Today I will be reviewing the original Mothra from 1961, a classic monster movie
that introduces us to one of the most unique creatures seen on film. I've always had a
love-hate thing going with the giant mutant moth Mothra, and I can't quite decide if I
like her, or want her to get stomped and mangled by Godzilla. I'm in the minority if I
dislike her, as Mothra has become one of the most popular monsters in Toho's zoo,
especially in the last two decades and especially in Japan where they think a moth makes
a good monster. Personally, I like my monsters with claws and teeth and covered with
lots of sharp pointy things all over. A cute fuzzy moth just doesn't do it for me, but
that's just my own taste.
Mothra was released in Japan on July 30, 1961, and was first shown in America
the following year by Columbia Pictures, who cut a few bits out and added a few bits in
but didn't really change it that much. For this review, I will be using a 1988 Goodtimes
Home Video VHS tape of the 91-minute Americanized print. The film quality is
absolutely terrible, with badly washed-out color, looking 1930s vintage throughout most
of the early scenes, and overly dark and murky throughout. I'm sure the DVD version is
much better, but I don't have access to that. There are no subtitles, but the literature
for this movie is extensive so that wasn't a problem.
All the regular production staff from Toho were on this one: director Ishiro Honda,
producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, FX wizard Eiji Tsuburaya and writer Shinichi Sekizawa. As
such, the production values are on par with other Toho films of the era, which is to say
generally top-notch for the genre.
An important note to begin with: In this movie, the bad guys are from the fictional
country of "Rolisica". Despite this funky name, every single internal reference points to
Rolisica being the big bad United States of America. Therefore, for the purposes of this
review, I will refer to it as the United States. Purists be damned!
And now on to our film...
A quick word on the dubbing. Unlike most Toho films, which were dubbed with Australian
or British voice actors, Mothra was dubbed with mostly Japanese actors speaking
heavily accented English. The result is an authentic sound about the voices of the
Japanese, who actually sound Japanese. Many a monster movie has been ruined by
characters speaking in obvious Australian-accented English. The exceptions in this movie
are the American characters, whose voices are dubbed by clearly American actors.
I should also say here that Mothra exists in the same timeline as Godzilla. I think. While
any other monsters are not explicitly mentioned in this movie, the appearance of Mothra
does not elicit as much shock and awe as one would expect if Mothra was the first
monster Japan (or the world) had seen. Of course, Mothra officially entered the
Godzilla timeline in 1964's Godzilla versus Mothra
I, and in that movie people definitely knew about Mothra and her island.
Therefore, we can assume that in Mothra's timeline, Godzilla was around, but not
recently. Indeed, Godzilla last appeared six years ago in 1955's Godzilla Raids
Again, so I'm going to assume that people in this timeline knew about other monsters,
but just failed to mention them. [Editor Pam: The human spirit is very resilient, and I suppose that next to a giant radioactive fire-breathing whatever-Godzilla-is, a big moth doesn't look so bad.]
Ok, the opening credits are in English, with some blaring horn set playing over them. Of
note is that Columbia Pictures gets top billing but Toho Films does not appear anywhere
in the opening credits. The Toho logo does appear in the closing credits, but that seems
insulting to the Japanese company that did 99% of the film.
We open in the teeth of a South Seas typhoon, placed explicitly in the Caroline Islands.
A container ship named the Kinu Maru is deep in the storm, being tossed around by
the ferocious winds and raging waves. The crew sees that they have been pushed near
"Beiru Island", which they know is an atomic bomb test site. I should note that in all
future Mothra movies, Beiru Island is called "Infant Island". The change in names is a
mystery, but there's nothing to suggest that they are two separate islands. For this
review, because they use it in this movie, I will go with "Beiru Island".
Back to the film. The atomic testing site is the least of the Kinu Maru's worries
as suddenly she's driven aground on a reef. Taking water, the ship begins to settle, the
captain orders abandon ship, and the men take to lifeboats. In the miserable weather, it
will be a miracle if any of them survive. And indeed, we later see that only four men will
come back alive.
