KAIJU KONNECTION: Mothra (1961)

The 1961 film MOTHRA was a solo monster flick, featuring a giant caterpillar that then turns into a giant moth. This was not a versus movie but by introducing the character, it opened up many versus movies for the future. Mothra became a very popular monster in the Toho universe. For this synopsis I am using the DVD release on the ICONS OF SCI-FI TOHO COLLECTION, put out by Columbia Pictures. I watched the original Japanese version with English subtitles.

Our story begins with a typhoon coming out of the Carolina Islands. Everyone is on alert, awaiting this very powerful storm. It is reported that the Genyo-Maru II, a shipping boat, is stuck in the middle of the typhoon. They are eleven miles north of Infant Island, a place covered in radiation because of the testing of atomic and hydrogen bombs. The ship runs aground and breaks apart just after the crew abandon ship.

A search team heads to Infant Island looking for survivors. Some are found on infant island, which appears very desolate with no plant or animal life. They are brought back to Japan to be checked for radiation poisoning. They surprisingly have none. The survivors suggest their health is due to a red juice given to them by the natives, despite Infant Island supposedly being uninhabited.

An expedition is sent to Infant Island to locate the natives. The joint Japanese–Rolisican scientific expedition to Infant Island, is led by capitalist Clark Nelson. Also on the expedition are radiation specialist Dr. Harada, linguist/anthropologist Shin’ichi Chūjō, and stowaway reporter Fukuda. Chūjō has studied the cultures of islands in the area and ascertained that one of the key hieroglyphs in their written language, a radiant cross-shaped star, translates as Mothra.

Nelson has made it clear that he is in charge of the expedition and that all findings are to be turned over to him, much to the disappointment of the scientists. As they move to the center of the island, they find an area that is lush in greenery and wildlife, protected from the tests by the surrounding mountains. Nelson acts suspicious as he has a map he is following but to what, nobody knows. Chūjō finds a mysterious cave with all kinds of weird plants growing around it, perhaps the source of the red juice mentioned earlier.

Chūjō gets caught in a vine that wraps its tendrils around him. He activates the alarm on his suit and as he starts to pass out, sees two tiny girls. When the rest of the team find him, he is unconscious. He is taken back to the ship where he recovers from being bit from the vine plant. Chūjō claims he was saved by two small humans, only about a foot tall.

The next morning they return to the island and Chūjō turns on his alarm again, thinking that maybe they were attracted to it the day before. The tiny girls are found and everyone is amazed. The girls try to communicate but it sounds more like music than words. Chūjō translates and thinks that they are asking for their island not to be harmed. Nelson has dollar signs in his eyes and grabs both of the girls before they can get away. When the scientists try to help a gun is pulled on them. That is when the full-size natives show up. Nelson, now totally surrounded by the natives, is convinced to let them go.

The expedition returns to Japan. Though the press pushes for information, none is given. Chūjō and Fukuda then look into Nelson’s background. What they find out is not very promising. He is a dealer in artifacts, some of which are women. Nelson returns to Infant Island with his cronies and captures the tiny twins. The natives return and Nelson’s men kills most of them with guns. One native, barely alive, goes back into the mysterious cave and calls on Mothra just before he dies. A rock wall collapses, revealing a gigantic egg.

Nelson returns back to Japan and starts exploiting the twin girls by putting them on exhibition. Huge crowds pay to see them perform. They sing the Mothra chant, summoning its help. Back at Infant Island, the remaining natives start their own chant, bringing Mothra forth from the egg in the form of a giant caterpillar. The twins then say that Mothra is coming to save them and that many innocent people will suffer.

Back at the newspaper office, a teletype comes through saying that a large object has been sighted in the ocean, heading to Japan. Fukuda explains that it must be Mothra. Nelson denies that it is Mothra and says that he is not responsible for what happens. A luxury liner meets up with Mothra, only to be destroyed.

An attack squadron is sent out to destroy Mothra. First they dump fuel into the water and ignite it with missiles. It doesn’t work and Mothra shows up in Japan, destroying a dam. She then rampages through towns, heading towards Tokyo. Tanks and jets have no effect. Tokyo is evacuated and military vehicles continue to try and stop her. Some of the miniature work during these sequences are just amazing. Mothra then arrives at Tokyo Tower, pulling part of it down. She then starts spraying a web, forming a cocoon.

After the cocoon is fully formed, an atomic heat cannon is brought in to burn the cocoon, and Mothra within. The cocoon becomes entirely engulfed. When the fire goes out, the cocoon is charred but the adult Mothra is still able to hatch out, into a giant moth. When she takes off, the force of her wings creates powerful winds blowing the city to bits. She heads to Rolisica, where Nelson has taken the twins.

Nelson, while trying to escape, ends up getting killed when an angry mob tries to stop him. He shoots a police officer, giving two other officers cause to shoot him. Mothra arrives and destroys the city with the winds caused by her flapping wings. Again, the level of detail is phenomenal.

Chujo then has an idea. Paint the Mothra symbol on the ground to attract Mothra. It is done on the airfield and at 3 PM all of the church bells toll the Mothra song. Mothra arrives and lands on the symbol. The twin fairies then thank those that helped them and go to Mothra, who brings them back to Infant Island.

For years it was thought that Rolisica was actually based on the United States. However, it was revealed years later that it was based on both the United States and the Soviet Union. In fact, the name of the nation of Rolisica is a hybrid of Russia and America. The name of the country originally was going to be Roshirica. Also, the Rolisican flag is a hybrid of the American “Stars and Stripes” and the Russian “Hammer and Sickle”.

The Mothra larva was the largest costume Toho would create in the Showa era. The Mothra larva seen in Tokyo was about 7 feet tall and nearly 30 feet long. A total of eight actors were needed to perform and operate the Mothra larva. The neighborhoods that the Mothra larva travels through are the Ome Kaido, Dogenzaka, and Shibuya neighborhoods of Tokyo. These locations were recreated at a 1/20 scale and were made identical to the real places.

A 3 foot Mothra larva prop was used to portray Mothra in the water. The prop was propelled by a built in motorcycle engine. Hiroshi Koizumi would later return as Professor Shin’ichi Chûjô many years later in GODZILLA: TOKYO S.O.S. (2003), which also featured Mothra. The Mothra larva’s face was covered with barnacles and rattan to make it more organic.

A different ending was originally planned where Nelson and his goons kidnap Shinji rather than tie him up. They then head for Rolisica via Nelson’s private plane, but the plane crashes in Kyushu and Shin’ichi Chûjô and the police track them to a cave where Shinji breaks free and takes the case containing the fairies. Shinji then opens the case and the fairies telepathically contact Mothra, who flies to where the action was. In a final confrontation with Nelson and his goons, Mothra ends up killing them and flying back to Infant Island with the fairies.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of KAIJU KONNECTION. If you would like to read other entries in this series, please go HERE!

~David Albaugh

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