Giant Monsters of 1961: Cinefantastique Roundtable Retrospective Podcast 3:16

Clockwise: Gorgo, Mothra, Konga, Reptilicus
Clockwise: Gorgo, Mothra, Konga, Reptilicus

Host Steve Biodrowski is joined by Steve Ryfle, Ted Newsom, and Mark Thomas McGee for a fond look back at box office behemoths GORGO, MOTHRA, KONGA, and REPTILICUS.

It was 50 years ago today! Er, well, 51 years ago. This Cinefantastique Roundtable Retrospective Podcast was originally recorded last year, as part of our 50th anniversary celebration of the horror, fantasy, and science fiction films of 1961. Unfortunately, sound problems forced a delay, but what’s a few months when it comes to resurrecting timeless classics such as GORGO and MOTHRA – or, in the case of KONGA and REPTILICUS, high-camp condemnation?
Five decades ago, giant movie monsters were an entirely different species from today’s computer-generated monstrosities: back then, prehistoric beasties and mythical monsters were brought to life with men-in-suits, marionettes, and miniatures. Yet, these out-dated techniques sometimes produced effective results, and as old-fashioned as these films are, they have bequeathed much to makers of modern mayhem currently plying their trade in Hollywood.
Most particularly, 1961 seems to have been a transitional year. After a decade of nuclear terror and mad science unleashing mutant monsters on the science fiction screen, GORGO and MOTHRA move toward fantasy, with the villains recast as greedy exploiters of nature’s mysteries, and with the incredible creatures earning a measure of overt sympathy that in some cases allows them, surprisingly, to survive past the closing credits.
That’s right: the monsters win! Listen in to a lively conversation from those who cheered this development in real time, and who now offer a fond reappraisal of what these films still have to offer receptive viewers.
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X-Mas Stocking Stuffers & Destroy All Monsters: CFQ Laserblast Podcast 2.49.2

destroy all monsters retouch
Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Just in time for Christmas, the Cinefantastique Laserblast crew – that would be Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski – offer up their recommendations for  DVDs and Blu-ray discs that would make perfect stocking stuffers for the horror, fantasy, and science fiction fan in your life. Suggestions range from the 1932 classic ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, now on Criterion Blu-ray disc, to the 1968 Japanese giant monster fest, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, out on Blu-ray from Media Blasters. As a special added bonus feature, this Laserblast podcast includes an interview with Steve Ryfle (author of JAPAN’S FAVORITE MON-STAR), who provided audio commentary for the DAM disc.
Merry Christmas, everyone! And truly, nothing says Christmas like Godzilla!

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R.I.P. Peter Fernandez (Speed Racer)

Peter Fernandez, best known as the voice of SPEED RACER and Racer X on the classic US-dubbed anime adventure show has passed away. He was 83. Fernandez
Fernandez’s voice work began on radio, heard on shows such as SUPERMAN and SUSPENSE, moving to on camera acting in the days of live television, on shows including CAPTAIN VIDEO AND HIS VIDEO RANGERS.
By the 1960’s, Peter Fernandez had moved into writing, directing and providing the voices for dubbed foreign-made films and cartoons.
The films included MOTHRA (1961), GODZILLA Vs. THE SEA MONSTER (1966), THE ANTI-CHRIST (1974), INFRA-MAN (1975) and many other movies from Italy and other European countries, often for the NY-based Titra dubbing studio. As these films often didn’t acknowledge being dubbed, it would be difficult to say for sure just how many he was involved with directly.
Sometimes, even American-made films such as George A. Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) made use of Fernandez’s services.
TV series, both animated and live action, that featured his writing, voice-directingspacegiants and/or acting included ASTRO BOY, GIGANTOR, MARINE BOY, THE SPACE GIANTS (pictured), ULTRAMAN, and STAR BLAZERS, on which he was the voice of navigator Mark Venture for one of the seasons.
Later work included THE ADVENTURES OF THE GALAXY RANGERS, THUNDERBIRDS 2086, ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE, SPEED RACER: THE NEXT GENERATION, and the often surreal COURAGE, THE COWARDLY DOG.
In the Wachowski brothers SPEED RACER (2008) he played a racetrack announcer, in a nod to his roles on the 60’s cartoon.

