Friday, June 19, 2015

June Bugs 2015: Rebirth of Mothra (1996)

In the impressive pantheon of Godzilla's friends and foes, there is no more controversial a kaiju than Mothra. If there's a holy trinity of Toho kaiju that everyone outside the kaiju fandom knows and even loves, it's Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan. Like Rodan, Mothra made her debut in her own solo film and then crossed over into the Godzilla series. She's also easily the monster that has appeared the most in the series. Not counting stock footage (or related characters like Fairy Mothra), she has appeared in eight of the 30 Godzilla films to date. Compare that to Rodan's five and King Ghidorah's six (some people count Keizer Ghidorah in Godzilla: Final Wars as a seventh appearance, but that's stupid because it's a totally separate character--it's like considering Battra the same thing as Mothra). She's also been announced to feature in the sequel to Godzilla due in 2018, along with those slackers Rodan and King Ghidorah.

Also, unlike Rodan, she was actually deemed popular enough to get another shot at solo films in the 1990s. We'll get to that shortly, of course, but you may notice I said she was the most controversial kaiju. That's because a huge percentage of Godzilla fans hate Mothra.

I do mean hate, too. Many of them positively loathe Mothra. This is despite the fact that Mothra has been a part of many of the best entries in the series, and the original Mothra is also a classic in its own right. So why is Mothra so reviled?

Well, there are two main reasons*, in my opinion--and both are pretty silly in different ways. The biggest reason, and the reason I went from loving Mothra as a kid to hating her from my teen years to my mid-twenties, is because Mothra is the only monster to consistently defeat Godzilla. This is a bit like Batman beating the crap out of Superman, but the point of these confrontations is almost entirely about how Mothra manages to beat incredible odds to defeat Godzilla and save the day.

Because unlike the upcoming legal drama Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, if Mothra is fighting Godzilla it's because Godzilla is the bad guy.

The other reason is a bit more insidious because I'm pretty sure most people who hate Mothra for this reason aren't actually aware that they're doing it--plain and simple sexism. See, Mothra is one of the few explicitly female kaiju in canon. You may think I'm just being a Social Justice Warrior (why thank you), since after all almost nobody hates on Biollante, Megaguirus, Jiger, or Otachi just because they're explicitly female. There's a few key differences, though.

For starters, Mothra is like a Lisa Frank trapper keeper turned into a kaiju. She is the most traditionally "feminine" of kaiju--yes, even more than Biollante who is a giant flower--and she's also easily the most popular kaiju among women. I don't think this means that every Mothra hater is knowingly hostile to the creature because women dare to love her, but it's not like the geek/nerd community is well-known for being welcoming to women.

[* Some would argue it's because the concept of Mothra is "silly." To which I reply that if you can accept "giant electrified gorilla," "three-headed space dragon that spits lightning", and "humanoid robot programmed with punch cards that can teach itself how to increase in size" but draw the line at "giant insect goddess," then I am concerned about your suspension of disbelief]

Now, those reasons for disliking Mothra are silly. However, I have to say if your first exposure to the character was the 1990s Rebirth of Mothra trilogy, which starts off with today's film, then I would understand. See, someone decided that a new Mothra spin-off should be "for kids."

You are absolutely right to cringe.

Now that I'm a father, I'm steeling myself for the karmic retribution I'm about to receive for all those awful kids' movies I convinced my parents to watch with me. And that's just for the movies I thought were good, not the ones that came after I embraced the wonders of terrrible cinema. The simple fact of the matter is that, in virtually every film industry in the world, making a movie "for kids" usually means that nobody cares if it's terrible. It means lazy writing, lazy directing, terrible jokes, and bad acting--especially because it's assumed that kids only want to see other kids, and not every child actor can be Quvenzhané Wallis at six years old.

