Monster Apocalypse! Mothra and the Atomic Age


Ishiro Honda’s Mosura tai Gojira (1961), which was released in the US as Mothra vs Godzilla (1964), is one of the more popular installments of the legendary Godzilla franchise. This is in spite of the fact that Mothra, as conceived by renowned character designer Eiji Tsuburaya, doesn’t do very much throughout the length of the film. Mothra does battle Godzilla during the film’s climax, which is played back at almost slapstick speed, most likely due to the creature’s cumbersome puppet-design. Yet, Mothra has become a prominent member of the kaiju bestiary, which Honda and his collaborators, unleashed unto the global movie-watching public. For me, Mothra first appeared ominously on my parents’ portable black & white television when I still a small child. As I grew up watching these films, including the Americanized Godzilla (1956), starring Raymond Burr as “Steve Martin,” I’m not sure at what point I realized the significance of seeing movies with exclusively non-white casts, Burr’s somber presence notwithstanding. Since the stations I watched as a kid growing up in southern California only broadcast the English-dubbed versions of Honda’s movies, I probably thought that the actors were speaking in their real voices but, because they were Japanese, they awkwardly created characters whose English diction was strangely incongruous with their physical mannerisms. Eventually, I was old enough to understand what dubbing meant, followed many years later by the opportunity to finally watch Honda’s movies with their original Japanese soundtrack. Otherwise, for many years only Honda and Tsuburaya’s visionary creatures had names, Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, Son of Godzilla. The Japanese characters, on the other hand, were simply there anonymously to fill in scenes between monster appearances. I even knew Ghidorah’s names and not the actors who evoked fear and sympathy for the giants that ran amok across the Japanese homeland. At this point in my life, however, Mothra vs Godzilla is no longer a camEmi py monster movie made by filmmakers with paltry budgets and little talent, at least as compared long ago in my immature mind to the big-budget American movies I preferred. Instead, Mosura tai Gojira is today a revered chapter in the mythology of my childhood, which taught me that even monsters have a place in the world in which we live, protecting us from our foolishness as humans as we threaten our own existence with nuclear annihilation or environmental disaster. When I watched Akira Takarada and Yuriko Hoshi, playing a reporter and his photographer, cover the aftermath of a typhoon at an unnamed coastal village, I was really watching what happens in many oral traditions once the previous world is destroyed to make way for a new reality. For those villagers worried about their lives as fishermen and women, that new reality emerged in the form of a gigantic multi-colored egg that suddenly arose from the ocean waves. What that ovular being portended was the upheaval generated when humans throw the world out of balance, the consequences of which, as written by Shin’ichi Sekizawa (who also wrote other screenplays featuring Godzilla’s confrontation with sizable foes), would lead into an epic conflict of monster proportions. If only we would listen to the pleas of the Shobijin, the twin fairies, played memorably by Emi and Yumi Ito.


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