Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, April 18, 2014

Series Report Card: Godzilla (1992)

19. Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth
Gojira tai Mosura / Godzilla vs. Mothra

After the success of “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah,” the Japanese public had made it clear that what they wanted to see was the pumped-up nineties version of Godzilla battling his classic foes. Following that logic, Toho decided that Godzilla would next fight his most common supporting member, the mighty Mothra. The script would raise the stakes even further by introducing, essentially, Mothra’s evil twin. This proved a very smart decision for the studio. “Godzilla vs. Mothra,” released direct-to-video in America under the less-generic title of “Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth,” became the highest grossing Japanese film of the year and, unadjusted for inflation, the most successful of any of the Godzilla films. It holds strong nostalgic value for me, another favorite I watched over and over again on video back.

The story starts large, with a meteor falling to Earth, reawakening Godzilla. The event has an immediate effect on the Earth’s environment, causing a typhoon that washes up a massive egg. The story then goes small again, focusing on would-be Indiana Jones, Takuya Fujita. When his treasure hunting gets him locked up, Fujita is recruited by the government, along with his ex-wife Masako and a representative for a massive corporation. Exploring Infant Island, the trio discovers the giant egg, along with an ancient temple and a pair of tiny women. The fairies, referring to themselves as the Cosmos, explain the story of an ancient civilization, their protector Mothra, and the embodiment of the Earth’s rage, Battra. Right on cue, Battra and Mothra reemerge, coming into conflict with the newly rampaging Godzilla. The three monsters battle throughout Japan, while the greedy corporation attempts to buy the fairies and Takuya attempts to reconcile with Masako and their daughter.

“Godzilla and Mothra” doesn’t have the smooth screenplay construction that “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” had. Most of the events in the story just seem to happen without much correlation. The meteor just happens to crash right next to Godzilla, waking him. The environmental upheaval seems only partially related to the monsters. Battra reappears mostly because the script calls on him too. After having a wrestling match with Godzilla under the sea, both monsters are swallowed by the Earth, not reappearing until the second half. The middle section of the movie is suddenly devoted to Mothra’s own march through Tokyo. As Mothra is about to emerge from her cocoon, Godzilla and Battra both reappear. Battra changes form too, seemingly because its rival does so. In the last act, the different plots finally converge, the two flying monsters teaming up against the destructive Monster King. The movie attempts to tie together the subplots in a natural way but not smoothly.

As “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” added wilder sci-fi elements to the Heisei era, “Godzilla vs. Mothra” introduces heavier fantasy elements. The last film gave Godzilla a long overdue origin story. This film does the same for Mothra. The butterfly goddess is introduced as the creation of an alien society that colonized Earth millennia ago. The Shobijin are now known as the Cosmos, the last of their kind and the sole residents of Infant Island. The movie also subscribe to the Gaia belief, that Earth is alive and pissed-off. That rage manifests in another giant monster, Battra, a dark mirror to the kinder, gentler Mothra. Considering the Godzilla-verse has always mixed together a number of divergent sci-fi, horror, and fantasy elements, the Heisei era moving into similar territory is welcomed. The movie doesn’t feature many of the campier effects of the previous film while still managing to keep most of the fun.

The film references several of Toho’s past kaiju flicks. The giant caterpillar’s egg is transported to Japan on a raft pulled behind a ship, recalling both “King Kong vs. Godzilla” and the original “Mothra.” The movie is actually a quasi-remake of “Mothra vs. Godzilla.” A wickedly capitalistic corporation kidnaps Mothra’s fairies, determined to use them as advertising mascots. The human protagonists plead with the fairies’ captives, begging them to return the girls. However, the greedy businessmen refuse. The big bug’s rampage through Japan is motivated by this human greed and, once reunited with her emissaries, the kaiju relaxes and retreats. Tokyo Tower is destroyed by Battra earlier in the film, forcing Mothra to cocoon herself against the Diet building instead. Unlike the broad commercial satire of “Mothra vs. Godzilla,” this subplot winds up having little to do with the rest of the film and is forgotten before the end.

Even if the script was hastily assembled, “Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth” certainly delivers on the monsters. Godzilla is once again given a minor redesign, the suit slightly sleeker while still being uber-beefy. As with King Ghidorah, Toho’s effects masters knew not to mess around with Mothra’ iconic design too much. In larva form, the caterpillar gains a slightly flatter face and some distinctive tasks. As a butterfly, Mothra is far fluffier then ever before, special attention being paid to her massive wings. The design pushes up against cute while still seeming possible.

Battra, the movie’s primary contribution to the Godzilla universe, is a memorable creature. The creature is, essential, the death metal version of Mothra. Its larva form is topped off with a massive horn that, naturally, shoots lightening bolts. The monster is covered with spikes actually, spikes for legs and spikes on the end of its tail. The dark design is codified with its huge red eyes and black skin. I’m a big fan of Battra’s larva form and actually prefer it to the final form. The red and black wings are jagged and tattered, its legs long and covered with spurs. The head is topped off with a crown of spikes and a pincher-like mouth. Mothra’s evil twin, on paper, sounds like an idea out of fan fiction. The movie pulls it off though, making the monster a memorable and creditable threat.