So, well before I ever saw any of them--and beyond my reticence, there was the fact that it took years for them even to be available in the US--I knew the 1990s Mothra trilogy by reputation. It was not a good reputation. Still, they were kaiju movies and I love kaiju movies, even when they're terrible. What's more, there's one thing that virtually all movies aimed at kids in the last 40 years have in common--and that's the desire to sell kids toys. Toys need inspiration, and in the case of a monster movie that means more and cooler monsters. And whatever else I could say about these films, they had cool monsters--and Mothra even obligingly found multiple forms to transform into in order to provide more.

Yes, okay, I am forever sad that I do not have an "Aqua Mothra" figure on my shelf.
Yeah, a more intelligent person might conclude that I should just stick to the toys. After all, while I've never seen a kaiju film that is as dishonest with its toy as the average Hollywood film--just look at freaking Dragonheart--there's no question that you can appreciate any awesomeness inherent in the monsters in toy form without sitting through the painful film around them. Still, I felt I had to give the films a chance, and even after I'd seen the first two, I bought the recent Blu-ray of the trilogy because I wanted to see them all and fairly evaluate them.

So exactly how masochistic was that decision, you ask? Well...

The film opens with a fully grown Mothra perched in what we can assume is her temple on an island. I'm gonna call it Infant Island, per Mothra tradition, but I don't believe it gets a name in the movie. Mothra begins summoning some glowy particles that converge in front of her and suddenly form--an egg. Yes, apparently Mothra eggs aren't laid, they are called into being. It's a bit ridiculous, but then it's always been a bit hard to believe that Mothra laid the eggs in previous films that were as big as she was--though the Showa films oddly explain this by suggesting that the eggs grew, which is equally ridiculous.

I'm gonna pause for a moment to answer a question thrown around about this trilogy a lot: Are these films following the continuity of Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth? The answer is pretty clearly, "No," and you'll see why as we go on.

Anyway, I hope you like that Mothra has been established as a thing that exists, because that's the last you'll be seeing of her for about 40 minutes. (Mothra is a cameo in her own movie!) The movie now shifts to introducing its main characters, the Goto family. Mr. Yuichi Goto (Kenjiro Nashimoto) is a foreman for a logging company clearing forest in Hokkaido and is struggling with his bosses breathing down his neck for more production, environmentalists stalling production, and that bane of working parents everywhere--the "you spend too much time working instead of with your children" guilt trip call from his wife, Mrs. Makiko Goto (Hitomi Takahashi).

Yes, that's right. It's one of the most annoying, and classist, of Hollywood tropes--the idea that working hard to make sure your family is take care of makes you a bad parent. It's not any less egregious in Japanese films, and the fact that Mrs. Goto appears to be a stay-at-home mother makes it even worse, somehow.

Anyway, the guilt trip about the fact that he's working instead of spending time with his son, Taiki (Kazuki Futami), and daughter, Wakaba (Maya Fujisawa) is interrupted by a commotion at the dig site. One of the bulldozers has uncovered what looks to be an ancient artifact of some long-lost civilization, like a small platform or stone table. Mr. Goto notices that there's a fancy seal on the object and pries it loose with a screwdriver, intending to take it home as a gift for Wakaba. Like reading the Latin in a creepy notebook, this is a bad idea.

Removing the seal sends out a disturbance in The Force that gets the attention of the Elias sisters: the benevolent Mona (Megumi Kobayashi) and Lora (Sayaka Yamaguchi) are horrified, while the wicked Belvera (Aki Hano) is delighted. And of course we know she's wicked, because she dresses all in black. Of course, Belvera also rides around an adorable little dragon called Garu-Garu (or "Gagaru" in the dub) while her good sisters ride around on Fairy, a tiny version of Mothra.

I dunno about you, but if I'd seen this as a kid I'd be rooting for Belvera. Dragons are awesome.