Godzilla as political metaphor

Josh Marshall of the political blog Talking Points Memo compares the current throw-down between RNC Chairman Michael Steele and former Bush’s Brain Karl Rove to a kaiju slug-fest:

Not since Godzilla did battle with Mothra has there been a fight with quite the potential for spectacle as that between Karl Rove and Michael Steele. We haven’t seen much of it yet. I don’t think I even realized it was happening. But behind the scenes, Michael Steele’s allies say that Rove and his minions are the ones fanning the anti-Steele flames.

Submitted without comment or interpretation, for your entertainment value.

Destroy All Monsters – U.S. Theatrical Trailer

As part of our weekend tribute to the late special effects director Sadamasa Arikawa, here is the U.S. theatrical trailer for DESTROY ALL MONSTERS – the memorable Toho production in which Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and all of Earth’s other monsters team up for a non-stop destruction derby involving invading aliens trying to take over the Earth. The trailer does a good job of showing off the film’s unconvincng but colorfully entertaining effects, and it includes a blooper when the monster Gorosaurus is mis-identified  as Baragon (a problem that exists in the film as well).

Destroy All Monsters (1968) – Kaiju Review

Destroy All Monsters (1968)DESTROY ALL MONSTERS is probably the last well-regarded entry in the original Godzilla series. By this time, all serious threat of the monsters had disappeared; recognizing this, director Ishiro Honda (who had helmed the original GODIZLLA in 1954 and many of the subsequent sequels) opted for a fast-paced action-adventure roller-coaster thrill ride that was seldom scary but always entertaining. Co-scripting with Takeshi Kimura (RODAN), Honda used a slim, familiar story (aliens use monsters as weapons in a war against the Earth) to string together as many effects sequences as possible, creating a memorably colorful confection.
Basically, it’s MONSTER ZERO (a.k.a. INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER) all over again, except this time, instead of just Godzilla, Rodan, and King Ghidorah, we also get Mothra, Anguirus, Gorosaurus, Manda,  Kumonga (a.k.a. Spiga, the giant spider), Varan, Baragon and Minya, Godzilla’s son. DESTROY ALL MONSTERS lacks MONSTER ZERO’s slightly more adult storyline and the clever banter between Nick Adams and Akira Takarada, but it delivers much more monster action. True, some of the monsters make little more than cameo appearances, but the big stars get plenty of screen time, and second-stringers Anguirus, Gorosaurus, and Manda get a  few moments to shine as well.
Before DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, the previous two films in the series, GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER and SON OF GODZILLA, had shifted gears, with director Jun Fukada and composer Masuro Sato replacing the Ishiro Honda and composer Akira Ifukube. The results were light-hearted and fun, offering a clear change of pace for the series.
DESTROY ALL MONSTERS sees a return to form, with the old director-composer team back in place, with Ifukube offering another example of his impressive monster movie music, by turns ominous, mysterious, and rousing – quite a contrast to Sato’s jazz-pop stylings (which were more suited to something like GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER, which stuck the monsters in the middle of what looked like a spy adventure).
Also notable is the absence of screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa, one of the chief architects of transforming Godzilla from villain to hero. It would be going too far to say that his absence signals a more serious approach in DESTROY ALL MONSTER, but the screenplay by Honda and Kimura definitely avoids the juvenile tone of SON OF GODZILLA.
Instead, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS is a true movie-movie. It takes itself seriously only in the sense that it does not adopt an attitude of campy condesension towards its monster-filled alien-invasion scenario. The events are presented in a straight-forward way that is an almost perfect realization of any ten-year-old boy’s dream of the most awesome movie adventure ever, loaded with heroic heroes piloting rocket ships to the moon and back while battling an evil race that has turned all of Earth’s monsters loose in one cataclysmic attack.
Honda directs DESTROY ALL MONSTERS with brisk efficiency, using the widescreen image to show off the sets and letting the actors have a ball. A free-for-all shoot out between astronauts and aliens has the heroes waving guns around not in manner designed to actualy hit a target but simply to look good on camera. In a way, this is the apex of ’60s cinema, back when movies like OUR MAN FLYNT were all about having a good time with gadgets and explosions, no matter how unlikely the storyline.
Fortunately, Honda offers more than just monsters and mayhem; there are even a few intriguing moments that border on the subtle. A long interrogation with a human taken over by aliens holds attention because the interrogation subject (Yoshio Tsuchiya) always seems on the verge of breaking his silence – but he never does. Outside on the beach, another human controlled by aliens – this one a woman – walks along a beach in high heels; the sight of those high-fashion stilettos sinking into the sand is almost surreal.
And in one of the most memorable sequences of any giant monster movie, this same alien-controlled woman walks, calm and unconcerned, amidst the panic that erupts when sirens announce an imminent attack on Tokyo. The stark contrast between the mad, rushing crowds and her serence face, indifferent to (or perhaps even eager for) the monsters’ arrival, is a wonderful sight to behold.
Special effects director Sadamasa Arikawa (working under the “supervision” of Japanese effects pioneer Eiji Tsuburaya) delivers several memorable sequences in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. The initial attacks on Moscow, Paris, and New York go by too fast, but theyleave you wanting more. The aforementioned attack on Tokyo is one of the great sequences of its type, featuring a coordinated assault by four monsters (Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and Manda), with some cleverly timed action (e.g., the serpentine Manda cracks a bridge in the foreground simultaneously with Godzilla’s blasting a building with his radioactive breath).
Of course, Arikawa’s effects are far from convincing, but that becomes part of the charm. By this time, Toho had given up almost any pretense of making you believe in their menagerie of monsters and had developed their own particular aesthetic, in which acrobatic flair and flashy pyrotechnics outweighed believability. Consequently, even if the vision of space travel, rockets, and lunar landscapes in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS looks quaint compared to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY – well, the unreality suits the storyline.

