Classic Media may start getting thank-you cards from Godzilla fans, their Toho Master Collection releases have been so wonderful.
First they gave us "Gojira," the Japanese masterpiece by Ishiro Honda, and the American version, "Godzilla, King of the Monsters" in a handsome case with Criterion-style extras. Then came "Godzilla Raids Again" and its American counterpart, "Gigantis, the Fire Monster," in an edition that really made a bad film seem a lot better. And now we get the sequel considered by many to have no equal: "Mothra vs. Godzilla" and the American version, "Godzilla vs. The Thing."
The first sequel, "Godzilla Raids Again," was nothing but a rush-to-market slapdash effort that had little plot or character development. No wonder Honda wouldn't climb onboard. The entire focus was on two monsters wrestling all over the place, with no explanation as to why they were fighting and no humans that viewers particularly cared about. So, what the heck? Stomp and roll over as much of Osaka as you want, guys.
Thankfully, "Mothra vs. Godzilla" finds Honda in the director's seat again, and that's partly what makes it a superior film. So does a more intelligent and developed script that gives us layers of competitions and concerns apart from "we've got to get these monsters." But the thing that fans will notice the most is that the miniatures look more real this outing, and the special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya seem more seamlessly integrated into the film. For younger viewers just starting to discover the old monster movies from their parents' generation, an added bonus is that "Mothra vs. Godzilla" is in color.
You can tell pretty instantly that the quality is going to be better. An opening typhoon in some sequels would look like a wave pool with toy boats. Here, you buy the effects and the mountain of debris the storm kicks up off the coast of Japan. By the time a gigantic egg floats onto Nishi Beach, we've already been drawn into an interesting situation where developers and politicians are trying to downplay damage to their latest beachfront project, while journalists are trying to tell a story. There's even a sub-conflict between an abrasive reporter named Sakai (Akira Takarada) and his idealistic-but-green photographer, Yoko (Yuriko Hoshi). After the egg is pulled ashore and Dr. Miura (Hiroshi Koizumi, again) from Kyonan University starts poking at the egg to study it, we think the story is going in the typical scientific direction when suddenly the fishermen announce that what floats to them belongs to them, and that they have sold it to a P.T. Barnum-like entrepreneur named Kumayama (Yoshifumi Tajima).
While the first sequel was just two guys in monster suits fighting, Mothra and Godzilla aren't the only fight on this card. There are a lot more "versus" match-ups here: good journalists vs. bad, Torahata Industrial Complex vs. Happy Enterprises, scientists vs. commercial and political interests, the people of Infant Island vs. anyone who would intentionally or unintentionally destroy their way of life, and Kumayama vs. those who would keep him from trying to make a buck off of everything--even the foot-tall twin Shobijin fairies (Emi and Yumi Ito), who speak in unison and sing to Mothra in order to summon the beast. Having paid $1,224,560 yen for the egg that turns out to be Mothra's (a price arrived at because it seems the equivalent of 153,820 chicken eggs!) he offers one million yen for each of the twins. And this happens after the FOF (Friends of Fairies) opened a box containing them so they could say, in their high-pitched melodic voices, "Please return the egg to us." That's like the definition of an evil, greedy bastard, isn't it?.
There are some nice touches this time around, like "the atomic monster" stumbling a bit and falling into a building, instead of always stomp stomp stomping. The spiny platelets on Godzilla's back also power up like a neon light right before and while he's using his famous incinerating breath, and filmmakers learned how to use his tail more this outing. In some of the weaker sequels, Godzilla would simply squash buildings. Here, there's more anticipation as he gets close to that giant egg or approaches a hotel in which two greedy developers fight over money. The plot isn't overly complicated, though. Basically the egg washes ashore, fishermen sell it to an entrepreneur, the fairies come to plead for its return, Godzilla awakens from a radioactive hotspot under ground and starts stomping, FOF ask that Mothra be summoned to help with the Godzilla problem, Mr. Barnum wannabe turns the egg into an attraction, the monsters fight, and then the larvae caterpillars that hatch from the egg (a pair of them) zero in on Godzilla like heat-seeking missiles. But it's all campy fun, and the silliness is nicely balanced by some fairly serious subtexts about nuclear proliferation, overdevelopment, and greed.
Of course, the kids could care less about any of those themes. They'll only see good guys and bad guys and enjoy it as the creatures do battle and the bad guys get theirs. If your kids want a monster movie but you're not into all that gore, classic films like this are a good way to go. There's just one intense scene where one man bloodies another's face that takes the violence to a more realistic level. Otherwise, it's stomp, baby, stomp in a film that has plenty of light moments. Even during the big battle, you can't help but smile a bit as Mothra grabs Godzilla by the tail and uses those powerful wings to pull him backwards, away from the egg. Now that's family entertainment.
As with "Godzilla Raids Again," this release is presented on a lone, single-sided disc that's housed in a stiff board bi-fold that really doesn't stay closed--so keep that paper sleeve that comes teaser info. You'll want to reuse it. The Japanese version is presented in 2.35:1 Cinemascope. Though in some scenes the colors have a little bleeding along the edges and in others there's a yellow-orange cast, this remastered print looks as good as we've seen.
Though the American version is actually quite close in content this time to the Japanese, and, in fact, even contains an additional battle scene involving the military's attempts to battle monsters, it is dubbed and, what will annoy purists even more, it's been cropped and reformatted to fit a 16x9 TV.
The sound on both 1964 films is as good as you'd expect, with apparently a nothing-fancy Dolby Digital Mono. There's no published information on the sound, but that's the way it feels coming through my speaker system.
Film experts Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski return again to offer a full-length commentary for the American version, though they discuss both. As with their commentaries on two previous releases, this duo does their homework and gives us all sorts of background information and anecdotes. There's zero dead air, and what's equally important is that you get the sense that these guys are actually having fun. Their commentary is highly recommended, but watch the Japanese version first, with subtitles.
Like the James Bond series, each of these has a bonus feature not available on the others, presumably to reward collectors. This time it's a biography of composer Akira Ifukube, with copious amounts of photographs and a tribute by Shogo Tomiyama. As with previous releases, there's also a slide show of original movie posters and lobby cards, and the original Japanese trailer.
Mothra and Godzilla may be the star attractions, but what makes this film work are the humans in it and behind the scenes. "Mothra vs. Godzilla" avoids the all-out campiness of the other sequels and gives us plenty of bad guys we hope will get stomped. Just don't think too hard about the size relationship between that egg and the poor creature that's purported to have laid it!