Yes she wants to doom the world, but dragon!
You may have noticed that Mothra's fairies are way different in this film than in any previous or, for that matter, any to follow. The fact that they're now called the Elias isn't all that weird, but they've never had individual names before. As you might expect, this also means they behave a bit differently. They don't speak their lines at the same time, nor do they seem to think in unison. Hell, they don't even seem to be twins--by which I mean they aren't pretending to be, since after Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster it's been pretty clear that none of the actresses hired were twins.

Anyway, Mr. Goto brings the seal home and puts it on a chain to give to Wakaba, after he and Mrs. Goto have a clearly recurrent argument during which we learn how much Mrs. Goto prizes her display of plates and china. Mona and Lora take Fairy to the site of where the seal used to be. Mona is horrified that the seal has been removed, while Lora suggests with extreme revulsion that it must have been humans that removed it. They're alarmed because Belvera may already be trying to find a way to free the creature locked away by the seal and place it under her control.

She is, and she's way ahead of her sisters because she's already tracked down the seal to Wakaba's bedroom. In a bit that shamelessly rips off Close Encounters of The Third Kind, Belvera flying through wakaba's room brings all her electronic toys to life, glowing and bouncing around before Wakaba wakes up and greets her visitor. We aren't privy to what happens next, but in the morning it turns out that Wakaba has been granted telekinetic powers (!) and uses them to torment her older brother as payback for him being mean to her earlier. And I mean she throws him all around the room, drags him across shelves, and causes all kinds of havoc. Their parents don't notice any of this, somehow.

Mr. Goto, however, does notice the report on the news about how his company has been hiding their discovery of a priceless relic and has plans to to blow it up. Not about to stand for such an...honest portrayal of his company, Mr. Goto rushes off to fly back to Hokkaido, (Do not go to Hokkaido!) Mrs. Goto is too caught up in worrying about that to notice her terrified son rushing out the door for school. Later, when some of his school chums see Taiki cowering and he explains he's waiting for his sister, they laugh at him and call him a sissy.

Of course, Taiki has good reason to be afraid. When he gets home he spies his sister inside their house watching TV and eating loads of sweets--and then Belvera appears behind him, riding on Garu-Garu. She asks him if he hates his sister as much as she hates hers, while gloating about having wakaba under her control. Belvera then tells him to take a look at who's behind him now: a large German Shepherd or similar breed. The dog chases the terrified Taiki up a tree. This scene is oddly played for a certain amount of comedy, when it should be terrifying--though maybe the decision was made to play it as silly because the dog refused to look menacing for a moment. It's all lolling tongue and wagging tail the whole time, despite what the sound effects try to tell you.

Well, inside the house we see that Mrs. Goto has been tied up with power cords and gagged. Belvera attempts to help herself to a can of beer by stading on it and yanking the pull tab, which results in her getting a geyser of foam to the face. (This is a really awkward effect, but I can appreciate what they were trying for) Belvera then notices a report about the artifact in Hokkaido on the TV, which Garu-Garu decides to hover in front of--to Belvera's great annoyance.

Luckily for Taiki, the good Elias sisters show up and drive the dog away. Of course, given he was just almost killed by a tiny woman on a flying steed, Taiki's reaction to being greeted by two tiny women on a flying steed is to tumble out of the tree. The Elias use their telekinesis to save him from a concussion, though. They also agree to help him free his mom and save his sister from Belvera's mind control.

Combat strategy is not Mona and Lora's forte, however. Like me playing a video game, they just fly Fairy Mothra straight through an unopened window and begin wildly firing laser blasts from her antennae at Belvera. Belvera responds by hopping on Garu-Garu and returning fire with laser blasts from his mouth. Taiki dodges stray laser blasts and unties his mother, who is left to scream in horror as her precious...everything is destroyed by a bunch of asshole fairies. Goodbye plates, china, piano, and refrigerator. I think the TV is only spared because they need it for plot purposes.