A behind-the-scenes publicity shot on the Mt Fuji set.
A behind-the-scenes publicity shot on the Mt Fuji set of the final battle.

Keeping with this tradition, the final all-out assault of Earth’s monsters against the alien’s ace in the hole, King Ghidorah, is as entertaining a battle as ever put on screen, even though the wires show. The action deliberately defies physics, opting for a World Wrestling aesthetic in which monsters supposedly weighing thousands of tons effortlessly leap, jump, and fly with acrobatic flair; at one point, Gorosaurus even springs high off the ground to deliver a kick to Ghidorah’s back. Also as in wrestling, bodies are slammed, kicked, punched, and pummelled, with little if any real damage ever done – it’s all for show, not effectiveness. And Arikawa cannot resist the urge to anthropomorphize the monsters, as when Minya shields his eyes to avoid seeing King Ghidorah drop Anguirus to the ground (a shot deleted by AIP when the film played in U.S. theatres).
Despite all this, Ishiro Honda and Sadamasa Arikawa combine their talents to create one scene in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS that offers at least an echo of genuine suspense: when the heroes search for the aliens’ hidden lair on Earth, they are interrupted by Godzilla and Anguiras, acting as enormous guard dogs. Unlike many of Toho’s then-current films, which tended to shoot the monsters at eye level, undermining the sense of size, this sequence presents a good combination of camera angles, from the human perspective looking up and from the monster perspective looking down, including some effective composite shots that integrate humans with monsters in the same frame. For a brief moment, you almost remember what it was like to be frightened at the prospect of being crushed by something so huge that it would barely feel you under its toes.
In the end, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS is too slim in its storyline, too thin in its characterizations, to be considered a truly great film. It is not as impressive as the original GODZILLA, and it is not as hip as MONSTER ZERO. But for the ten-year-old living inside us all, it is entertainment of the most awesome sort.