Some time, perhaps days after the storm passes through the area, a search team is sent
out to look for survivors from the ship. We see a helicopter flying around Beiru Island,
looking for survivors while keeping high enough to avoid the lingering radiation. The
chopper is an American-built Bell 47, tail coded JA7426 and it came from a Japanese
Navy ship named the Satsuma. The ship appears to be a former US Navy
destroyer escort, one of many loaned to Japan following the war, though I've not been
able to track it down any further. The helicopter pilot, by the way, is played by none
other than Kenji Sahara, the veteran Toho actor making a cameo appearance here.
Suddenly, they spy four men on the rocky shore, waving frantically to them. These are
the four ship survivors. A launch from the Satsuma is sent for them and they are
brought back to safety. Now, logic would say that men exposed to that much radiation
would be heavily contaminated and terminally ill, but these men are physically healthy.
Back in Japan, they are taken to the "National Sythesis Nucleus Center" (really, that's
what it says on the sign outside the building). There they are examined by a bunch of
scientists who are at a loss to explain their survival. The sailors provide the answer
themselves: the islanders that rescued them from the sea gave them a special juice to
drink. This juice must have somehow kept them safe from the radiation.
This admission sets the scientists abuzz. The amazing anti-radiation juice is forgotten in
the excitement about the possibility of people living on an island that has been A-bombed
by the Americans. The Japanese press leaps on the story and runs with it.
The scientists talk with the
As the media circus develops, we meet our two reporter heroes, a newspaper reporter
and his photographer. The reporter is named Senichiro Fukuda, played by 32-year old
Frankie Sakai, a popular comedic actor known for funny roles in much lighter movies than
Mothra. He reminds me of a Chris Farley-type, but from a different era of
comedy. In this movie, his nickname is "Bulldog", because "once he gets a hold of a story
he never lets go". BTW, in the Japanese version, his nickname was "Snapping Turtle". I'm
not sure why the American editors changed it to "Bulldog".
Bulldog's photographer is a young woman named Michi Hanamura, played by 30-year old
Kyoko Kagawa, who was just seen as Princess Miyazu in 1959's epic The Birth of
Japan. She would go on to have a stellar movie career, most notably with famed
director Akira Kurosawa. I noticed her in 1957's The Lower Depths, playing
Toshiro Mafune's love interest, where she looked simply delightful. She will be this
film's Designated Hottie, a strong, self-confident woman, fully capable of doing her job
as well as any man and still look smashing doing it. She once says that she doesn't believe
anything that she "can't see through her lens", a mantra that will be challenged early and
often. The horrid film quality and her very conservative fashion style don't allow me
to give a good picture of her beauty, but she has a full, expressive face and a curvy
We also meet our requisite scientist hero. He's an ethnologist and linguist (really!)
named Professor Shinichi Chujo, I
will just call him "Professor Smartyhead" for this review. Together with the reporters,
Professor Smartyhead will be the voice of reason and intelligence as the monster mayhem
Ok, the scientific community organizes an expedition to go and investigate the island and
the mysterious natives. The Americans claim that they checked before they started
bombing it and there was no one living there, so they are just as surprised as anyone. The
American businessman Clark Nelson is named the head of the team, over the objections
of the ranking Japanese scientists.
Nelson is played by Jerry Ito, an American actor living in Japan. Curiously, Ito could not
speak Japanese, and his lines were dubbed in the Japanese version as well as the
American version. Physically, he resembles a young Harry Connick, Jr., but the voice
talent that dubs his voice is channeling a creepy Bela Lugosi here. You will learn to hate
Nelson as soon as he shows up on the screen, he's an oily, slimy, smarmy business mogul
who has no concern for anything but money and feeding his own ego. If this is really what
Japanese thought of Americans in 1961, then it's a sad indictment. In truth, there were
probably a lot of greedy, selfish American capitalists in Japan at the time, still taking
advantage of America's one-sided postwar relationship with Japan.
