One year after the release of King King vs Godzilla, Toho would bring director Ishiro Honda back to throw Godzilla into the fight yet again, but this time it would be against another monster from their own roster: Mothra. This was a particularly fitting monster for Godzilla to go up against, as Ishiro Honda had previously directed a Mothra movie in 1961. By bringing these two monsters together, who the director was so familiar with, it didn’t seem like anything could go wrong.
And by watching the movie today, it doesn’t seem as though anything did go wrong. Mothra vs Godzilla is a solid film, which is more in line with the serious tone of the 50’s movies and was thus a lot more restrained that King Kong vs Godzilla had been. But that’s honestly works fine here, which goes to show the versatility of Honda as a director to take Godzilla from silliness back to seriousness, if only for a time.
As a result, this movie is the last movie in the showa era Godzilla films (1954-1975) that depicted Godzilla as an outright villain. That’s right – With Godzilla once again acting as a villain, this movie feels a lot more like a Mothra movie than a Godzilla movie, as the plot revolves around an egg laid by the benevolent butterfly being washed up on Japan’s shores. This results in Mothra’s tribal followers visiting the country and, when Godzilla awakens, the Japanese desperately pleading for Mothra’s aid in thwarting his rampage across their cities.
Though the action and plot of this movie may not be even remotely as bombastic as King Kong vs Godzilla, or even future entries into the franchise, it is by no means any less creative. The story is quite interesting to watch unfold, as multiple groups vie for control over Mothra’s egg before the arrival of Godzilla, at which point these rivals must try, or fail, to find some compromise to save Japan. And even the action, though not as silly as as previously seen, is creative too; Mothra utilises a variety of abilities such as poisonous powders, strong winds and her airborne speed to keep Godzilla on the defensive. But in spite of this, you can’t help but feel that she is outmatched and that she will need the aid of what is within her egg to defeat Godzilla once and for all.
There is also a decent amount of worldbuilding in this film, as it expertly merges the gritty nuclear themes of Godzilla with the more whimsical world of Mothra by showing how the real world’s nuclear exploits have crippled Mothra’s once vibrant island. But the worldbuilding also goes beyond the physical, as these things drastically alter how the Japanese and Mothra’s followers interact with and view one and other. When the two fail to come to an agreement about who should have control of Mothra’s egg at the start of the film, it severely damages Japan’s chances that Mothra will come to their aid against Godzilla, and a lot of time is spent exploring this dynamic between the two peoples. So, although this film has those typical nuclear themes of a Godzilla movie, in truth it is more about trust and distrust between peoples, which is an eerie nod the ongoing Cold War. And it is the fact that these things hold your attention that make it interesting to watch for reasons beyond just wanting to see Godzilla and Mothra punch each other.
All in all this movie is very entertaining, but there are a few criticisms worth pointing out: The first act is very slow paced and seems to drag, which is a shame as the rest of the movie zooms by because of how seamlessly the plot is being pushed forward. Additionally, the final act seems to just forget that its human characters exist, as the film’s main characters disappear for extended periods of time, only to be shown again just sitting on a beach while Godzilla rampages elsewhere. There is a rather forced and fabricated attempt to spring them back into action when Godzilla threatens a group of school children, but it’s probably the only part of the movie that is entirely forgettable because it happens in the backdrop of the final battle between Mothra’s children and Godzilla.
The film is by no means perfect and can be slow at times, but is still very gripping if you can forgive the first act. After thirty minutes of struggle, I eventually found myself unable to look away for the majority of the rest for the film and that is what counts. For Mothra and Godzilla fans alike, this is yet another gem to enjoy, though those looking for a tongue-in-cheek monster brawler may be disappointed.
I’ll be rating in order of best to worst the Godzilla films I have seen so far at the end of the review. Find the updated list below:
- King Kong vs Godzilla (1963)
- Mothra vs Godzilla (1964)
- Godzilla (1954)
- Godzilla Raids Again (1955)