Belvera turns the tide by snatching the seal away from Wakaba, who is basically catatonic through all this. Turns out the seal does more than keep ancient evil kaiju imprisoned, it also reflects laser blasts while magnifying their intensity. Garu-Garu finally gets a lucky shot in and strikes Fairy, causing the moth to shake Mona and Lora loose before crashing onto the floor. For some reason, Fairy's eyes go dark before she shrivels up like a dollar bill that went through the dryer. This doesn't kill Fairy, but it renders her useless as a steed. Taiki bravely tries to catch Belvera in a butterfly net, but Garu-Garu is a strong little bastard and nearly carries Taiki off, even with Mrs. Goto holding him by the leg.

Taiki loses his grip and Belvera escapes by breaking another window. Regrouping, Mona and Lora see the TV report and realize that Belvera is heading for Hokkaido. She wants to wake up the creature locked away there, the extraterrestrial monster that was locked away 65 million years ago after killing off all the dinosaurs. The fiend known as...

Okay, so normally I go by the official English spellings of Godzilla monsters' names that Toho has standardized since the mid-1990s, even if they don't match how I learned them. I say Anguirus instead of "Angilas", for instance. But I refuse to go by the official name for this creature because it's dumb. When I first heard of this movie, everyone was in love with the awesome villain kaiju known as Death Ghidorah. Why wouldn't you be? Well, because if you listen to the dub or the official spelling, the creature is Desghidorah.

You know what makes that extra dumb? "Des" is what you get when a language that does not have a "th" sound borrows the English word "death." So when you hear "Desghidorah" in Japanese, it's because it's supposed to be "Death Ghidorah." So I am calling it Death Ghidorah.

Well, hearing how awful Death Ghidorah is convinces Mrs. Goto that the family needs to book a flight to go see Mr. Goto at once. Mona and Lora are disguised as dolls for Wakaba on the flight, while the emaciated Fairy is passed off as a plush toy. (The latter is obviously a far more convincing "disguise") Unfortunately, Belvera has beaten our heroes to Hokkaido and wastes no time at all in putting the mind control whammy on Mr. Goto. At her bidding, he drives a bulldozer covered with dynamite up to the spot where the seal was found.

The rest of the Goto family arrives in time to see him fall out of the bulldozer just before it reaches its destination and Belvera blasts the dynamite. A massive explosion follows and the mountain bursts open. From the swirling flames and smoke emerges Death Ghidorah--and he is, indeed, as awesome as that sounds. Basically, if you made King Ghidorah into a quadruped, you'd have Death Ghidorah. And unlike the later Keizer Ghidorah, the effect actually works because it's not two guys doing the "horse" routine in a suit that looks like it was built ten minutes before filming.

Don't worry, we have a giant moth to protect us from this unstoppable avatar of death!
Death Ghidorah's heads spew red lightning bolts, but his center head breathes fire. This is a nice touch since there really hadn't been a kaiju with a flamethrower installed in its suit since Gamera's first (forced) retirement in 1980. And when Gamera came back in 1995, he spat fireballs instead of breathing fire. Speaking of Gamera, the one issue I have with Death Ghidorah is that his roar seems to be derived from the same elephant sound effects that gave Gamera his roar and it doesn't really fit the creature.

Mrs. Goto and the kids get separated as they try to find Mr. Goto. The Elias manage to get the seal back, thanks to Belvera's clumsiness, which they use to revive Fairy. The kids worry that Death Ghidorah will kill them, but the Elias advise it doesn't work that way. Death Ghidorah feeds on life and humans don't live long enough to really satisfy it: it's going to start with the trees around it that live for hundreds of years. I have to say that is a neat idea.

Well, Mona and Lora try to guide the Gotos back towards each other--and in an actually amusing bit, Mr. Goto is completely baffled by his wife casually talking to two tiny women on a moth like they're old friends--but Death Ghidorah's escape has begun to alter the forest around him, including forcing Taiki and Wakaba to flee from lava with zero explanation. While the kids could definitely use some more fairy help, the Elias are busy trying to figure out what the hell to do about the unstoppable ancient evil that is preparing to wipe out all life on Earth.

