Friday, May 9, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #19: GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

LUCA:

Sometimes Godzilla movies have plots that sort of putter along, doing their thing, with characters overcoming obstacles or resolving conflicts thanks to things they have learned (be it externally or internally) on their journey. And then Godzilla pops up like a big party pooper. These “oh shit yeah Godzilla’s in it too I guess” movies have the tendency to star Mothra. Is it something about Mothra’s inherent design that makes it difficult to incorporate Big G organically? I mean ya gotta hit dem Mothra beatz: larval stage, cocoon, beautiful beautiful butterfly, fairies, fairy song(s), possible fairy endangerment. Watching GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (not to be confused with 1964’s MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA) however, I wondered if it wasn’t an intentional homage to the 1964 movie. You see, GvM feels, out of the four Heisei movies so far, like the biggest Showa throwback yet. This isn’t just apparent in the choice of G-antagonist in Mothra, but also in the recurrence of plenty of ole Showa staples. There’s a very on the nose environmental message, island exploration, ancient civilizations, a prominent child character and that old standby of waving the hero monster goodbye at the end of the movie.

Now, you could say that GvKG felt very retro as well, what with its bringing back of King Ghidorah and having him be mind-controlled by aliens (whoops, FUTURE PEOPLE) to boot, but I felt like there was a little bit of sly subversion going on. The aliens turn out to actually be future people, one of whom has a change of heart and turns into the hero of the movie. The little baby dragon things that turn into KG are said to be “highly empathetic”, so don’t worry – space dragon KG is 100% controllable! GvM on the other hand, feels like a far more straightforward 90s Showa movie. A comet has struck the Earth, throwing everything out of balance (and awakening Godzilla hello here he is see you later okay), and uncovering a giant egg on Infant Island. Tomb raider Takuya Fujita is press-ganged by the Japanese government into using his Indiana Jones skills to retrieve this exotic anomaly for them. He is aided by his ex-wife and an eager company man for maximum banter possibilities. Can you guess who is in the egg hmmm? This is only possible for the select few who know the title of the movie they are watching! Thankfully aware of the fact that most people know what Mothra’s deal is, Toho throws in Battra as well, basically Mothra’s dark twin. Some good kaiju fightin’ ensues!

With my pretentious douchebaggery in lobbing terms like “sly subversion” at a movie called GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH, it would seem like I liked that one better than GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA. Not the case at all! GvM is straightforward but well done. The Mothra/Battra/Godzilla climactic fight is quite exciting! The movie wisely keeps the Mothra/Battra dynamic sort of in the dark (“dark twin” doesn’t quite cover, so you’re actually kept guessing as to what these two want from each other. Fighters? Lovers? WHO KNOWS!). My favorite scene was Mothra’s cocooning and rebirth as the entire JSDF looks on in awe and wonder, accompanied by a haunting soprano. It reminded me of the “birth of the Sandman” scene in SPIDER-MAN 3. Followed by ultralulz as Battra also turns into his final stage by just ZAPPING himself with purple lightning and popping out of the sea fully formed. Travis, did your opinion of Mothra… EVOLVE during this movie?

TRAVIS:

Mothra is certainly a different kind of kaiju from the rest of the Toho monsters. Though Battra is introduced as her evil counterpart, I actually think she shares a better duality with Godzilla. Though she wasn’t mutated like G was, both bring about destruction because man has wronged nature. In G, our hubris is brought down on us like an atomic bomb as we pay for our transgressions. With Mothra, nature is reacting against our human errors. Both creatures are destructive, but unlike G, I think Mothra positively reflects how we can overcome our problems. Her movies always convey an environmental message, and even the team-up smash-up GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER shows the power of cooperation by having her convince hotheads G and Rodan to put aside their differences and defend the world. She must’ve struck a chord with audiences too, as MOTHRA was the second highest grossing film in Japan in 1993, only behind JURASSIC PARK (it was truly the Year of the Dinosaur). In perspective with the rest of the franchise, it’s the highest grossing Heisei entry and the second highest grossing G flick after KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. Toho even spun off Mothra into her own successful movies (the REBIRTH OF MOTHRA trilogy) after G’s “retirement” in GODZILLA VS. DESTROYAH.