Almost immediately, Nelson begins to assert his presumed authority. He first bans all
reporters from the trip, ostensibly because they would just get in the way. He then
orders that all scientific observations and experiments conducted on the island must be
cleared with him before being written up. The scientists are understandably upset and the
press begins to wonder what Nelson might be trying to hide.
But the mission goes on. The team is to be transported to the island by a Japanese Navy
ship. I think this is a different one than the Satsuma, as this one has "PC-104" on
the hull in English and looks much smaller. At the docks, the crowd seeing the ship off is
festive and ecstatic (are scientific missions usually the cause of such public spectacles?).
As the ship leaves the quays, we see that Bulldog has slipped aboard, though how he did it is a
mystery. Michi looks for him in the crowd but he's gone.
We cut to Nelson in his cabin a while later. He hears a noise and pulls a snub-nosed
automatic pistol from a drawer. He's surprised to find Bulldog sniffing around, posing as
a cabin steward. Nelson finds his press credentials on him, however, and the jig is up.
Nelson doesn't toss him off the ship, however, maybe because he doesn't want any bad
publicity. So he makes Bulldog a member of the expedition once he promises not to do
any "reportering". Bulldog is assigned as a guard.
During the long trip, the Japanese begin to bristle at Nelson's heavy-handed orders and
seemingly endless megalomania. Professor Smartyhead is the most vocal, even
confronting Nelson face-to-face once and admirably not backing down. However, Nelson
holds all the cards and the Japanese are forced to accede to most of his demands.
Arriving at the island, the men put on radiation suits with large clear faceplates. They
carry a number of scientific machines and several of them (including Bulldog) carry M-14
carbines. In general, the Japanese scientists keep to themselves, and Nelson and his
American henchmen operate independently.
The suited team.
Most improbably, they find that the center of the island is covered with a lush thick
tropical jungle! Clearly, something is counteracting the effects of the hard-dose
radiation, which should have made the island sterile.
Professor Smartyhead wanders off a bit, looking for something in a cave. Soon he's
entangled in a man-eating vine with dangling tentacles that comes to life and starts to choke
him! Some freaky vampire plant, maybe mutated by the radiation? In the struggle, his
safety alarm is triggered, sending out a high-pitched siren.
The siren attracts two tiny girls, natives to the island and only a foot tall. The editing
here is a little murky, but it seems that the girls get the killer plant to lay off Professor
Smartyhead. He then passes out. The rest of the men also hear the siren and come
running, finding Professor Smartyhead unconscious but mostly unhurt.
Professor Smartyhead is taken back aboard the ship and treated in the sick bay. When
he wakes, he tells them all of the killer plant and the two tiny girls. At first they think
he's delusional, but he manages to convince them of his sanity enough to get them to go
back to the island to look for the girls.
The Professor in the sickbay.
And so the expedition returns, this time sounding their sirens on purpose to attract the
girls. It works and they discover that Professor Smartyhead was telling the truth.
These 12-inch tall girls will prove to be the "Shobijin", the Priestesses of Mothra, and
little smoking' hotties. The twin girls are played by the sisters Emi and Yumi Ito, both
just 20-years old. These girls formed the insanely popular singing duo "The Peanuts",
who traveled the world singing Japanese pop tunes and covering such American standards
as "Proud Mary" and several Paul Anka tunes. In 1959, they had hit number one on the
Japanese pop charts with their debut album, so they would have been instantly
recognizable to audiences in 1961. They would reprise their role as the Mothra Fairies in
two more movies after this one. In keeping with a tradition I established years ago, I will
refer to them as "Mary-Kate and Ashley" for the remainder of this review.
Mary-Kate and Ashley.
The Japanese scientists are duly impressed with the girls, and chatter amongst
themselves about what to do now. Nelson and the Americans, being Americans, of course
just grab them and pick them up. This effect is realized by the use of dolls and fast
editing cuts and is surprisingly well done. Nelson even pulls a gun on Bulldog when he
attempts to intervene.
