Direction: Takao Okawara
Screenplay: Kazuki Omori
Music: Akira Ifubuke
Special Effects: Koichi Kawakita
Producer: Shogo Tomiyama
Executive Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka
"Those bugs look like they have rigor mortis." So proclaimed my apartment neighbor about Mothra and Battra as the two winged behemoths waged war in the skies over Japan. In fact, the insects' poor articulation is the film's biggest special effects flaw -- and in my humble opinion, the movie's most disappointing aspect.
I still well remember watching Godzilla and Mothra for the first time, and my jaw pretty much dropped when the larval Mothra literally rolled through the streets of Tokyo as though on wheels -- which apparently it is. At first, I thought maybe the colossal caterpillar was levitating! I just couldn't believe the effects technicians were so lax that they didn't make the monster worm undulate as it moved -- after all, thirty-one years earlier, Eiji Tsuburaya had no problem making the Mothra caterpillar convincingly squirm across the landscape as it bulldozed its way through Tokyo. But this new Mothra-larva moved about as convincingly on land as a fur-coated Volkswagen portraying a giant spider (the latter actually happened in 1976's The Giant Spider Invasion).
Well, okay, I thought, irritated by Mothra's crude articulation but still entertained by the bug's spectacular destruction of Tokyo real estate, maybe things will get better FX-wise when the caterpillar blossoms into a moth.
Only they didn't.
Once Mothra emerges from her cocoon, at times the plush, brightly-hued insect barely beats its wings. Even worse, its legs remain immobile throughout, as though they are paralyzed. This is especially dismaying when you consider the wonderful articulation of the adult Mothra in Godzilla vs. The Thing -- in that film, all aspects of the monster moth were alive with movement -- head, wings, body, and legs. But almost thirty years later, Toho's SPFX folk seem to have taken a giant step backward, creating a Mothra that is, at times, even less life-like than the lovely but often stiff moth in the original 1961 Mothra.
Battra looks great in its winged version, a formidable lunar moth monstrosity dripping with menace, but it too suffers from under-articulation in both the wing and (especially) leg department.
But, in time, I have gotten over Mothra and Battra's poor articulation. After all, there is plenty in this film to enjoy, albeit almost all of it on the visual side. Yes, the story does teem with some interesting ideas; unfortunately, many of them are not only half-baked but never seem to have made it into the oven in the first place.
Question: Why does Battra attack Nagoya? I thought the creature was defending the earth against despoilment of the environment. Was Nogoya the worst perpetrator of eco-desecration?
Question: Why bring up the subplot of the evil corporation's environmental plundering only to drop it midway through?
Question: Why all this verbal hand-ringing over the earth moving to some inevitable catastrophe when things seem to be just hunky-dory by movie's end?
I could go on, but many others have done so before me. Nevertheless, the main story thread dealing with the eventual reconciliation of the divorced couple adequately holds the "human plot" together.
Part remake of Mothra and Godzilla vs. The Thing, part would-be eco-drama, part special effects extravaganza, Godzilla vs. Mothra offers a wealth of eye candy, especially in the city devastation department -- Battra trashes Nagoya, Mothra trounces Tokyo, then Godzilla, Mothra, and Battra bash Yokohama. The plentiful pyrotechnics and crumbling miniatures should sate the palette of even the most hard-to-please giant monster fan.
In fact, the film's colorful and elaborate spectacle eventually won me over. That, plus some inspired moments of monster warfare when Mothra and Battra take on Godzilla. In addition, I have to admit that Mothra and Battra's articulation isn't always bad. Mothra's best scene occurs when the newly-metamorphosed insect flies over the heads of some startled onlookers, its wings vigorously beating just like those of a real moth. The long shots of the insects are also effective as they pursue one another over Yokohama.
And let's not forget Akira Ifubuke's powerful and often majestic music score. It perfectly accents the golden-hued, Spielbergian emergence of Mothra from her Diet Building-anchored cocoon, and it offers a lovely arrangement of a familiar Mothra theme as the benevolent behemoth takes wing over the Tokyo airport.
I have long since gotten over this movie not living up to its potential. I no longer even get annoyed by the film's original poster, which shows two larvae hatching from the Mothra egg and strongly suggests a purer remake of Godzilla vs. The Thing. For one thing, this movie was rushed into production after Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (somewhat ironic, considering the hurry with which Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster was pressed into production following Godzilla vs. The Thing).
For another, the Heisei series still seemed to be searching for its thematic underpinnings. Maybe it never found them, but Godzilla and Mothra was a nice if flawed venture in this direction. In Japan, it was also the most financially successful of the Heisei Godzilla movies.
No, the movie is not all it could have been -- it's only what it is. But for most Godzilla fans, that will be enough.