TRIVIA

Godzilla on Monster Island
Godzilla on Monster Island

DESTROY ALL MONSTERS introduced the concept of Monster Island (here called “Monster Land” in the English dubbing), an island where all of Earth’s monsters had been gathered and kept locked up for study. Future Godzilla films would use Monster Island as a lazy way to re-introduce the monster without having to worry too much about continuity.
DESTROY ALL MONSTERS features the return appearance of Anguirus, the very first monster to fight Godzilla, way back in 1955’s GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (a.k.a. GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER). Basically an oversized dinosaur (an ankylosaurus), Anguirus would go on to appear in GODZILLA VS. GIGAN and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA in the 1970s. On the basis of these few appearances, Anguirus inexplciably became a favorite among some fans, who eagerly awaited his return when the Godzilla franchise was revived in the 1990s. Anguirus finally reappeared in the “last” Godzilla film, GODZILLA: FINAL WARS, a virtual remake of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.
Directors Contrad Vernon and Rob Letterman cited DESTROY ALL MONSTERS as an influence on their 2009 animated film MONSTERS VS. ALIENS: “We watched it three or four times,” says Vernon, who was inspired by the plot involving mangy monsters freed from an island prison by galactic invaders. “We even have our villain, Gallaxhar, use the command, ‘Destroy all monsters.’”
INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) also bears structural similarities to DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. The filmmaking team of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin would go on to do the 1998 American version of GODZILLA.

DUBBING DIFFERENCES

Unlike most of the Toho giant monster movies, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS reached U.S. shores relatively unchanged, except for being dubbed into English. Ironically, Toho had created an English dub of the film to increase its export value, but the U.S. distributor, American International Pictures, commissioned a new dialogue track, featuring the likes of Hal Linden (television’s BARNEY MILLER).
The AIP dub rewrites some of the lines and provides better voice acting. This version was seen in theatres and on television in the U.S., but it has not been available since the defunct AIP’s distribution rights lapsed. Currently available prints are of the Toho “International” version.

In the Japanese poster, Godzilla is recognizable (unlike the U.S. poster seen at top of page).
In the Japanese poster, Godzilla is recognizable (unlike the U.S. poster seen at top of page).

The dub on the International version of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS features a literal English translation of the Japanese dialogue, which does not always sound natural; the problem is aggravated by the weak vocal performances.
In at least one case, the International version’s audio track is superior. In the AIP dub, there is a lame line when a reporter watching the climactic battle near Mt. Fuji holds up his microphone and says, “I’ll turn up the sound so you can hear the monsters dueling to the death.” The Toho dub offers instead a memorable moment of high-camp comedy: “It’s horrible, ladies and gentlemen – listen to the monsters and their cries of sudden death!” This perhaps intentional echo of the “Oh, the humanity!” account of the Hindenburg disaster is capable of bringing the house down with laughter, should you ever be lucky enough to see DESTORY ALL MONSTERS in a theatre crowded with kaiju fans.
During the early montage of monsters attacking different cities around the globe, the International version offers newscaster voices overs doing very bad accents (Russian, French, etc) – an effect carried over to some extent in the AIP dub. (The original Japanese audio track has the voice-overs speaking in their native languages.)
The above-mentioned montage contains one of the more memorable film flubs in the Godzilla series. France’s Arc de Triomphe was supposed to be toppled by the burrowing monster Baragon (introduced in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD), but problems with the suit necessitated that Gorosaurus get the job instead. The dialogue was never changed, so the monster is erroneously identified as Baragon – a mistake carried over in the written text of the U.S. theatrical trailer.
DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (Kaiju Soshingeki [“Monster Invasion”], 1968). Directed by Ishiro Honda. Written by Ishiro Honda, Takeshi Kimura. Cast: Akira Kubo, Jun Tazaki, Yukiko Kobayashi, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kyoko ai, Andrew Hughes, Chotaro Togin, Yoshifumi Tajima, Kenji Sahara, Hisaya Ito, Yoshio Katsuda.

Portions of this review originally appeared in “Godzilla Invades L.A.” in the December 1996 issue of Cinefantastique (Volume 28, Issue 6).

