Godzilla vs Mothra

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.

Movie Poster

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.

Characters & Fairies

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.

Special Effects at work

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.

Beam Battle

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.

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Part Seven: Godzillas of the Mind

Concluding my weeklong series examining this 1991 monster/time travel/cyborg/political philosophy epic.

Godzilla walks across countryside

Throughout Godzilla vs King Ghidorah the question that comes up again and again is “what to do about Godzilla?” That never gets asked without also meaning “What do we do about Japan?” The fate of the two are always connected. Politics is frequently an element of Godzilla movies. An important plot point of 1984’s Return of Godzilla was the country’s refusal to allow atomic weapons to be used against Godzilla. In 1962 King Kong vs Godzilla mocked the intrusion of American commercialized popular culture into 60’s Japan. 2018’s Shin Godzilla was a satire of Japanese internal politics as much or more than a giant monster movie. In many stories, particularly in the Showa era, the primary danger is not Godzilla or other monsters directly, but some outside force trying to invade or conquer Japan, with the monsters being used as pawns or weapons. These foreigners usually appear as meddling space aliens. It is a refreshing twist in Godzilla vs King Ghidorah that we are dealing with Time Travelers. The issues they have come through time to deal with are not extraterrestrial, but the politics of Japan’s unusual position in a world heading towards the 21st Century.

Characters are in this film are defined by their goals, their reactions to the ongoing disasters. The convoluted premise results in several different factions working to deal with the looming threats. How they plan to deal with the danger, and how they choose to interact with the other groups, is shaped by their interpretations of what Godzilla actually is.

Meeting room

First we have the “ordinary” people of present day of Japan. Journalist Terasawa wants to understand where Godzilla came from and where he fits into Japan’s 20th Century history, as both an aggressor, and as a victim of what nuclear weapons can unleash. Miki Saegusa’s current work seems to be monitoring Godzilla status as he sleeps in the ocean, after the events of Godzilla vs Biolante. Her organization recognizes the threat of Godzilla while also having an interest in understanding him. To them Godzilla is a problem, a living natural disaster that needs to be dealt with. Knowledge is the most effective route to that goal. Professor Yosuke Mazaki also wants to learn about Godzilla as a living creature, a survivor of the dinosaur era. He does not ultimately do much in the story, besides provide some exposition. Scientists are ever-present characters in Godzilla movies. Sometimes there are of central importance to the story (as in Godzilla 1954) but other times there are just ways of getting across facts and explanations.

The official authorities, the government and military, have to deal with an immediate threat. A giant monster is stomping on their country right now and they have to do something about it. The need to act quickly doesn’t encourage the best choices. They go along with the Futurian’s plans, they call out the self defense forces, they are willing to create a new Godzilla to deal with the mess of their previous decisions. Government is not the bad guy nor run by militaristic fools, but they are primarily reactive, rather than pro-active.

Chuck Wilson

The Futurian view is that Godzilla is Japan. In trying to remove Godzilla from history they are trying to remove Japan from their image of what the future should be. Within the Futurians themselves there are two factions. Wilson wants Japan weak and helpless — and thus with no Godzilla at all. Emmy’s motivations are, as I’ve mentioned, are a little unclear in the script. She believes that all nations, including Japan, should be equal. We can only assume that she saw the creation of King Ghidorah as birthing a force that could counterbalance Japan’s future aggression. I also wonder about the fate of Godzilla in her original timeline. Since in her history Shindo’s submarine would not have been sent after Godzilla, he would not have gotten his power-up. Maybe this weaker Godzilla, sickened by anti-nuclear bacteria, would have been something her century kept under control. I wish someone had asked her about that. In a story with more character motivations than any Godzilla movie since 1954, this was a missed opportunity.

Shindo

The character with the most complex internal view of Godzilla is Yasuaki Shindo. He also identifies Godzilla with Japan. When the story of this film was first being publicized there was brief kerfuffle in news about the USA being the bad-guys in this movie. Americans from the future want to stop Japan from becoming a world dominating power. The truth is that while the Furturians are European-looking, nothing identifies them as American. What make the matter murky is the flashback/time travel scenes in World War II. To consider this sequence as Godzilla defending Japanese troops by killing invading US forces is to miss a fundamental theme of the movie’s story. Whatever Yasuaki Shindo came to believe, the godzillasaurus did not really appear as a protective savior to the Japanese soldiers. Shindo projects his own feelings onto Godzilla. He is a self-deluding veteran trying to find something that makes the sacrifices and suffering of the war worthwhile.

Godzilla

And then there is Godzilla himself. Future movies, particularly the ones made in the 2000’s, explore several variations on the “why” of Godzilla’s actions. In this film, what Godzilla truly is to himself, inside his staring, snarling head, is unknown to us. When he and Shindo stare at each other, what does Godzilla see? Does he even recognize that Shindo is a living being, let alone that they once had a very different encounter? We do not know. We do not know the mind of Godzilla.