As the girls are being rough-handled, suddenly the trees part and the group is
surrounded by a multitude of half-naked, full-sized native islanders. These are your
typical South Seas natives, with loincloths and well-tanned bodies, and they beat
threateningly on rocks as they approach (screenwriter Sekizawa spent much of WWII
starving on isolated atolls in the South Pacific, and his wartime experiences with natives
seem to show up in all his movies). The Americans, being Americans, want to shoot their
way out, but the Japanese override that and order them to lower their guns. Perhaps
feeling a bit unsure for the moment, Nelson relents and orders his men to stand down.
He releases Mary-Kate and Ashley, who run off into the jungle.
The natives were clearly here just to protect the girls, and as soon as they are released
the situation settles down. The expedition retreats to the shore without further
incident. I guess this was the last trip to the island, as the ship now leaves for Japan.
Hmmm...they didn't do what they intended to do, did they? They were here to check on
the natives and figure out why and how they were here.
So two questions will remain unanswered here. One, who are these islanders and where
did they come from? From the looks of their society and infrastructure, they have
clearly been on this island for some time, so we have to assume that the Americans lied
when they said they checked before they bombed it. We're never given any deeper
background to this society, where they came from, how long they have been here,
anything. And two, we never get any more dialogue about the magical properties of the
anti-radiation juice. Certainly this juice would be worth a fortune, and we wonder why
Nelson never seeks to exploit it, as he logically should. [Editor Pam: "Worth a fortune" is putting it mildly, and "magical" is the correct adjective. There is unquestionably no such juice in our timeline. This really makes me wonder why Nelson is there, because I assumed that the reason he connived his way into the expedition was to find out if the natives had something to protect themselves against radiation, and if so, could he make money from it.]
So the expedition returns to Japan amongst much fanfare. The Japanese and the
Americans then go their separate ways. Apparently, all parties made an oral agreement
not to talk about the two little girls, all agree that they are best left on the island and
unknown to a world that would probably mess with them.
In an interlude, Bulldog and Professor Smartyhead discuss Nelson and his motivations.
Bulldog is certain that the American is an "art thief", and might sneak back and try and
raid Beiru Island's native villages. Professor Smartyhead admits that when he was in the
cave before the vampire plant attacked him, he found some inscriptions. He has a copy
of them and he shows his research to Bulldog. Professor Smartyhead is certain that the
language is related to Polynesian and he can read some of it. Of note is a repeated word:
Back at his newspaper, Bulldog is confronted by his editor, who wants to know why
Bulldog won't file a story on the natives or the girls. Bulldog is conflicted by his
reporter instincts and his deep feelings for the safety of the natives. The editor is not
so sympathetic, asking, "Are you a reporter or a social worker?" To which Bulldog sighs
and replies, "In this case, I don't know." The editor is played by 56-year old Takashi
Shimura, one of the greatest actors of the century, of any nation. By 1961, he was
already a recognizable face, having played the noble Doctor Yamane in the original Godzilla from 1954 and numerous prime roles in
Kurosawa Samurai epics.
You just know that Nelson isn't going to let the golden financial opportunity that the
girls present just pass him by. And indeed, we now cut back out to Beiru Island, where
we see Nelson and three of his henchmen are back. Clearly, this is a secret operation,
financed and organized by Nelson himself, with neither government aware of what he's
doing. They are wearing radiation suits and carrying Thompson submachineguns, and
clearly mean business. Mary-Kate and Ashley are captured after a short chase, having
been lured by the sirens as before.
Their attempt to leave the area with the girls is opposed by the natives again. Unlike last
time, there's no one to urge restraint and the Americans just shoot their way out of the
area. The natives advance without fear in the face of a hail of .45 slugs, and at least 14
natives are killed. The deaths are totally bloodless, in keeping with conventions of film
decency in 1961 Japan.
Nelson and his tommygun.
One old native, wounded by the gunfire, crawls back to an ornate stone altar. He yells,
"Mothra!" as he expires. Above him, he ground begins to shake and roar, and a rockslide
reveals a large bluish egg! This will prove to contain a Mothra larva.