For a movie that was quickly rushed into production after the lucrative GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH, the special effects are top notch. I agree with you, Luca, that the Mothra cocooning scene is beautiful, and the accompanying score is another welcome reminder that old master Akira Ifukube is at the podium. The big battle at the theme park is expertly done too. The city models are very detailed, the mechanics inside the Mothra and Battra puppets breathe life into them, and the gigantic ferris wheel gives a nice sense of scale to both the size of Godzilla and the growth of modern Japan. Speaking of G, man, first he blows off Ghidorah’s middle head in KING GHIDORAH, and now he rips into Battra’s neck with his jaws. How vicious! Since you warmed up so much to the friendly, dancing Showazilla, I must wonder how you feel about this animalistic Heisei brute, Luca!

Probably the part you can most notice any cost cutting due to hurrying MOTHRA in theaters is how they blatantly rip off Indiana Jones. It’s not even the fun homaging of temple raiding found in NATIONAL TREASURE or THE MUMMY; the explorer protagonist is first seen in a fedora attempting to extract an ancient artifact! He of course sets off the trap and escapes the crumbling cavern, then he’s contacted by the government because strange things are afoot, and he’s the best expert in archeologicalwhatever. Estranged, jilted lover Marion Ravenwood is even echoed when he’s forced to team up with his ex-wife. Oh, and they also fall off a collapsing bridge like in THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. No time for lawsuits, Dr. Jones!

LUCA:

Yeah, the fights in this are absolutely top notch. Fucking LOVED Battra zapping that skyscraper, making the top half crush Godzilla. Him saving the downed Mothra by breaking off the ferris wheel and smashing Godzilla in the face with it was also fantastic. These fights are at their best when they really emulate the showmanship of wrestling matches, and GvM does a very good job with that. I loved Battra's face turn! Speaking of which -- man, Godzilla's continued heel status throughout the Heisei era is fascinating! He's... sort of scary again? I mean, they put him down each movie but he just keeps coming back up! His ferocious mauling of Battra actually made me exclaim "Oh shit!" when he bit down and a fountain of green ooze sprayed across his face. Zilla attacks are usually blunt force or fire breath, so whenever they make him chomp down on something (most memorably, Anguirus' neck in RAIDS AGAIN) it's always quite shocking.

Oh, I found the Indiana Jones riffing far less egregious than the T2 homaging in GvKG, since I think Indiana Jones itself is a pastiche of old adventure serials and pulp novels. The TEMPLE OF DOOM bridge scene could have been the cover of any 1930s future toilet paper bundle, while I think the T2 "robot chases car on foot"/"cyborg with half his face burned off vertically" are far more specific things to rip off. OH WELL I enjoyed both movies so I'm not gonna hold it against 'em too much.

Final lulz observation from me: the unscrupulous businessman who wants to keep the Cosmos (the Heisei name for the Mothra fairies) at all costs, but his subordinate Ando says it would be wrong and absconds with them. Lord Business is SO fucking upset at this, sweating and shaking and yelling BAKA!! BAKAAAA!!!!, ultimately falling to his knees and screaming to the heavens. FANTASTIC! I hope this actor will be back for many more entries, perhaps even as the same character. I hope you will be back, Mr. Makoto Ohtake! If they can bring Miki Saegusa back for three movies in a row, surely there's room for a heartless capitalist villain! You can't keep counting on those Americans forever! No okay, you probably can.

TRAVIS:

Indeed, maybe you can! That unnamed man who Takuya was trying to sell the Cosmos to looked kinda American! Those greedy Yanks! Or maybe he was from Rolisica (the fictional Western country in the original MOTHRA). Can’t trust those round eyes anyway! I too quite enjoyed Otake’s whiny entrepreneur, and for a film that feels like a Showa throwback, it’s surprising that Mr. Business didn’t meet a kaiju-related demise like the antagonists in MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA or Shindo in KING GHIDORAH. Sorry to break the news, Luca, but this is Otake’s only appearance in the G series. It’s too bad because he would’ve made a great reoccurring human villain. He could constantly build up new structures and hatch corrupt plans that would inadvertently provoke the monsters, only for Godzilla and company to destroy it all as he wails and hollers cartoonishly. Oh, what could have been…

At this point, the King of the Monsters was pulling in the big bucks, and Toho was happily back in the G business. They seemed to have found a winning formula with Godzilla + old Showa foe = profit! It was time to double down, and for the next film, two kaiju from the past would return for the sake of franchise viability. Even though the Heisei series was a clean reboot, Toho hoped people wouldn’t be confused with the title GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA II!

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