Continuing my watch of the Heisei series (1984 – 1995) of Godzilla movies. It won’t take me a seven part mini-series to cover this one, the way it did with Godzilla vs King Ghidorah.
The screenplay for 1992’s Godzilla vs Mothra was by Kazuki Ōmori, who had both written and directed Godzilla vs. Ghidorah and Godzilla vs. Biollante. He did not direct this time, handing that job over to Takao Okawara, who had been the assistant director on the 1984 Return of Godzilla. This film is considered a sequel to Godzilla vs King Ghidorah, but the presence of psychic scientist and Godzilla expert Mimi Saegusa is the only thing that connects it with the others of the Heisei series. That is still more continuity than Godzilla movies have had in the past.
The movie opens with a team of English-speaking scientists tracking a meteor as it crashes into the ocean. These exact same people are also watching a giant typhoon as it causes havoc in the Pacific. We never see them again or find out what their job is, other that being the International Organization for Watching How Messed Up Everything Is. That meteor not only awakens a sleeping Godzilla, but also… something else.
Next is a fairly long Raiders of the Lost Ark homage, which is worrisome, leaving you to think that it might be the whole theme of the film, the way Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah drew so much from Terminator. But thankfully, the script is just using it to introduce fallen archeologist Takuya Fujita. He is the human center of the story, as he tries to deal with a looming monster-filled apocalypse, while also attempting to reconcile with his estranged wife and child. That storyline has several elements in common with the family drama going on in the 2019 Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Only in Godzilla vs Mothra, once the troubled interpersonal issues are resolved, the humans get out of the way and let the monsters do their stuff. You can read my post from last year about the issues I had with the 2019 Godzilla. Fujita is caught between impulses towards greed and self-interest, and the desire to be a good, protective father. He’s symbolic of humanity in this film, which is heading towards either self-destruction or vengeance from a wrathful Nature, if it can’t get its act together.
Much of the rest of the film is an update and remix of previous Mothra movies. There is a storm that uncovers a giant egg, an unscrupulous land developer, twin fairies, ineffectual military, and so on. Mothra in this version of things is the guardian of an ancient civilization in the Mu/Lemuria tradition, that was destroyed when they tried to control nature. The Earth responded by generating a new monster, Battra, to wipe them out. And now, Battra, awakened by the meteor, is going to clean up 20th Century Civilization as well. That’s an important point to remember here: as far as the Earth is concerned, Battra is the good monster in this story. Humans as the bad guys are embodied by industrialist Takeshi Tomokane whose greed drives him to plow rainforests into golf courses and make the survivors of a antediluvian civilization into tourist attractions… The theme of humanity exploiting, disrespecting, and destroying the Earth is laid on without much nuance. Tomokane is unrepentantly a bad guy and it’s hard not to be rooting for Battra. Fujita on the other hand, does end up choosing to work for the good of his family. That, and the inherent innocence of his daughter, might be considered the things that convince Mothra to fight for humanity, but I’m not sure if I’m won over.
And then there’s Godzilla. Honestly, it would not be hard to tweak this story and not need Godzilla in it at all. His main role is to be a common enemy for everybody to unite against. Mothra is able to convince Battra that Godzilla is an even greater threat than mankind, and the two join forces to take him down. Battra is fatally injured in the battle, though it survives long enough to help Mothra imprison Godzilla, sealing him away in what is essentially a magic circle.
The special effects work throughout the film is pretty good, updating the classic Eiji Tsuburaya style to the 1990s. There isn’t the mismatch of quality and technique found in Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (though Koichi Kawakita was the effects supervisor for both). The underwater battle between Godzilla and Battra is effective for its murky suggestiveness. We can’t quite see what is going on, only that it’s intense enough to rupture the Earth’s crust, engulfing the two monsters. Battles between kaiju and human military forces only show how ineffective humanity is — and how unwilling we are to accept that we can do nothing against these monsters. The oceanic battles are impressive looking with multitudes of vessels and pyrotechnics going off, until you start to notice how inaccurate and scattershot the artillery is, with only a fraction of attacks even coming near their targets. It shows off how contrastingly impressive the attacks are in 2018’s Shin Godzilla, where the military unleashed a barrage and every missile is right on target — as you’d expect from modern, precision weapons fired at a Godzilla-sized target. There’s one disappointing effect: after a long, well-crafting sequence showing caterpillar Mothra’s metamorphoses into adult form, when Battra similarly transforms, it’s just with flashing lights and a jump cut.
Most of monster fights have become the Heisei series’ characteristic “beam battles” with the creatures exchanging energy attacks at a distance. Even Mothra, for the first time, being given a ranged beam attack. Of course in this movie, adult Mothra and Battra are just puppets, hung from wires, with flapping wings, so not a lot of physical action is even possible. Mothra gets several new powers in this movie, including a sort of tranquilizing power from her wings. I’d never encountered the idea of moths or butterflies having magic wing dust until I started playing Pokémon. But I guess it’s a thing? The mixture of optical effects (I imagine still being drawn by hand in 1992), suit performance, puppetry, models, and pyrotechnics are all combined together well, particularly as the monsters level an accurate miniature depiction of Yokahama Bay.
The final revelation that Battra had been destined to protect the Earth from a planet killing meteor in 1999 is a bit out of left field. It’s the kind of thing that I wonder might have been better set up in the original Japanese script. It does give Mothra an exit from this series, as she chooses to sacrifice herself in Battra’s place. The Heisei series appears to want to keep the number of monsters in each film to a reasonable number, and it might have been awkward having Mothra and the fairy twins still hanging around in future movies.