Blu-ray Review: Mothra | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, November 14th, 2019  


Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment

Aug 07, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Mothra is very, very weird; even for most Japanese giant monster movies, this is an incredibly odd film in almost every facet. Kickstarting the career of Toho Studios’ most popular kaiju after Godzilla, who would go on to appear in seven Godzilla sequels and eventually its own trilogy in the 1990s, Mothra is a character that is so well-recognized that people who’ve never seen any of its films can easily pick it out of any monstrous lineup. This 1961 science-fiction film is equal parts shark-jumping fantasy, and classic cinematic melodrama, which doesn’t always work well together, but its light-hearted tone and hopeful conclusion makes this a wild and satisfying romp nevertheless.

After receiving disturbing reports of human life on Infant Island, a remote site of atomic bomb tests, an international expedition is underway. Soon the team discovers that the radiated island is home to a native tribe of humans, as well as a pair of tiny fairies, all who guard the land from outsiders. However, the corrupt expedition leader kidnaps the fairies and enslaves them in a stage show, forcing them to perform for jeering Tokyo crowds. While several members of the expedition team seek to return the fairies to their island, their performances soon summon their eldritch protector, Mothra. After Mothra hatches, it races towards Japan to destroy everything that keeps the fairies from their home, with modern weapons seemingly causing no evident damage.

Screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa has been quoted saying that Mothra was designed to be “a Japanese version of King Kong” with a far nicer ending, and that is exactly what we-ve gotten - sorta. While it follows many of the same beats as the 1933 giant ape movie, this film manages to be even more fantastical and bizarre than its inspiration. The acting is a mesh between extremely serious to scene-chewing hamminess, and nothing prepares the audience for the vast tonal shifts that pepper the narrative. The special effects work is thoroughly impressive for the early 1960s, and actually stands above many of the other kaiju movies of the time for its effectiveness (though by today’s standards, we can easily discern what is a glorified on-screen toy and what’s real).

Mothra was first released in Japan in 1961 by Toho, with a shorter version edited by Ishiro Honda distributed in 1974, and again in 1982 as part of the distributor’s 50th anniversary celebrations. It was released in the United States by Columbia Pictures with an entire English redub produced by Titra Studios in 1962. While home releases have been more ubiquitous in Japan as the years have trickled on, the film has remained largely unsupported stateside until the past decade. Having been previously shipped to DVD, Mill Creek Entertainment’s release is the first time that the feature has been put on Blu-ray. Including both Japanese and English dubbed versions, the film’s trailer, and a production photo gallery, the film also boasts a new audio commentary track by sci-fi historians Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski (which is basically highly educated fanboying and it’s thoroughly entertaining).

Though the English language dub is far too comical and boisterous, and literaly makes some of its principle cast downright stupid, it’s not nearly as engrossing and empathetic as the original cast, so I highly recommend for first-tme viewers to choose the native language first. Enclosed within a customized steelbook case and a decaled outer plastic sleeve, this is one of the most stylish and competently constructed releases put out by Mill Creek in some time, and it actually is worth the listed price for any fans and devotees of the Japanese kaiju subgenre. While not as monumental as Godzilla or some of its other kaiju siblings, Mothra remains just as entertaining as it was, and this release makes the old appeal glint brightly for newer generations.


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