Emi Ito

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964, Honda Ishirô)

I’m not sure if Mothra vs. Godzilla should be much better, but it certainly should be somewhat better. There are constant problems with the film; little things, big things, but clearly fixable things. Like the composite shots. They’re terrible. Director Honda, seemingly overwhelmed with all the landscape sets, relies on occasional composite shots to give Godzilla scale. The shots should be okay, but the composite printing is awful.

Otherwise, the special effects are solid. There’s some great stop motion in parts too. But Honda has a rough time with some of the Godzilla sequences–in Mothra; Godzilla shows up rather late and (literally) stumbles around before establishing himself to be a big old jerk. There’s no Godzilla behavioral science in Sekizawa Shin’ichi’s script. Godzilla’s just a big dumb, mean animal who acts without motive. But he also manages to be a jerk about it.

In having such a weak script as far as characterizations, which isn’t helped by the charmless lead performances–not to mention Mothra being a sympathetic giant monster (complete with accessible, religious overtones)–the film makes the giant monsters way too interesting. It pays off with the final battle, however, which Honda, editor Fujii Ryôhei and composter Ifukube Akira do wonderful work on.

There are some reasonably competent storytelling twists and Mothra always seems like it should get a lot better any moment. Leads Takarada Akira and Hoshi Yuriko–he’s a reporter, she’s his photographer, there’s some funny business going on–ought to be great. But they have no chemistry at all. Takarada seems bored by the whole film; Hoshi’s got energy, but no one to act off. As the scientist, Koizumi Hiroshi’s in a daze. He has nothing to do.

There’s a subplot about evil amusement park developers, played by Fujiki Yû and Sahara Kenji. It’s a really dumb subplot, but the actors are relatively game. Honda doesn’t direct them well. He doesn’t direct any of the actors’ scenes well. He rushes through the shots, never relying on the actors for anything.

Really bad performances from Itô Emi and Itô Yumi, as Mothra’s talking Barbie dolls.

But Sekizawa’s script does have some imagination. It occasionally sparks with Honda’s own problematic direction and Mothra vs. Godzilla nearly works.



Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Sekizawa Shin’ichi; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Fuji Ryôhei; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Takarada Akira (Ichiro), Hoshi Yuriko (Junko), Koizumi Hiroshi (Professor Miura), Fujiki Yû (Nakamura), Sahara Kenji (Torahata), Itô Emi (Shobijin), Itô Yumi (Shobijin), Tajima Yoshifumi (Kumayama) and Tazaki Jun (Murata).

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964, Honda Ishirô)

Maybe half of Ghidorah is interesting. Or has the potential to be interesting. After the giant monster-heavy opening credits (stills of Godzilla and Rodan in battle), that aspect disappears for a while. Instead, Ghidorah is a strange mix of reporter and political intrigue movies. Hoshi Yuriko is a reporter for a news program covering strange occurrences and brother Natsuki Yosuke is a police officer charged with protecting a foreign princess in trouble (Wakabayashi Akiko). Eventually–inevitably–the two story lines do cross, but it takes a lot longer than I would have assumed and really highlights the problem with Ghidorah. The giant monsters.

The first half hour is filled with doomsday predications and public interest in it. Wakabayashi goes amnesiac and ends up proclaiming the end of the world to whoever will listen. Sekizawa Shinichi’s script handles this part–maybe not the lead-in to it–beautifully. Watching Ghidorah, I kept wishing they’d played it straight, because the handling of her character and her effect on modern society, it works.

The movie’s hit with Natsuki’s underwhelming performance as the bodyguard, however. He’s at his best in the comedic scenes, which are good and too few. His problems in the action scenes might stem more from Honda’s direction. Honda has one or two shots for action scenes and he repeats them throughout.

Hoshi is a far more engaging protagonist, so it’s too bad she loses her story after the movie gets going. The little fairies from Mothra show up and assume her screen time. Those two actresses, Ito Emi and Ito Yûmi look so incredibly disinterested, I’m wondering if they just can’t act or what… It’s unfortunate, because Hoshi’s maybe slash maybe not romance with Koizumi Hiroshi was amusing and is forgotten. Koizumi doesn’t have a big part, but he can keep a straight face and is affable.

So Ghidorah isn’t exactly brimming with potential–it can’t overcome Honda’s poor interior direction and his action scenes and the acting–but it isn’t uninteresting. It’s a definite attempt at something and not a dumb one. Then Godzilla and Rodan show up and I started wondering how a ninety minute movie could be so long. The giant monsters are the big problem with the movie. After forty-five minutes of proclamations about Ghidorah destroying the world, it turns out it all gets resolved after a lengthy wrestling match with Ghidorah fighting the other monsters. They don’t even destroy him. He just runs away. He could have flown to China and destroyed it. That resolution makes no sense.