Cybersurfing: Kaiju on Crack(le)

Sci Fi Japan points us to Crackle, a new online “multi-platform next-generation video entertainment network” that is loaded with movies, television episodes, and original videos. Because Crackle is a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment Company, the have a load of titles from Columbia-TriStar, which owns the distribution rights to Toho’s giant monster movies. The current feature movie on the website’s home page is GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK, one of the best of the new millennium G-films, thanks to director Shusuke Kaneko, who had done an excellent job of reviving Gamera in the 1990s. The website is also highlighting GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS, GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH, and GODZILLA VS. MEGAGUIRAS. Other available titles include MOTHRA, GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, and GODZILLA: FINAL WARS.
Or if you prefer other forms of cinefantastique, you can check out everything from CANDYMAN to GHOSTBUSTERS, IDLE HANDS to HEAVY METAL, STARMAN to TOY SOLDIERS, WOLF to MUPPETS IN SPACE, JUMANJI to LOOK WHO’S TALKING.
There is an option to register if you want to submit your own original videos for viewing, but you do not need to be a member to view the content, all of which is available for free. Unfortunately, this means you have to tolerate occasional commercial interrupts, but they are mercifully brief (10 seconds).
The standard video quality is acceptable, and  the stereo sound is excellent. There is an option for HD if you want to view the videos full-screen: the results are quite good, but you will need a fast Internet connection; otherwise, the video may freeze up for a few seconds now and then.
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Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters – Book Review

Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects director responsible for the classic Toho monster movies, is a figure of major importance in the history of Japanese fantasy films. Inspired by the stop-motion special effects of Willis O’Brien (e.g. 1933’s KING KONG), Tsuburaya yearned to create his own movie monster, and he finally got his chance when producer Tomoyuki Tanaka asked him to handle the special effects for GOJIRA (1954, released in the U.S. as GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTER). The success of that film led to a literal tidle wave of sci-fi extravaganzas: RODAN, THE MYSTERIANS, MOTHRA, MATANGO. Although Tsuburaya’s work was in some ways less technically sophisticated than his idol O’Brien’s (working on smaller budgets, Tsuburaya had to utilize men in suits rather than animated puppets), the Japanese effects director nevertheless made his mark, establishing a recognizable style that was always entertaining if not completely convincing. In particular, the suit-mation approach allowed for the creation of larger miniatures, which could be spectacularly destroyed in slow-motion, yielding a level of on-screen mayhem impossible to achieve with the more expensive – and much slower – stop-motion process.
Tsuburaya’s life and career are the subject of Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters, which carries the lengthy subtitle Defending the Earth with Ultraman, Godzilla and Friends in the Golden Age of Japanese Science Fiction Film. This is an impressively extensive coffee table book, loaded with countless colorful photographs of monster mayhem and behind-the-scenes wizardry. Fans will find it a delight just to leaf through it, and even hardcore collectors are likely to find more on view here than ever met they eye before.
Author August Ragone does fine job of capturing the Tsuburaya story, from his early life and start in the film industry, through his work providing miniatures for Japanese battle movies during World War II, into the movie monsters that made him famous, and through the television productions (e.g., ULTRA-Q, ULTRA-7) that took once-frightening sci-fi monstrosities and turned them into kiddie fodder. The main narrative is occasionally interrupted by sidebar articles (some written by other experts in the field, such as Norman Englund and Ed Godziszewski), which provide different perspectives on Tsuburaya and his work.
Ragone delivers the information with all the enthusiasm of a devoted fan – an enthusiasm that (far from being annoying) sweeps the reader along like a boat in the rapids. Unfortunately, the book is thinly sourced and short on first-hand interviews; it frequently reads as if Ragone had simply read all the existing material on the subject, collated it, and summarized it. Consequently, you will not find the “you are there” perspective of, for example, Stuart Galbraith IV’s Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo.
Also, you will not learn much that is new about Tsuburaya’s movie magic. Ragone tends to wax understandably enthusiastic about “beautiful matte paintings” and “exquisitely detailed miniatures,” but there is little specific detail about how the special effects were achieved. When he does get descriptive, his prose can be confusing, as when he writes that the destruction of a bridge in RODAN “could only be shot once because of the precise timing required.” This seems to state the matter backwards: precise timing was required because the complicated action, filmed from multiple angles, needed to be captured in a single take.