The movie is probably the most action packed of the Heisei era, up to this point. The city destruction scenes are filled with explosions. Battra honestly gives Tokyo one of its most thorough trashing since maybe the original “Gojira.” Lots of buildings explode as the evil caterpillar blasts buildings with his laser beams. As Godzilla emerges from the ocean, Mothra immediately hatches from her egg, seemingly sensing the other monster. In another amusing callback, the larva bites Godzilla’s tail, the Monster King thrashing around in aggravation. The underwater battle with Battra features the film’s wildest moments, like when Godzilla slams his opponent into the ocean floor repeatedly by the tail. Despite being an angelic figure, Mothra still wreaks some carnage of her own, plowing through buildings, tank rounds bouncing off its skin.

The movie saves the best for last. The action set piece is the three-way battle royale between Godzilla, Mothra, and Battra. Godzilla battles the army and Mothra and Battra tussle a little but these scenes are just appetizers. Battra slices a building in half with its laser vision, burying Godzilla. This, however, is a short lived remedy, the mighty reptilian blasting his way back out. The fight features such memorable moments such as Godzilla bouncing Mothra back with his new trademark attack, the Nuclear Pulse. The entire fight is set against the background of Yokohama Cosmo World. This comes in handy when Godzilla tries to drop a giant Ferris wheel on a prone Mothra. However, Battra swoops in, grabs the giant wheel and slams Godzilla with it instead. Both moths have some fancy long distance weapons of their own. Mothra collapses Godzilla by bathing him in poison powder and casting lightening bolts from her wings. Somehow, said bolts reflect Godzilla’s atomic breath back at him. Working together, the two flying monsters are such a force that you truly believe that they can take down the King of the Monsters.

“The Battle for Earth” certainly has an awesome finale but concludes on an off-tone, somber note. Once again, Godzilla plummets into the ocean, taking his opponent with him, ready to return for the next sequel. Battra’s death is treated with a lot of weight, solemn music playing on the soundtrack. In its final minutes, the movie info-dumps some exposition on us. As Mothra retrieves her fairies, they talk about how Battra was supposes to destroy a planet-killing comet in the future. Mothra takes its twin’s responsibility, having made a death oath to, flying into space at the end. Not only is that an inelegant ending, it’s also a bit of a down note to take the film out on.

Even if the script is unfocused, the film’s human cast provides a lot of heart. Neither Tetsuya Bessho’s Fujita nor Satomi Kobayashi’s Masako are typical heroes. The exes’ relationship is at first played for laughs, the two sniping at each other in corny, sit-com style. Later, however, the relationship evolves in a surprisingly touching fashion. Fujita is wrecked with doubt and guilt, actually considering selling the Cosmos in order to provide for his family. Ultimately, the two forgive each other and seem ready to get back together at the end. Bessho and Tetsuya have great chemistry together and quiet scenes of the two eating dinner and talking prove more entertaining then you’d expect. My only disappointment about the cast is that Megumi Odaka’s Miki Saegusa is mostly pushed towards the background; her psychic abilities used only once, to confirm that Godzilla is still alive, something we all knew anyway.

“Godzilla vs. Mothra” was Takao Okawara’s first shot at directing a Godzilla film. He generally does a great job. One of my favorite moments in the film is when Mothra cocoons herself against the Diet building. Set against the setting sun, the caterpillar’s silk dances in the air, against the purple sky. A lovely, soft song plays, creating a very poetic effect. Akira Ifukube returns once again to score. The classic Mothra theme is skillfully incorporated in with the pounding, Godzilla march. Keiko Imamura and Sayaka Osawa play the Cosmos, singing a stripped down version of Mothra’s lullaby. I like the classic Peanuts’ version better but this rendition is more fitting for the darker film.

“Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth” was rushed into production to capitalize on the success of “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.” This shows in the film’s sometimes shaky screenplay. However, the film still provides some fantastically realized monsters and beautifully orchestrated battles between them. The previous entry is bit more fun but the 19th Godzilla film is still a blast.  
[Grade: B+]

1 comment:

whitsbrain said...

I must have been in an awful mood when I watched this years ago...

I may have asked this question before but...Why am I doing this to myself!?!? Do I really need to watch all of the Godzilla movies? In production order no less? Oh, how I long to watch the original film again.

Godzilla movies are so similar to each other I can't keep any of them separate in my mind anymore. This movie is the middle entry from 'Heisei' series of Godzilla movies and returns us to the magical world of Mothra. The egg, the tiny fairy twins, the magical life-giving glitter or whatever it is supposed to be. Because this one stars Mothra, you get the whole "Save the Earth" theme practically hammered into your melon. Heavy-handed doesn't even begin to describe this. Guess what? An evil corporation is destroying the Earth. Ever heard that one before?!? You have to wonder...Just how can movie makers, be they American, Japanese, or whatever, not get tired of constantly blathering on and on about companies being bad.

This movie was made 20 years ago and it's the same thing I see today in movies and it's the same thing I watched 40 years ago (I wish I could forget 'Silent Running'). I like the Earth as much as the next guy. I live here, too. But the Earth will be here long after all of us wasteful, evil humans are gone. You see, what "Save the Earthers" are really about is saving their own hides. Their actually worried about something uncomfortable happening to them while they're still walking the planet.

Anyway, getting off of the soapbox, I thought the special effects even took a big step backwards here. Mothra's fuzzier, Godzilla is stiffer, and the buildings are "cardboard-boxier" than other entries in the 'Heisei' run of G-films. At least Godzilla is a bad guy in this.(3/10)