Some time later, back in Tokyo, Nelson has organized a glitzy stage show centered
around the girls. The show is called "The Secret Fairies Show" and involves dancing girls
and elaborate sets and is really quite well done. Mary-Kate and Ashley seem to not mind
being kidnapped so much, in fact they continue to sing their little songs and smile sweetly
despite the circumstances. They are aware, of course, that they just need to bide their
time because something will come to rescue them soon. And we all know what that certain
something will be...
The Twins in their
Bulldog, Michi, Professor Smartyhead and Smartyhead's little annoying brother Jinji all
go to see the show, and are duly impressed by the girls' singing ability. After the show,
they go backstage to confront Nelson, accusing him of enslaving the girls against their
will. Nelson replies that since the girls won't speak to him, he has to infer by their happy
singing that they don't mind being here in Tokyo. This is dicey wordplay and certainly
wouldn't hold up in any decent court.
In a strange turn of attitude, Nelson then allows them to go in to see the girls alone,
perhaps to give the appearance of being gracious. He first has Michi leave all her
cameras behind, but they don't know about her Secret Spy Camera. She indeed takes
the girls' photo on the sly, but we never get to see the print of this or learn if it had any
effect on public opinion so it was a wasted plot point.
In with the girls, the humans show them that they are friends and will try and help them.
The girls say that they are all communicating via "telepathy", which allows them to
understand each other despite the language barrier. This is nifty but is never mentioned
again in any other Mothra movie (I always just assumed that Mary-Kate and Ashley spoke
Japanese). As with other movies, they generally speak in unison, which can get real
Cute, but annoying.
Mary-Kate and Ashley warn them that Mothra is coming to save them. They are linked
with the monster telepathically and she's guided to them this way. The girls are clearly
powerless to stop Mothra from coming, and they say that they "will return to our island
and that's good. The part that makes us unhappy is you could be..." and they pause
ominously before continuing, "and there isn't anything you can do to stop her."
And indeed there's monster trouble brewing. We cut back to Beiru Island where we see
the natives are having a non-stop festival of singing and dancing in honor of Mothra.
They sing and play music and dance about, calling to the giant egg to open up and send
forth Mothra to save the two girls. The dance numbers are elaborate and feature a high
level of choreography. Toho has a thing with dance numbers in its movies, and the one
here is a gem.
With a flash of multi-colored light and a resounding crash, the egg cracks! Out comes
Mothra, here just in larva stage. Yes, it looks just like a giant caterpillar larva, which is
really what she is. The beast immediately starts swimming north towards Japan,
seemingly doing the breaststroke.
Along the way, Mothra sinks the ocean liner SS Orion, by ramming into the ship.
Back in Tokyo, our heroes again confront Nelson, this time with the news of the sunken
liner and the fast-approaching monster. Nelson will not budge, and starts threatening to
bring in the American embassy on his side. Man, this movie hates America.
Bulldog and Professor Smartyhead decide to go talk to the girls again. To do this, they
bullrush the guards around the girls' room. Bulldog proves himself to be a Super Ninja
Killer Reporter and he disables the guards with some lame hand-to-hand-fat-guy-fu.
Professor Smartyhead begs the girls to turn back Mothra. Mary-Kate and Ashley would
love to help, but, again, the truth is they are powerless to stop Mothra from coming to
I'd do them, if I were
A Japanese F-86F Sabre on patrol spots the swimming Mothra and radios word. Alerted
to her approach, the Japanese Military makes plans to try and stop her. Apparently, the
rest of the world is content to stand back and let Japan face the monster alone. This is
fairly common in Japanese monster movies, but it doesn't say much for international
Meanwhile, the American embassy throws its full diplomatic weight behind Nelson. They
claim that they must protect the property rights of its citizens abroad. Wow, America
really looks like a big bully in this movie.
Once sighted, Mothra is aggressively attacked by the Japanese Air Force. First up is an
attack by a four-plane flight of twin-engine bombers. It's interesting to note that in
1961, Japan was still forbidden to have offensive attack planes. These are clearly
transport planes modified to act as bombers, they look like C-46 Commandoes. Unfazed
by these attacks, Mothra continues swimming along.