Ragone never comes to grips with the gradual decline of Tsuburaya’s work; in fact, he barely even acknowledges it. As feature film budgets shrank, fewer miniatures were built and destroyed, and fewer composite shots were used to combine miniatures, monsters, and live-action. On top of this, Tsuburaya began to anthropomorphize his monsters, turning them into comical clowns instead of fearsome behemoths. (Think of the three-way monster conversation in GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER or Godzilla’s victory dance in MONSTER ZERO.) This kind of hijinx remains popular with fans, but it lowers the films down to a level of colorful camp that is notably inferior to the early black-and-white nightmare of GOJIRA.
What we are left with feels a bit like an authorized biography, with all the warts carefully air-brushed out. Nevertheless, the book remains enjoyably readable from start to finish. Fans of Japanese giant monsters will undoubtedly want to purchase it. The illustrations alone are worth the price, but once readers start to peruse the text, they will find themselves serenaded by a kindred spirit who captures the wild-eyed childish devotion born of many hours in front of the television set, watching wonderfully weird movies and television shows that ignorant unbelievers thoughtlessly dismiss. In adulthood, it is easy to forget that enthusiastic joy, but Ragone brings it back to life, like a bolt of lightening reviving a long-dormant Godzilla.

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) – Film & DVD Review

Among fans and critics, this is generally considered the best Godzilla sequel from the original series of films, which ran from GOJIRA in 1954 to TERROR OF MECHA-GODZILLA IN 1975. (The monster was revived for two subsequent series, beginning in 1984 and 2000, respectively, plus the 1998 American film produced at TriStar.) MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA shows the Toho team (director Ishiro Honda, writer Shinichi Sekizawa, composer Akira Ifukube, and effects expert Eiji Tsuburaya) working in top form. Although the dark and serious tone of the original GOJIRA is long gone, the series had yet to descend into the juvenile antics of the 1970s. Only occasional penny pinching (fewer composite shots and elaborate miniatures) and a handful of minor gaffs mar this colorful, elaborate fantasy film, which is thoroughly enjoyable for fans and children, and might even impress a few non-fans.

The story follows a reporter, Ichiro (Takarada), and his female photographer Nakanishi (Hoshi), who are covering a story about a giant egg that washed ashore after a typhoon. A greedy businessman buys the egg from the local fisherman and, along with his investment partner, plans to build a theme park around it. The Shobijin (twin fairies from Infant Island, home of Mothra) arrive and ask for the return of the egg; the reporters, along with a sympathetic scientist (Koizumi) try to help, but they are unable to persuade the egg’s new owners to relinquish their legal rights in favor of doing the right thing.


Unfortunately, it turns out that Godzilla was also washed ashore by the typhoon; the monster arises from the sandy plain where he was buried and goes on a rampage. The reporters and the scientist head to Infant Island to beg the natives for Mothra’s help. The natives and the Shobijin, whose island was decimated by nuclear testing, are unsympathetic; after all, the so-called civilized world did not help them in their quest to return the egg. The men are ready to give up, but Nakashina makes a heart-felt, emotional plea, which convinces Mothra to join the fight. The giant moth dies in the battle with Godzilla but manages to protect her egg, which hatches not one but two young larvae. The greedy businessmen die while fighting each other in a hotel, which Godzilla trashes. The larvae pursue Godzilla to an island close off shore, where they cocoon him in their sticky web until he falls off a cliff, disappearing beneath the ocean.
MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA is a virtual remake of 1963’s KING KONG VS. GODZILLA: In both films, Godzilla is a radioactive monster threatening Japan, and his opponent is an over-sized animal living on a South Seas island where the natives revere him/her as a god. Both films feature island natives distinguished by their strange skin color (green in the previous film, orange here). Both films feature none-too-subtle attacks on corporate greed that puts profits ahead of morality. And both films end with Godzilla defeated by his foe, falling off a cliff and disappearing beneath the ocean (until the next film, of course).