Amazingly, despite the fact that it was the first thought of everyone watching this, Mona suggests they call Mothra. Lora, meanwhile, is horrified at this suggestion. Mona points out that Death Ghidorah was originally defeated by Mothra, but Lora counters that that was back when there were many Mothras--now there's only one and she is near the end of her life and weakened from laying her egg. (Though one would imagine simply conjuring your offspring into being, rather than having to push them out of your body, would dramatically increase your recovery time)

Mona is adamant that they have no choice, so it's time for the inevitable part of virtually every film featuring Mothra, and the part that every Godzilla fan either loves or dreads--The Mothra Song. I'm very much in the former camp...usually. Unfortunately, the makers of this trilogy decided it was time to fix what wasn't broken. It's not that they rearranged the song and gave it a bizarre Calypso feel, that isn't all that weird. No, it's that when they go to sing the song to summon Mothra, the film throws out a flurry of terrible digital and rear projection effects that look like the Elias wandered into a karaoke bar.
This is not a bizarre production still, it's an actual screenshot.
Well, Mothra oblingingly flies to Hokkaido to take on Death Ghidorah as the creature continues its rampage through the forests.  Oddly, at no point does the JSDF ever get involved in trying to stop the monster, so I guess the filmmakers correctly assumed we would just accept that Mothra is the world's only hope. Belvera is shocked to see Mothra, which doesn't make much sense--did she think Mothra wouldn't show up to protect her planet? Belvera, who seems to think she has control of Death Ghidorah despite that not appearing to be the case at all, yells to the creature that Mothra is old and weak and will be easy to defeat. Of course, even with all the antennae lasers, energy scales, and lightning blasts from her wings, Belvera is correct--Mothra is hopelessly out-classed by her foe.

To Mona and Lora's alarm, the baby Mothra senses her mother's brutal beatdown and hatches early to swim to Hokkaido. To make things a little less confusing, I'm going to call this baby Mothra by her official name (which is not actually used in the films), Mothra Leo. Side note: as someone whose favorite form of Mothra is her larval form, it's extra disappointing that Leo will only spend a portion of this first film in her larval form. Though, at least we actually get to see her larval form in this film for more than five seconds, unlike Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. (I'll have even more harsh words for that film whenever I evetually decide I want to get a lot of Godzilla fan hate mail)

As they flee from lava, Taiki and Wakaba are menaced by Belvera who tries to grab back the seal from them. Luckily, the fallen Mothra is sitting nearby and she uses energy tentacles to knock the seal from Belvera's grasp. Belvera, not wanting to find out what happens if Mothra decides to do something harsher, flees. Wakaba suggests that Taiki use the seal to give energy to Mothra like the Elias did for Fairy. Surprisingly, it works, and Mothra returns to the air as Leo arrives.

"We have to fight that thing? Is it too late to negotiate a truce, mom?"
Now, the previous incarnation of Mothra's larval form in the Heisei series had corrosive silk--or at least it burned Godzilla slightly before thoroughly pissing him off--but was otherwise still the classic "giant caterpillar." Leo, on the other hand, has silk that glows and flashes like a silly string rave and has a move where she rears up and fires an energy blast from her belly. You'd think the combined attack of Leo and her mother would then turn the tide, but not so much. Especially since Death Ghidorah listens to Belvera's advice and turns his attack toward Leo and pins the poor larva beneath his foot. Then, in a moment that reminds you that the Japanese have some very different ideas about what is acceptable for kids, Death Ghidorah lifts Leo up in two of his mouths as she gushes yellow blood from her wounds.