Next up is an attack by a flight of single-engined F-86F Sabre jet fighters. The range
of these planes is relatively short, so either Mothra is quite close to Japan at this time,
or the jets are operating from island airbases south of the Home Islands. These attacks
also fail, and Mothra continues to surge north towards Tokyo.
Freaked, the scientists build a box made of a special amber-colored translucent
glass-like substance that can supposedly block radio and telepathy waves. They give this
to Nelson, hoping he will see the wisdom of using the box on the girls to save Tokyo from
Mothra's wrath. They tell Nelson that they are worried about "the innocent ones, the
ones who will suffer for your selfish ways." Nelson reluctantly agrees to use the box.
By now, Mothra has reached Japan. Now, this next part is kinda confusing, but it seems
that Mothra first comes upstream a river somewhere near Tokyo. A large dam begins to
crumble from Mothra's displacement of the water, I think. However it happens, the dam
starts to fall apart as people still stream across, running for safety. Our heroes are
here, the reporters coming to check on the breaking news. In a nail-biting scene, Bulldog
rushes to save a baby from the rushing waters.
Meanwhile, the American embassy has flip-flopped. They now say, to "preserve the
traditional relationship between their two nations", that Nelson has to give the two girls
back to the islanders. We just know that Nelson isn't going to follow through with that
order, don't we?
Back in Tokyo, we see that Professor Smartyhead's annoying kid brother Jinji has gone
all Junior James Bond on us. He sneaks past the guards and gains entrance to Mary-Kate
and Ashley's room. There he tries to spirit the girls out of the building. He's caught,
however, and tied up by Nelson and his henchmen. Professor Smartyhead and Bulldog
rush to save Jinji and find him hogtied and Nelson and the girls missing. I'm really not
sure the point of this sidebar with the kid. Mothra is not really a kid's movie at
all, but perhaps they felt they had to have some sort of hook to draw in the younger
Oh, and an obscure book tipped me to a quick shot in the above sequence where it's said
that Mary-Kate and Ashley can been seen naked (!!!) through the amber glass as
Jinji tries to rescue them. So I checked again, and yes indeed, it's clear that the girls
have their kimono tops down off their chests and they slide them back on just as Jinji
raises the glass wall. Whoa, I don't know what to think about that. What were they
doing in the box?
You can't see it, but they're
nekkid in there!
No time to worry about my kinky Asian girl lesbian fantasies right now, because Mothra
is now in the outskirts of Tokyo! The dialogue is unclear, but I believe most of the action
here takes place in the Shibuya District. The Air Force continues to attack her, even in
the built-up urban areas. We see a large number of jet fighters, mostly F-86F Sabres
but also a number of F-86D Dog Sabres (easily identified by their distinctive
overhanging nose), all a well-done mix of stock footage and model work. These air
attacks are truly wonderful, with numerous camera angles and quick cuts. These
sequences were photographed by Sadamasa Arikawa and show originality in set-up and
lighting that was not seen in earlier monster movies. Even twenty or thirty years later,
Toho would be hard pressed to make an air attack on a monster look this good.
The Japanese Army quickly forms a defensive line in the Shibuya District. We see a mix
of M4A3E8 Sherman tanks and futuristic Missile Tanks, all plastic models of
less-than-stellar quality. The Shermans all have large three-digit numbers on their
turrets. Many of the numbers are the same as the Shermans in 1957's Earth Defense Force, suggesting that Toho
reused the same prop models from that movie. The Missile Tanks appear to be based on
the chassis of the M-24 Chaffee light tank, with the turret removed and a twin-missile
carousel mounted on top.
As terrified citizens flee in droves, the Army unloads a furious barrage on Mothra, who
keeps charging through. The firepower seems to have no effect on the monster, despite
dozens of hits. As Mothra breaks through the first line, the tanks retreat.
