Saturday, October 24, 2009

October Horror-thon #24: "Mothra" (1961)

Our story begins with a familiar kaiju scenario: a ship amidst troubled waters. All hands are feared lost, until survivors are discovered on an island deemed uninhabitable due to radiation. Naturally, an expedition is in order, but no one could have imagined they'd find a pair of fairies (Emi and Yumi Ito) who don't take too kindly to invaders. Unfortunately, the miniscule beauties are a prime target for Nelson (Jerry Ito), a scheming fortune hunter hoping to hawk the girls as a singing act. But it helps to have a monster on your side, which the twins possess in the form of the mighty Mothra. She may not seem like much in larval form, but when she blooms into a winged beast, there's no stopping her from rescuing her friends and leaving a trail of destruction in the process.

Though she's best known as one of Godzilla's silliest but most spirited opponents, Mothra didn't always pally up with the great green one. She actually flew solo in her eponymous 1961 debut, helmed by monster maestro Ishiro Honda. What sets Mothra apart from other kaiju epics of the time is that she was designed for the role of hero. Godzilla got there eventually, but Mothra was a good guy from the start; the only reason she turns Japan upside down is because some licentious lech is holding her pals hostage. I appreciated how Honda established her bottom line from the start and didn't play hot potato with her morals, but, perhaps as a result, Mothra finds itself lacking in thrills to an almost suspect degree.

When Godzilla made Tokyo into his own private rumpus room, each demolished bridge and toppled skyscraper felt like a little event onto itself. When Mothra (as both worm and butterfly on a creatine binge) steps up to bat, the results are really boring. It's not that she can't function without Godzilla to tag team with, but events take forever to unfold and are rarely worth the wait. The experience is much like that of Rodan; though not as godawfully dull, but you do spend a lot of time watching someone in a suit crushing stuff you have no personal investment in. Perhaps things could have been saved if the story were worked into a reputable shape. As is, it sort of feels like a retooled King Kong, only with Jerry Ito as a villain so one-dimensionally evil, he tries stealing an old guy's cane at one point for no discernable reason. He's just evil, dammit.

Masses need not cower in fear of Mothra; it's too easygoing an adventure to deliver the thrills monster fans will be craving. I suppose it's worth watching to see where Mothra got started, but believe me when I say that there are greener pastures than this that she's moved on to.

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