But then, neither do the other two endings (the one for the police officer and the princess and then the good giant monster ending).

I haven’t seen the immediate series predecessor in fifteen plus years (Mothra vs. Godzilla) so I can’t say for sure if this film is the one where they start playing the giant monsters for laughs. The opening scene with Godzilla, when he destroys a ship, doesn’t even address the hundreds of lives lost. It’s just a guy in a costume destroying a model ship–because thinking about it in the movie’s context would just make Honda glib. The giant monster fights have a lot of humor in them (who knew Godzilla had a butt?) and it’s all for kids. It’s probably not terrible for kids, but then why delay the giant monsters for half the movie and fill it with thoughtful–if poorly executed–narrative.

Usually Godzilla movies leave me mildly amused or better. This one did not.



Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Sekizawa Shinichi; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Fujii Ryohei; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Natsuki Yosuke (Detective Shindo), Hoshi Yuriko (Naoko), Koizumi Hiroshi (Professor Miura), Wakabayashi Akiko (Mas Selina Salno, Princess of Sergina), Ito Emi and Ito Yûmi (The Twin Fairies), Shimura Takashi (Dr. Tsukamoto), Hirata Akihiko (Chief Detective Okita) and Ito Hisaya (Malmess, Chief Assassin).

Mothra (1961, Honda Ishirô)

Mothra is a strange mix of Japanese monster movie, 1950s Hollywood sci-fi and Disney. The last ingredient only becomes clear at the end of the movie, though it’s probably present throughout (as Mothra returns home with the two fairies, it’s clear Mothra would have made a fine animated feature). But the strangest element of Mothra isn’t a genre one, as Christian movies weren’t big in that era. Mothra interacts with religion–specifically Catholicism–in a way I’ve never seen in a Japanese movie, much less a giant monster movie, before. At the end of the movie, it’s revealed Mothra herself is some kind of agent of God. It’s a discrete revelation (the movie doesn’t deal with the implications at all), but it’s definitely there. Had Mothra dealt with those implications, like the origin of church bells and the cross as a Christian symbol being on a Polynesian Island since long before Christ… well, it would have been a far more interesting film.

Moving on, Mothra also features a very global community. Instead of containing the action to Japan, the movie ends in Rolisica–which is as close as Russia (and features a large Russian farming community, as well as Eastern Orthodox churches), but looks like America and everyone speaks English. Initially, the country’s only a stand-in for the USSR, so when its propping up a crazy capitalist, it’s real funny. But the unreality of the country, in terms of its national character and closeness to Japan, lends to that Disney feel (as does everyone waving goodbye to Mothra, who’s just gotten done destroying a bunch of cities and killing untold hundreds).

But the story, which is clearly influenced by King Kong–an expedition produces some good showbiz results with disastrous consequences–is all right. It follows a reporter (Frankie Sakai) and a scientist (Koizumi Hiroshi) to the expedition and back, establishing them as important and so on. There’s the reporter’s cute photographer and the scientist’s little brother who tag along for their adventures. It’s all very genial (and somewhat damning at the end, when Mothra ends on a dumb, “women are so silly” joke).

The likable cast–well, Jerry Ito is terrible as the villain, but moving on–only needs to get the movie to the special effects sequences and they do. Once Mothra’s attacking the city, the excellent miniature effects take over. There’s a lot of city work, with moving vehicles and detailed buildings and it all looks fantastic. Only when the camera holds too long on the miniature figures are there any problems (most of the editing during the destruction sequences is perfect though). And then there’s the issue of Mothra herself. The caterpillar, even with its lifeless eyes, is good. The giant moth… not so good. Luckily, Honda doesn’t pause the camera on it, instead going to the street scenes and those are fantastic. When Mothra hits the New York City stand in and blows the blocks of cars all around… great stuff.

Mothra‘s strangely ambitious–especially at the end with the Eastern Western setting and the Christian overtones–and a lot of it works real well. Great effects throughout, some good music and Honda’s got some excellent shots in the movie, sometimes just in conversation. But the end, kneecapped already with the ludicrous fond farewell to the monster, and then ending on the dumb joke, really brings Mothra down. As the movie gets more interesting from a scholarly standpoint, its quality lessens.



Directed by Honda Ishirô; screenplay by Sekizawa Shinichi, based on a story by Hotta Yoshie and Nakamura Shinichirô and a novel by Fukunaga Takehiko; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Taira Kazuji; music by Koseki Yuji; production designers, Abe Teruaki and Kita Taeko; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Frankie Sakai (Bulldog), Koizumi Hiroshi (Dr. Chûjô), Kagawa Kyôko (Michi), Uehara Ken (Dr. Harada), Ito Emi and Ito Yûmi (The Twin Fairies), Jerry Ito (Clark Nelson), Tayama Akihiro (Shinji) and Shimura Takashi (the news editor).

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