http://pub32.bravenet.com/photocenter/remote/2724789253/F46B275E04.jpg

The chief difference between KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA is that the previous film was a deliberate satire that poked fun at its corporate villains and played its monster battle for laughs, including much anthropomorphized wrestling action. MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA, on the other hand, features some comic relief but generally plays its story straight, and the monster action remains mostly animalistic in nature, avoiding the jump-kicks, somersaults, and back-flips performed by Kong and Godzilla.
Thanks to her colorful wings and graceful movements, Mothra creates a wonderful visual contrast to Godzilla’s scaly reptilian appearance, making her perhaps the best foe ever to square off against the nuclear monster. MOTHRA VS GODZILLA lacks the gravitas of the original GOJIRA; this is not a believable science-fiction story but an imaginative fantasy that requires a suspension of disbelief. Taken on its own terms, it works wonderfully well, even though it’s well past the time when Godzilla could frighten an audience as a walking metaphor for nuclear destruction and the horrors of war.
The result is fast-paced, exciting fun. The film is even moving, when Nakanishi begs the Infant islanders for help in spite of the wrongs they have suffered. The human cast take their roles seriously; the script delivers its message clearly (that humanity should work together for a better world) without being heavy-handed. The elaborate production, with its large cast, numerous locations, and extensive sets, is wonderfully helmed by Honda. And the special effects, though not always convincing, are beautifully done and always entertaining to watch.

Godzilla attacks - a blend of live-action and effects.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS 

In one of the greatest scenes in the series, a coordinated military attack strikes Godzilla with canon blast from the ground and napalm bombs from above. When the smoke clears, we see Godzilla with his head thrown back, roaring; as he lowers his face, it suddenly becomes clear that the top and back of his head is on fire! Amazingly, the shot continues a moment longer as Godzilla turns and strides away; it’s hard to believe that half a dozen crew people did not immediately rush into the shot with fire extinguishers instead of allowing suit-actor Haruo Nakajima to continue with the action.

GOOFS

Just before Godzilla leaves shore for the showdown with the Mothra caterpillars, there is a long shot of Godzilla striding along a miniature shoreline that we assume to be on the mainland. Moments later, after Godzilla has crossed the water to a nearby island, the same miniature shoreline is used to represent the island. Clearly, the miniature was built to represent the island. For some reason, the editor took a brief trim from this footage and used it to augment Godzilla’s appearance on the mainland, which otherwise consisted of live-action shots of actual locations, with Godzilla optically inserted into the background.

TRIVIA

The Godzilla suit for this film is one of the favorites among fans. It is lighter and less bulky, allowing for greater movement. The face loses some of the reptilian features from Godzilla’s previous appearances, in which he somewhat resembled a T-Rex mutated by atomic radiation. Its furrowed brows convey a sinister appearance, suggesting a bit more malevolent intent (as opposed to animal instinct) that helps contrast Godzilla with the benign Mothra.
This version of the Godzilla suit is also memorable for another reason: apparently through some kind of accident, the top jaw came loose during filming; it can be seen wobbling during Godzilla’s early scenes. Although an accident, this actually lends a bit of animation to Godzilla’s usually expressionless face.
As with the previous films in the series, a hand-puppet head was used for some close-ups of Godzilla. Typically, the close-up head does not completely match the head worn by Haruo Nakajima, the actor inside the rubber suit.

For some long shots of Godzilla crossing the ocean to a small island, the old suit from KING KONG VS. GODZILLA was used. The suit was also used for the shot of Godzilla, covered in Mothra’s web, tumbling over a cliff and into the ocean for the conclusion. This was done to avoid wear and tear on the new suit, as past experience had shown that the foam rubber Godzilla suit did not hold up well in water.

Mothra grabs Godzilla's tail.