Now fully into the downtown area of the city, Mothra smashes any building in her path,
crushing and grinding all beneath her massive body weight. A large clock in the
background tells us that it is 7:55pm when Mothra is raging through the area. Perhaps
with a subtle anti-western poke, Mothra lovingly squashes a Birelys billboard and a Mobil
Gas gasoline station, the camera lingering on the English language signs for a few seconds
too long not to be deliberate.
The Army regroups around the area of the Tokyo Tower and reforms the line. The Tokyo
Tower is a famous Japanese landmark and looks just like a lighter version of France's
Eiffel Tower. It's in the Minato District downtown and was just completed in 1958, so
audiences would have instantly recognized it.
Mothra barges up to the base of the tower, again wading through a torrent of shell and
missile fire. Adding to the attack are a number of jeep-mounted tube weapons that look
like recoilless rifles with big finned grenades on the ends. These have as little effect as
the other weapons but do look damn cool.
Mothra reaches the Tower and slithers up the side, her weight breaking off the top half
of the Tower. Mothra then shows her first offensive weapon, as a Japanese Army
helicopter gets too close. The monster spits out a stream of silk (she's a caterpillar,
after all) that fouls the rotors, causing the helicopter to crash in a burst of flame.
Mothra then begins to spin a cocoon around herself, anchoring it to the base of the
Tower. Curiously, Mothra's cocoon comes out her mouth, while a real-world caterpillar's
cocoon comes out her butt. The Army is powerless to stop this and indeed just stands
As to why Mothra chose here and now to spin a cocoon we are left to guess. Since
Mary-Kate and Ashley are in their special box at the moment, Mothra is at a loss to find
them. Perhaps Mothra was just following the last signal she had, and when that dried up,
she just decided to go into cocoon mode. Perhaps she was injured by all the firepower
tossed at her and decided to cocoon in an attempt to heal her wounds.
Around Mothra, Tokyo burns brightly and citizens flee. Constructed mostly of wood, the
city is engulfed in flames. We see a Toho trademark red firetruck race by, siren wailing.
In virtually every Toho monster movie, we get a red firetruck and it has become a game
for me to try and find it. I should also note that in several shots of the cocoon at night,
there is silence except for the strange barking of numerous dogs. This is a neat effect
and perhaps harkens back to survivor reports of earthquakes where afterwards the
silence was only broke by animals.
Meanwhile, Nelson his henchmen are on the run, carrying the girls in the telepathy-proof
box with them. Word has been passed to the Tokyo police to stop him, but Nelson eludes
them with a thin disguise of a pair of glasses and his collar turned up (really!). Along with
a fake ID and passport, Nelson manages to board a special jet flight for America.
Nelson sneaking out of
There is some hint of complicity during Nelson's escape. First he's given a fake
passport naming him as a member of the American Embassy staff, which might suggest he
has friends in high places still on his side. Then an American Military Police sergeant at
the airport seems to recognize Nelson but allows him to go ahead.
Now finally understanding the carnage caused by the monster, the American government
is now acting very conciliatory. They offer to arrest Nelson if they catch him in America
and assure the safe return of the girls. They also offer Japan their latest weapon
system to combat Mothra. This is the "Atomic Heat Cannon", a large fancy sci-fi ray gun.
The two Atomic Heat Cannons arrive the next morning from America and are immediately
emplaced to fire on the cocoon. The cannons are massive radar dish-looking weapons,
mounted on ten-wheeled flatbed carriers and crewed by many men.
The Atomic Heat Cannons.
At exactly 10am, the two cannons begin firing. The blasts are powerful and blindingly
bright, and they quickly have an effect. The cocoon begins to burn and is soon completely
engulfed in flames. The fires burn for several hours and everyone is optimistic that
Mothra is now dead. A guarded celebration begins in the streets of Tokyo.
We reconnect with Nelson and the girls now. He has arrived in America and is at his
"farm" somewhere in the country. They hear about the burning cocoon on the radio and
rejoice, sure that the threat posed by the girls' telepathy is now over. He opens the glass
cage and encourages the girls to sing their hearts out. Oh, he's going to regret that...