Luckily, Mothra intervenes before Leo can be torn in two and the worm uses another of her abilities--a cloaking device that turns her into a transparent outline. The film claims it's "camouflage" but we're talking Predator-style, not anything you'd see in nature.Unfortunately, when Death Ghidorah uses his flame breath to set the forest ablaze it renders that disguise useless. Mr. Goto, meanwhile, rescues his children from the ledge they're trapped on even as his feet catch fire.

Mothra and Leo are losing badly when they finally lure Death Ghidorah over to a dam. A stray lightning blast from their foe destroys the dam and Mothra carries Leo to safety as the wall of water sends Death Ghidorah tumbling ass over teakettle. Unfortunately, once they're out to sea Mothra rapidly loses altitude until mother and daughter crash into the ocean. Leo tries to lift her floundering mother up, but it's no use. As Leo, the Elias, and the Gotos watch mournfully, Mothra sinks beneath the waves and disappears into the murky depths of the Pacific Ocean.

It's the first time adult Mothra and baby Mothra have ever seen each other face-to-face before the adult dies, and while the sequence doesn't tug at the heart strings as much as it wants to, I will give credit to the scene for trying.

Leo swims away in front of the setting sun, before making landfall on a heavily wooded island. Meanwhile, the Gotos make their way to the nearest hospital. At the hospital they watch a news report. While talking about the effects of Death Ghidorah, the newscasters announce that Leo has been sighted on Yaku Island, which is known for its trees that are thousands of years old. Then we see the obnoxious reporter from earlier is also at the hospital, talking on his clunky 1990s cell phone about how it's become hard to breathe in the area thanks to Death Ghidorah's movements. When a nurse tries to get him off the phone because it's against regulations, it starts a scuffle that ends with a doctor confiscating the phone like the reporter is a naughty student. The reporter then recongnizes Mr. Goto and tries to attack him for letting the monster loose, but Mrs. Goto and another doctor pry him off. Taiki shames the guy into stopping his whining about, "We're all going to die," by telling him Mothra is going to save them.

Another news report then comes on that shows that Japanese newscasters are precogs as they announce that Death Ghidorah has taken to the skies. We then cut to Death Ghidorah sprouting wings via an energy blast (does any creature in this trilogy not require a needless animated effect to do anything?!) before taking flight in the typical Heisei Toho kaiju glide to blast more forests with his lightning bolts.

Leo spins herself a glowy, glittery coccoon around an ancient tree in order to gain energy from it. Her silk crackles with lightning as Mona and Lora sing her a motivating song (that's original  to the film, as I've never heard it before this film) as Fairy and some very confused monkeys look on. The coccoon glows and pulsates creepily, before disgorging millions of glowing moths that coalesce into the adult Leo, which is defintely the fuzziest, cuddliest Mothra ever designed.

The poodle moth looks like the Alien by comparison.
She immediately takes off for Hokkaido, with Fairy in pursuit. Mona and Lora are giddy because Leo is even faster than her mother. When the Gotos see the news report, Mrs. Goto asks the question that most people are probably wondering--sure, it's big, but it's still just a moth, so what can it hope to do against Death Ghidorah? Taiki replies that more people are killed by bee stings each year than by snake bites (and given this is Japan, he might actually mean by hornet sting), so you shouldn't write off an insect. Well, that took a dark turn.

Anyway, Taiki and Wakaba stupidly run off to watch the battle as Leo arrives to confront Death Ghidorah in mid-air. Belvera has only a moment to realize her plans have gone in the crapper before her sisters are chasing around the flying combatants. Leo, improving on her mother's powers, now fires a massive laser beam from three tiny eyes on her "forehead" instead of her antennae. Somehow, one of these blasts hits Garu-Garu and rather than vaporizing the little dragon and its rider as you would expect, it just causes them to crash to the forest below.

And now we discover that Leo has unlocked God Mode. It gets to the point where you begin to feel bad for Death Ghidorah as this final battle consists mainly of him repeatedly exploding as Leo hits him with laser beams, wing lightning, and huge blasts of light that shoot up from the ground. There is never a moment when Leo is not winning, even when they collide in mid-air.

