzilla’s upper lip which came loose early in the shoot. By letting it flop around, it gives the creature and extra sense of motion during close-ups, which are frequent. Limited bulk gives the monster a streamlined look, with a menacing face adding to one of suit actor Haruo Nakajima’s finest efforts. At one point, the head catches fire and Nakajima keeps moving, all of this captured on film.
As for Mothra, even the latest attempts at recreating one of Toho’s staples can’t match this work. It’s even an improvement over the creatures solo film from 1961. Her movements are kinetic and believable, rarely falling off into motion that seems impossible. For being completely outmatched, the choreography somehow turns this into a fair fight against the walking radioactive flamethrower.
With the exception of a few special effects shots that didn’t turn out so special and should have been cut, the film is a wonderful success. This was the first time the U.S. version of a Godzilla film would avoid heavy editing for the international market. Instead, to pad the running time due to the deletion of some text heavy Japanese scenes, they filmed an entire military action sequence specifically for the US market, the first and only time Toho would do this. It makes Mothra vs. Godzilla memorable for yet another reason.
The two versions of the film included on the disc, U.S. and Japanese cuts, have an odd video background. The original language presentation is lacking in fine detail. It’s fuzzy and slightly washed out. Color does seem to be slightly faded. However, the print features no damage, and remains pristine throughout. Compression artifacts are never an issue. The lack of sharpness leads to some aliasing issues as well. At the least, it’s presented in the film’s proper aspect ratio, roughly 2.35:1.
On the U.S. side, the film is cropped down to 1.85:1. It’s a significant, noticeable change. Classic Media said that no print in the proper ratio could be found or restored. Two things are worth noting if that’s they’re reason behind using a cropped print. The first is that the one they’ve used is hardly pristine. While suffering from the same issues at the Japanese version, it also comes with extensive print damage. It’s watchable, especially in comparison to any VHS copy.
The second point is what fails to add up. In 1998, now defunct DVD company Simitar released the same film using a 2.35:1 print. While the mastering of the DVD was nothing short of terrible (it’s incredible how far compression technology has come), the print was beautiful. Damage was of course noticeable, though certainly no worse than the one used by Classic Media for this new release. To say a decent print could not be found doesn’t seem like a viable excuse.
Neither version excels in audio, fitted with a standard mono track. Both are free from constant distortion. Clarity is wonderful, capturing Akira Ifukube’s booming musical score beautifully. Still, it’s hard to ignore the missing punch from the subwoofer when the monsters are in full battle mode. A little remixing would have made a world of difference.
Steve Ryfle joins Ed Godziszewski for another Godzilla DVD commentary track. As always, the information presented here is invaluable. As with their previous discussions, there are many times where it sounds as if they’re reading instead of discussing. Archival interviews with people involved in the US dubbing and release are also featured. The commentary only runs alongside the imported cut, not the Japanese one.
Akira Ifukube is given a well presented 10-minute piece, filled with photos and information on his life. An additional eight minutes is given for a text tribute by Shogo Tomiyama, one of the producers who worked closely with Ifukube during the second series of Godzilla films. A gallery of lobby cards and posters along with a trailer round out the extras.
It’s worth noting that Classic Media avoids the aspect ratio issue on the box. The Toho version is listed at Cinemascope, while the U.S. one says it’s in 16×9 widescreen. It’s not completely deceptive, but it could have presented better to let the consumer know of the change.