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MOSURA (MOTHRA) (1961)

Director: Inoshiro Honda, Lee Kresel
Starring: Frankie Sakai, Hiroshi Koizumi, Jerry Ito, Kyoko Kagawa, Yumi Ito, Emi Ito, Takashi Shimura
Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa, Robert Myerson

Synopsis: During a typhoon, a boat runs aground on an island that was the site of a nuclear test. After a search party rescues the survivors, it is found that they have suffered no radiation injuries. The men attribute this to juice that they were given by the natives of the island. This causes great astonishment, as the island was believed to be deserted.

An expedition to the island is arranged by the government of Rolithica, who carried out the nuclear test. Reporter Tsinchan Okuda (Frankie Sakai) and photographer Michi Hanamura (Kyoko Kagawa) interview Dr Chujo Nakazo (Hiroshi Koizumi), an ethnologist and linguist, who wants to take part in the expedition led by Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito), a mysterious ex-patriot Rolithican.

When it is announced that no reporters will be allowed on the trip, Tsinchan decides to stow away. Chujo and the other scientists are angered when Nelson announces that all data and discoveries must be given to him. The island is found to be lush and fertile, full of strange jungle plants. Exploring on his own, Chujo is attacked by a huge carnivorous plant. He is rescued by two tiny girls (Yumi Ito, Emi Ito). When the rest of the party hears this, they track down the girls. One of Nelson’s men captures them, but is forced to release them when the party is threatened by the natives.

Back in Tokyo, Chujo shows Tsinchan copies of symbols he found in a cave. One of them translates to the word "Mothra". Meanwhile, Nelson and his gang return to the island, re-capturing the girls and killing a number of the natives. The surviving natives perform a sacred dance and pray for Mothra to return and rescue the girls. In Tokyo, Nelson puts the girls on show. As they sing, a huge egg on the island hatches, and Mothra, a gigantic caterpillar, heads towards Tokyo....

Comments: The early Toho monster films were intended seriously, and Mothra, like its predecessors Godzilla (1954), Rodan (1956) and Varan The Unbelievable (1958), is a fairytale for adults with a pointed anti-nuclear message. The film sounds a genuinely nasty note early on when the Rolithican ambassador, informed that his government’s nuclear test site has a native population, argues that the island was "virtually uninhabited".

The result of this criminal negligence is Mothra, surely the most benign of all Toho’s gallery of monsters. There’s no intent to do harm in her, she’s just very big and she moves in a straight line. While many of these films lost their political content when they were Americanised, Mothra retains most of its, possibly due to the fact that the finger is pointed at the mythical nation of "Rolithica", rather than at America itself. In fact, unusually, the translation of the film has either retained or inserted a specific dig when an American newscaster’s gloat about the effectiveness of "the atomic heat ray" is rather embarrassingly cut short by the hatching of the metamorphosed Mothra. In Japanese films, the scientists are almost always the good guys, and here an explicit contrast is made between the expedition team, along with journalist Tsinchan, who agree to protect the twin girls by keeping their existence a secret, and the exploitation of the girls by the ruthless criminal/businessman, Nelson (who sports a permanent sneer that makes him look remarkably like Raymond Massey on a bad day).

The intent of the film is further underlined by the presence of the great Takashi Shimura, who plays Tsinchan’s editor; Shimura took small roles in several of the more serious Japanese science fiction films of the fifties and sixties. So while there’s no doubt about the intention, how about the execution?

As always, the film is badly hurt by poor dubbing. Nelson’s gang all sound like Mike Mazurki, while the good guys end up looking like a pack of idiots through having any random lip movements dubbed with "Mothra? Ohh, Mothra!" - as if it had just slipped their minds that there’s a giant caterpillar wrecking Tokyo. The quality of the special effects varies wildly. Some of the model and projection work is as bad as any done in one of these films, and the flying Mothra is pretty tragic. On the other hand, the scenes of the destruction of the dam are fairly good, and the larval Mothra is one of Toho’s most convincing monsters.

Unquestionably, the highlight of the film is when - in a surprisingly realistic scene guaranteed to warm the heart of anyone who ever kept silkworms - Mothra knocks over a Tokyo broadcasting tower and spins herself a cocoon under it. Mothra proved to be one of the most popular of Toho’s brood, returning in Godzilla Versus Mothra (1964) - she loses, but her offspring save the day. She later appeared as one of the defenders of the Earth in Ghidrah (1965) and Destroy All Monsters (1968).

Footnote: The reaction of the Rolithican ambassador in this film is reminiscent of a sequence from the Max Gillies Show's Maralinga; Or, Wise After The Event, in which a British army officer pleads of the Australian nuclear test site that "there was nobody out there. Just wildlife. Rabbits, and aboriginals...." 

Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB