Mothra (1961)

mothra poster 1961 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 8/10

Fun visuals, different type of big monster movie

Still a Japanese monster movie so it might not be for everyone

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Mothra

Studio:  Toho

Genre(s):  Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror

Release Date(s):  July 30, 1961

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

mothra shobijin peanuts yumi ito emi ito

Mothra! Come and destroy all these a-holes that kidnapped us and who are watching us sing!

When shipwrecked survivors are found on a former nuclear testing site called Infant Island, their tales of natives living on the island leads to a scientific expedition between the Rolisicans and the Japanese.  The scientists, explorers, and reporters discover a culture that worships two small women they nickname the Shobijin (Yumi Ito and Emi Ito).  When a Rolisican industrialist named Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito) kidnaps the Shobijin to exhibit in a show, the natives of Infant Island summon their god Mothra to reclaim the Shobijin.  Mothra will stop at nothing to get the Shobijin back and a reporter named Zen’ichirō Fukuda (Frankie Sakai) and an anthropologist named Shin’ichi Chūjō (Hiroshi Koizumi) must find a way to end Mothra’s deadly rampage without causing an international incident.

Directed by Ishirō Honda, Mothra (モスラ or Mosura) is a Japanese kaiju picture.  The film was based on the 1961 Weekly Asahi serialized story The Glowing Fairies and Mothra by Shin’ichirō Nakamura, Takehiko Fukunaga, and Yoshie Hotta.  It was released in 1961 in Japan with a dubbed (and shorter) version released in 1962 in the United States.

mothra cast

Hey…we’re not all dicks! Call off your giant moth!

Mothra was like a legend growing up.  I’d see Mothra show up in Godzilla movies and join Godzilla in battle, but the stand-alone Mothra movie never seemed to play.  I didn’t get to see it until years later when someone dubbed it from TV for me.  With the resurgence in interest in Godzilla, Mothra is a bit more readily available…and that is a good thing.

The movie feels a bit different than typical Godzilla films.  With the kidnapped Shobijin as the real focus, it feels a bit more like King Kong than Godzilla (even when Mothra rampages).  The film is also largely not judgmental toward Mothra.  Godzilla in his early appearances was painted as the villain.  Throughout this movie, Clark Nelson is the villain and a thinly veiled United States-Russia country of Rolisica who allows him to enslave the Shobijin for way too long…leading to an odd anti-capitalism anti-American feel to the movie (though the people of Rolisica are portrayed as innocent).

Generally Godzilla movies have a rather robust cast of humans that you don’t care about, and Mothra does a slightly better job of at least giving the humans more direction.  You have the Japanese that are trying to aid the Shobijin, of course a kid you helping, and you have evil characters that actually are a bit more developed even if they are one dimensional (and get to have maniacal laughter).  My favorite (and the breakout stars of the film) are of course Yumi Ito and Emi Ito who performed as the Peanuts whose careers had been rising in success before Mothra was released.

mothra airport landing kaiju

It was so much fun having Mothra visit…I hope Mothra comes back soon and destroys more of humanity!

Mothra is pretty visually compelling.  The design of creature allows for it to look a bit more natural than Godzilla since a giant moth isn’t a guy in a suit (but a flapping birdlike model).  In this film and many of Mothra’s appearances, the kaiju spends a lot of time as a caterpillar which also looks rather good.  Of course the Chroma key appearances of the Shobijin are dated, but they are still fun blends of set pieces and special effects.  I also like New Kirk City which is remarkably similar to New York City (and further cementing the idea that Rolisica is the United States…which was actually a request by Columbia Pictures to help marketing for the US run).

Mothra is a fun movie with a fun monster.   If you like Godzilla, you’ll definitely like Mothra which feels less humorous than later Godzilla Toho films.  The kaiju picked up steam once the character started appearing in Godzilla films and still “lives” today.  The big friendly moth returned in Mothra vs. Godzilla in 1964 and subsequent sequels and later had a trilogy of solo films beginning in 1996.


Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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