These two collide and it ends badly for the dragon.
Leo also whips out the ability to turn back into a swarm of tiny moths and uses that to make Death Ghidorah explode some more. Meanwile, we see that the downed Garu-Garu is actually a robot, with its mechanical guts hanging out. Belvera doesn't have time to mourn her robotic steed before Mona and Lora swoop in so Fairy can carry her off in her claws ahead of a massive fireball. Meanwile, Leo flies straight up into the air using energy flowing off her abdomen to seal Death Ghidorah away--which really just looks like she is blasting him to smithereens, but the sound effects insist he's still alive.

Mona and Lora call for Taiki to toss the seal to them, so he throws it into the air and some glowly stuff happens before a huge glowing Mothra symbol (the one that looks like a giant cross surrounded by sunlight) appears hovering above Death Ghidorah's tomb. The symbol descends to the ground, and the Elias gleefully tell the kids that Death Ghidorah has been sealed away again. Taiki turns his eyes to Belvera dangling from Fairy's claws and wonders what to do wih her. Belvera solves that dilemma by shaking herself free from Fairy's grip.

Taiki, wakaba, and the Elias give chase as Belvera runs over to a stump. She spits at the Elias that they're stupid to trust humans because humans are destroying the Earth. That might mean more if it wasn't coming from the mouth of the person who deliberately set a planet-destroying monster free. At any rate, she turns and disappears through a knot in the stump. When Taiki goes to grab her, Mona and Lora tell him to stop. They reveal now that Belvera is their older sister and they love her, even if she causes trouble from time to time. Yeah, trying to destroy the world, what a scamp!

Mrs. Goto then appears pushing Mr. Goto in a wheelchair (!) through the ruined forest. When Leo lands nearby, Mona and Lora tell Taiki and Wakaba that they can ride on her. Somehow, Mr. & Mrs. Goto are okay with this and next thing we know the kids are standing on Leo's head as she takes flight. Mr. & Mrs. Goto view the scorched wasteland all around them and talk about how it's going to take years and a lot of hard work to restore the land to its original beauty. They blame humanity for it being destroyed in a matter of minutes, even though humaity is not a three-headed dragon from space. Still, they're hopeful that future generations will learn from their mistakes and treat the environment with respect...

...and then Leo flies around using her glowy powers to restore all the trees and grass to exactly where they were before. Welp, so much for that moral. Somewhere in this film's America (or perhaps, Rolisica), a politician is arguing down climate change with, "Why do we need to worry about global warming? Mothra will just fix it for us!"

Also, man, the ancient Mothras were terrible at their jobs if they weren't able to stop Death Ghidorah from wiping out the dinosaurs and apparently couldn't just restore all plant life, when one Mothra was able to do it.

Leo lands so the Gotos can re-unite on a grassy hillside and then Leo, Fairy, and the Eias fly off into the blue sky as a crayon rainbow (?) is animated across the sky. The End.

"Ruin the planet again, I dare you!"
Once upon a time, in the dark days when the only way to get new Japanese monster movies was to get your hands on bootleg copies, most of the Heisei films were but legends on this new-fangled thing called "internet message boards." At that time, those chosen few who had actually seen the films could argue back and forth while the rest of us could only gather around in wide-eyed wonder. During this time of great hardship, I read an argument about the merits of Shusuke Kaneko's Gamera films.

One person, in flagrant disregard of the opinions of 99% of the kaiju fandom, did not enjoy the films. The reason he gave was that it was like playing toy soldiers with a kid who refuses to lose. You know, "You dropped an H-Bomb on me? Well, my soldiers are wearing nuke-proof armor!" After all, Gamera always pulls the stops out to win impossibly at the last minute, right?

