[November 16, 1961] Made in Japan (Mothra)

Now here’s a special treat.  Not long ago, the Junior Traveler began contributing as a co-author.  This time around, she has decided to take center stage.  My little girl is all growed up!  Excuse me.  I have something in my eye…


by Lorelei Marcus

Recently, me and my family thought we should take a break from time traveling (in fiction and movies) and do some real traveling!  We decided to go to Japan!  I was sad because we weren’t going to be able to watch any Twilight Zone or new movies.  Luckily, we were treated to a new Japanese movie called Mothra.  Me and my father had the luxury to see it in theaters, in Japan!  It was a very similar (but intriguingly different) experience to an American movie in various ways.

Mothra, similar to many of the American movies we’ve watched, is a monster movie – in this case, about a giant moth that attacks Tokyo.  I noticed monster movies often start out the same, something or someone dear to the monster is taken from them to a big city, and the monster comes back to rescue it, destroying said city in the process.  It happened in Gorgo; this movie did not break the mold.

We start out with a ship crashing on an island that is being used as a nuclear test site by the Japanese.  A helicopter finds four survivors who were miraculously free of any radiation poisoning or side affects!  A team of scientists, including their sponsor Nelson, explore this mysterious island.  It turns out there have been natives living on this island the whole time!  Among these completely, naturally brown-skinned natives, are two foot-tall Japanese girls who communicate through song.  Nelson steals these girls thinking he can make a profit.  Of course the girls and the natives are distressed, so they call to Mothra for help, who at this point is still an egg.

After a ceremony and dance number, Mothra hatches as a little larvae and starts making her way across the ocean to Japan, where it wreaks havoc.  There was an exciting scene involving a baby and a bridge that had me on the edge of my seat.  I will not tell you how it ends, but I’m a real sucker when it comes to animals and babies in distress.  Anyway, after destroying many buildings, and killing many people, Mothra cocoons herself onto Tokyo Tower!  By this point, Nelson has now escaped to New Kirk City, in his native country of “Roliska.”  There, he is relieved to hear that Mothra has been defeated by Roliskan-provided heat rays. 

Or has she?

The movie goes on for quite a bit longer, but to avoid spoiling you of the ending, I will stop my summary there.  Now for my opinions!  I actually enjoyed the movie a lot; however after seeing so many of this type of movie, it would be a lie to say I wasn’t very bored at some parts.  The special effects were outstanding; it was hard to tell real from fake at some parts.  Though, by the second half they weren’t nearly as good, it was understandable considering it was supposed to be a remake of America, which Japanese would not have much knowledge of its architecture.  The sets of Japan though, those were completely realistic.  Even the tanks — the tanks were so good I couldn’t believe they were fake at first!  There is no doubt the effects in this movie had a high budget.

However, the story and acting at times were lacking.  I think the largest cases of terrible acting were Nelson and the incidental Americans.  Through the entire movie, Nelson’s poor Japanese accent bugged us so much — it was just so annoying!  There were certainly American actors who couldn’t do a proper Japanese accent to save their lives, but Nelson’s halfway-servicable accent was somehow worse.  There’s almost no way to describe how terrible it was! 

In contrast, the American dialogue, particularly that of one of the scientists, was probably the best part of the movie.  The emphasis on certain words was completely unnatural, and the words themselves were completely out of place!  Still it made my dad and I laugh every time one of these odd lines were just thrown into the background, simply for the heck of it!  “I wonder…a blood-sucking plant!”  Still gets me every time.

As I said before, the plot was your typical monster movie story. Though there were certainly exciting moments, with outstanding effects to complement them, I still found myself bored at times.  The story isn’t bad, and certainly isn’t weak, but I still find it lacking in a way that you can’t simply add something to fix.  You would need to re-write the story rather than add something to it to make it better.  The movie is a very specific genre, and I’m starting to get bored of that genre, so adding a twist or different plot all together would likely really help make it interesting.  I knew what I was getting into from the start, and how it was going to end.  I think the movie would’ve been better if it was just a little less predictable at least.

Overall I’d say this movie was solid, if unsurprising.  Similar to Gorgo, it did exactly what it was trying to do: be a disaster monster movie.  Clever characters as well as hyper realistic special effects and an adorable giant moth managed to keep me watching, despite the mediocre story and bad acting that made me (for lack of a better word) cringe at times, really tied it all together.  With all of these factors in mind, I’d give this movie a solid 3 out of 5 stars.

Now rather than me signing off, I’ll I have my father do the footer for a change!  Here are his thoughts on Mothra:


by Gideon Marcus

I don’t have much to add to Lorelei’s excellent report.  A few things elevated this movie above Gorgo for me, despite having a similar plot.  Firstly, I appreciated that the movie’s protagonist, “Zen-Chan” the journalist, was atypical.  A chubby, comedic type, his performance might have simply been played for laughs.  Instead, we got a competent, plucky fellow to root for.  Similarly, his colleague, the photographer Michi Hanamura, was not a love interest or an appendage.  Rather, she was a strong character with agency. 

The production values were exceptional, easily the match of a high budget American production like Journey to the Center of the Earth.  In particular, the aerial scenes when the beautifully organic Mothra larvae wriggles across the Japanese countryside are just exquisite.  The scenes with the little Mothra maidens were well done and as convincing as the miniature scenes in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad

So all in all, I think this was a better movie than Gorgo and thus deserves a higher score.  Three and a half stars from me.

4 thoughts on “[November 16, 1961] Made in Japan (Mothra)”

  1. Thank you both very much for sharing. It sounds a better monster movie than can be reasonably hoped for.  Zen-Chan and Hanamura sound better acting than we get in more pretentious pieces. And Mothra sounds a lovely monster. Does anyone ever ride her as in the Dr Doolittle books?  And there’s the Mothra maidens, too.

  2. I saw this at the theater when it came out. I must’ve been 10 or 11 Don’t remember much except the two girls chanting “Mothra,” which I can still hear in my head.

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