And back in Tokyo, the girls' song reaches the smoldering cocoon. Suddenly it splits
open! Out comes Mothra, now a massive beautiful moth. Pandemonium reigns in the
streets as Mothra takes to the air, her flapping wings producing enough downdraft to
flip cars and tear up roofs. Mothra doesn't waste time here, however, and immediately
heads east across the sea for America.
Mothra emerging from the
Once the news reaches America, the government institutes a nationwide manhunt for
Nelson and the girls. Nelson prepares to leave his farm, now visibly cracking under the
stress. He loads his pistol, preparing for the worst.
We also see that the American Embassy has arranged to send Bulldog, Michi and
Professor Smartyhead to America. They three were the only ones that Mary-Kate and
Ashley seemed to communicate with and it's hoped that if they ever find the girls, they
While they are airborne, Mothra arrives in "Newkirk City". Despite the phonetic
similarity to New York City, numerous internal clues point to Los Angeles, California.
These include palm trees and sandy beaches, but also Toho took the bold and unusual
step of filming much of this footage during a trip to Los Angeles in early 1961. To their
credit, the FX people at Toho represented the American city in a totally different style
than Tokyo. The buildings are more angular and art deco, the cars are different, even
the colors use a brighter pastel palette.
Mothra circles around the city, unsure of the girls' location. From this we can locate
Nelson's farm as very near Los Angeles as the girls were singing at the farm and that's
where Mothra is now circling. Anti-aircraft guns fire on the monster constantly, scoring
numerous hits. Mothra continues to fly, however, her wings blowing vehicles around like
little Matchbox cars and even crumbling buildings.
Nelson is now on the run, in his car with the girls. He soon runs into a congested area and
is forced to stop. A woman recognizes him and his car is mobbed by enraged citizens.
Nelson begins to see the faces of the Beiru Islanders he shot and has a mental
breakdown. He jumps out with his pistol and shoots a policeman before two other cops
gun him down, ending his days on this earth.
The ugly American.
The girls, still in their glass cage in a suitcase, are guarded by the police until someone of
authority can tell them what to do with them. Meanwhile, it's reported that thousands
have been killed so far in the city by Mothra's hurricane-force winds. Clearly something
must be done and done fast.
Just then Bulldog, Michi and Professor Smartyhead arrive and take possession of the
girls in their cage. They are rightfully afraid to open the cage, with Mothra being so
close. It's then that Professor Smartyhead looks up and sees a cross upon the steeple of
a church, oddly backlit by a bright light. Suddenly his memory shoots back to a strange
Mothra symbol he found in the cave back on the island.
Professor Smartyhead makes the intuitive leap that Mothra might be attracted to this
symbol. He has the city officials go to the airport and paint this symbol as large as
possible on the runway. The ringing of the church bells reminds Michi of the singing of
the girls' so they also arrange to have all the city's church bells ring at exactly 3pm.
Hmmm...all that effort with the bells just because they "sound like the girls"? I think
that Mothra can tell the difference, after all she can hear the little girls singing from
thousands of miles away.
And so we see a number of Highway Department trucks on the airport tarmac, painting
this giant symbol in white paint. Meanwhile Mothra is still circling the city, her winds
causing havoc and destruction. Buildings fall, a bridge collapses, container ships in the
harbor are sunk.
Ships in LA Harbor are
At exactly 3pm, the bells begin ringing and Mothra takes notice. Seeing her symbol on
the runway, Mothra comes in for a landing. Our heroes open the box and let the girls out.
They all exchange goodbyes and happy waves. The girls then run out to Mothra, climb
aboard and the monster takes off.
The ending scene is back on Beiru Island, where we get a closing musical number from
Mary-Kate and Ashley as they sing their Mothra song one last time. Stop it, stop singing.
Mothra stopping by to
pick up her women.
And that's all, folks.
Bonus! Some statistics for you:
13: Number of cigarettes and cigars smoked by our cast.
5: Number of photographs taken by Michi.
2: Number of ships sunk.