Well, he's not wrong. However, I would counter that Hesiei Gamera has nothing on Heisei Mothra when it comes to winning by pulling the impossible victory of of your ass. In every movie in the trilogy, Mothra gains more and more ridiculous powers to the point that the films no longer provide the suspense of, "How can she win?" Instead, you can only watch the films and ask, "How can she lose?"

This, to me, is the big reason why these movies are just not very good. (With the exception of Rebirth of Mothra II, which is so out-and-out terrible that not even the awesomeness of Aqua Mothra can save it) It's not merely that they're made for kids, that they're unoriginal, or that the human characters are so annoying. That would be bad enough, but the biggest sin of these movies is that they don't get Mothra.

Like many people when they finally saw the Heisei Godzilla films, I loved that when Mothra emerged as an imago in Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth and confronted Godzilla and Battra in Yokohama, she suddenly has beam weapons. Looking back on it now, it's already kind of ridiculous, but even in that film it isn't overdone. Mothra still needs Battra's help to defeat Godzilla, after all.

Along comes these films, and as I said before Mothra starts off in God Mode and if that ends up not being enough she transforms into whatever is necessary to kill the other monster. Mothra was always technically a Goddess, but now she is an immortal, all-powerful entity that cannot be stopped.

That is not Mothra.

Mothra wins because she keeps fighting, even when she cannot win. She fights against monsters that can breath radioactive fire, spit lightning at her, blast her with laser beams, or slice her up with blades when all she has going for her are the powers of a giant moth. She wins because she never gives up. She wins because she uses strategy. Mothra overcomes utterly impossible odds to win and save the day.

Mothra Leo? She wins because she pounds the other monster with one punishing blow after another. Even Godzilla stumbles in the final fight. Even Godzilla doesn't spend the entire climactic fight winning. Of course we should want Mothra Leo to win. We saw what that three-headed bastard did to her mother. However, it's not very engaging if she spends the entire battle winning, now is it?

If David defeated Goliath by beating him to death with his bare hands, I'm not sure that the story would really have retained its relevance all these years.

All that aside, this film honestly isn't that bad. It's definitely not good, however, and it would be fine fodder for a group of friends to gather together and riff mercilessly. However, it's not quite as bad as its reputation would suggest.

For one thing, while its child actors are not very good they're still far from the obnoxious horrors that plagued the later Showa Gamera films like Gamera vs. Zigra. The Goto family, while mired in cliches that Hollywood loves, are actually fairly engaging. And Mona, Lora, and Belvera are actually a lot of fun: although as someone who used to be a kid who often had kind of a thing for the lady villains, I wish Belvera was given more to do.

The monsters, which are the real reason we're here, are also pretty good. The adult Mothras both look vaguely like parade floats come to life, but the larval Mothra is a step-up from the 1992 version (which is actually one of my favorites) and Death Ghidorah is awesome, even if his roar doesn't fit his character and his wings are a bit underwhelming.

The special effects, directed by the late Koichi Kawakita, are a mixed bag. The miniature sets are really good, even if the only building destroyed in the film is a dam, and there's overall a petty decent mixing of the Elias and Belvera with the regular-sized world--even if it's not as good as earlier films. The various beams and explosions look pretty great as well. However, there are also some truly abysmal green screen shots. Bert I. Gordon-style big, black outlines around the characters might actually look better.

All in all, the film will probably delight its target audience, which is good. Anyone over the age of about ten is probably going to be left somewhat wanting, but I've certainly seen worse. In the end this is just a rather middle of the road film. It's not painfully bad, nor is it exactly good--it straddles the line between the two, occasionally threatening to drift one way or the other but refusing to actually commit.

Like a moth that won't come out of its cocoon.

This is my second contribution to the June Bugs Roundtable. Check out the other entries below!

Checkpoint Telstar:
The Naked Jungle
The Deadly Mantis
Starship Troopers

Cinemasochist Apocalypse:
Caved In: Prehistoric Terror
Millennium Bug

Micro-Brewed Reviews:

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