"Mothra vs Godzilla" (aka "Godzilla vs Mothra") [60th anniversary!] (1964)

by Joseph Perry and Mike Imboden

In our “The Good, the Bad, and the Verdict” film reviews, Joseph and Mike give their thoughts on a slice of cinema. For this installment, it’s the classic daikaiju flick Mothra vs Godzilla, in honor of its 60th anniversary which was April 29th.

Mothra's egg washes ashore and is claimed by greedy entrepreneurs who refuse to return it to her fairies. As Godzilla arises near Nagoya, the people of Infant Island must decide if they are willing to answer Japan's own pleas for help.

The Good
Joseph: Everyone has “their” Godzilla movie, and this one is mine. I was no older than four when I saw this — titled as Godzilla vs. The Thing — on KCRA TV’s (Channel 3, from Sacramento, California) CPM Theater science fiction/horror movie block on a Saturday afternoon starting at 2:30. It was my first Godzilla movie, and I vividly remember feeling sorry for The Big Fella when the larvae covered him with webbing and he fell into the sea. Little did I know at the time that he would be back! For the reason alone of introducing me to Godzilla and his world, I have had a lifelong love for Mothra vs. Godzilla. Other reasons to enjoy it are its bridging the gap between children and adult viewers, and its valiant attempts at stressing the importance of mankind working together — and boo to business exploitation over nature! The actors are quite good, with a minimum of requisite corny characters and comedy relief (Eggs, anyone?). The new creature suit for Godzilla is one of my favorites, including his villainous stare. The monster fights are great, and the effect of playing with film speed to the point that it appears to be stop motion at times is a blast. This is just my read of the scene, but I like how Godzilla “accidentally slips” to initiate destructive havoc on Nagoya Castle before this angers him and he tears into it. Hey, he isn’t all bad! And who doesn’t love The Peanuts as the Mothra twins?

Mike: This film goes beyond a simple monster brawl like we got in King Kong vs Godzilla. Mothra acts as a protector of nature, sending the twin fairies to plead with humanity. This environmental message resonates even today, while the human characters, greedy businessmen and a brave reporter, add depth to the narrative.
Mothra vs Godzilla boasts some of the best suitmation seen in the Godzilla films. Godzilla's design is particularly cool, improved - in my opinion - with a more streamlined look. Mothra is a unique and visually stunning addition to the growing Toho kaiju roster.
While the special effects are charmingly dated by today's standards, they hold up incredibly well. The destruction caused by the kaiju is thrilling, and the fight scenes between Godzilla and Mothra are creative and exciting.
For the most part, Mothra vs. Godzilla strikes a balance between lighthearted fun and a more serious exploration of human greed This balance makes it an enjoyable film for both casual and die-hard Godzilla fans.

The Bad
Joseph: The villains are just this side of mustache-twirling caricatures, and the sudden introduction of children and their teacher in peril is a bit convenient. Also, in the dubbed AIP version, characters refers to Mothra as “The Thing” a few times even after we have established her name, which is odd. That’s about it for my quibbles with this film. 

Mike: While Mothra vs. Godzilla is a popular entry in the franchise, it's not without weaknesses. Some viewers may find the human plotlines lacking with the bickering businessmen exploiting Mothra's egg feeling cartoonish and distracting from the monster action. 
There are special effects limitations to consider. While impressive for the time, as mentioned above, the miniature destruction sets can look a bit dated.  Some viewers might also find the film's message a bit heavy-handed - the pro-environmental themes and pleas for humanity to unite are clear, but for some, it overshadows the monster mayhem.
However, it's important to remember the film's context.  Mothra vs. Godzilla helped to cement the monster-on-monster battles that became a series hallmark. It also introduced Mothra (a kaiju with a unique mythology) to the world of Godzilla. So, while some aspects haven't aged perfectly, the film's significance and entertainment value shouldn't be discounted.

The Verdict
Joseph: You have probably assumed by now that I love this movie — and you would be right! Bad-guy Godzilla kicks major butt until he is thwarted by the larvae, and he looks great doing it. Established Toho kaiju movie aficionados will already have their favorites to recommend as well as their opinions about this feature, but for me, Mothra vs. Godzilla makes a fine recommendation as one of the better sequels to watch after newbies view the 1954 original.

Mike: Mothra vs Godzilla introduces Mothra to the world of Godzilla, a majestic moth (first introduced in 1961’s Mothra) who becomes Godzilla's heroic antithesis. Mothra's design is impressive, and the Shobijin add a unique mythological layer to Mothra's background. Godzilla, on the other hand, is a force of nature, a destructive power awakened by human greed. It's a return to the monster's original atomic anxieties, which may be a welcome change from the previous film to some viewers
The human story, while simple, is engaging - exploring themes of environmentalism and responsibility in the conflict between profit-hungry businessmen and those who seek to protect Mothra.  However, the film can drag at times, particularly when the focus shifts between Mothra's journey and the human characters with the pacing suffering slightly.
Mothra vs. Godzilla is a classic for a reason.  It features a compelling monster clash, interesting human characters, and explores relevant themes.
Add in impressive special effects and Godzilla's new look which is considered by many to be one of the best of the earlier movies.  While some elements haven't aged perfectly, the film's charm and entertainment value remain undeniable.

Mothra vs Godzilla
, from Toho, is available both physically and streaming services (see below)

Mothra vs Godzilla
Directed By: Ishirô Honda
Written By: Shin'ichi Sekizawa
Starring: Akira Takarada, Yuriko Hoshi, Hiroshi Koizumi
Run Time: 1h 29m
Rating: NR
Release Date:  April 29, 1964 (Japan), August 26, 1964 (United States)