Although the flying moth puppet from MOTHRA (1961) was reused for some shots, new puppets were built for Mothra in moth and larvae form. This was because the original puppets were created in a different scale and would not have appeared the correct size if photographed in the same shot with the Godzilla suit.
There is less building-bashing in MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA than in previous films. In an effort to keep the budget down, Godzilla briefly attacks a city after his first appearance, then heads to rural areas for most of the rest of the movie. His fight with Mothra in moth form takes place near a sandy beach; his fight with the larvae takes place on a rocky island.
The original title is “Mosura tai Gojira,” which translates as “Mothra versus Godzilla.” The U.S. distributor, American International Pictures, retitled the film “Godzilla Vs. The Thing” and mounted an advertising campaign to create a mystery regarding exactly what sort of foe Godzilla would fight. To justifying the title, the English dubbing includes a few lines of dialogue in which “Shobijin” (small fairies played by identical twins Emi and Yumi Ito) refer to Mothra as “The Mighty Thing.”
This is the only Godzilla film that contains more footage of Godzilla in the export version than in the Japanese original: the English-dubbed U.S. prints contain an early sequence in which the American navy attacks Godzilla on the beach with “Frontier” missiles, knocking the monster down but not killing him. Exactly why this scene is in the American verson but not the Japanese version has never been definitely explained. A common assumption is that the sequence was added to please U.S. distributor, but according to author Steve Ryfle (Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star), the scene existed in the original script, even before a U.S. distribution deal was signed. What is clear is that the Frontier missile sequence was not simply cut out from Japanese prints and retained in U.S. prints: two versions were filmed of the scene that immediately precedes the Frontier missile attack. In the Japanese version, a group of officials sit around a table discussing strategy, and a messenger arrives to report on Godzilla’s movements; this is followed by a shot of Godzilla walking through a hilly area, suggesting that he is moving away from the city. In the American version, the shot of Godzilla appears immediately after his first attack on a city; then the film cuts to the strategy meeting, with a slightly different group of officials, including a handful of Americans, sitting around the same table and discussing plans to use the new missiles. The fact that two versions of this scene were filmed suggests that there was a deliberate attempt to create an “alternate” version for U.S. consumption.
Emi and Yumi Ito were well known in their native land as the singing duo The Peanuts. Here, they sing both the “Mothra” song composed by Yuji Koseki for MOTHRA (1961), plus a “Lament for Infant Island” composed for this film by Akira Ifukube.Despite a few minor editorial changes (the addition of the Frontier missile sequence, the deletion of a shot of one villain with a bloody head after being gunned down by his partner), the Americanized GODZILLA VS THE THING remains mostly faithful to the Japanese original. In fact, this is the first Godzilla film to reach U.S. shores without major alterations: there is no new footage added by the American distributor; the dubbing retains most of the story and dialogue, and Akira Ifukube’s score is left intact (except for a brief edit to the Shobijin’s lament for Infant Island).

Singers Yumi and Emi Ito as Mothra's twin fairies.

DVD DETAILS

In the U.S., GODZILLA VS. THE THING has been released several times on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD (often with title on the box art changed to “Godzilla vs. Mothra”). Perhaps because this film was not heavily altered for U.S. release, there was less urgency from fans for obtaining a DVD that restored the original version, complete with Japanese language and English subtitles.
The Toho Master Collection DVD , released in the U.S. by Classic Media in 2007, includes both the Japanese-language MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (with optional subtitles) and the Americanized GODZILLA VS. THE THING (with optional audio commentary). The disc comes in a silver slipcase that resembles a small book. The front cover features colorful poster artwork from the Japanese release; the back has three color images from the film; and the interior includes a black-and-white publicity photo that composites Mothra flying over Godzilla, who is waist deep in the ocean, to create a scene that does not appear in the film. Bonus features include an audio commentary, a poster slideshow, and a biography of Akira Ifukube.
The DVD menu features a collage of poster art from the film. The American and the Japanese version are each divided into 11 chapters, accessible from nearly identical menus: Both versions display the “Godzilla vs. the Thing” title card for the first chapter. However, Chapter 6 of GODZILLA VS THE THING, which begins with the alternate scene that introduces the Frontier missile sequence, is titled “Send in the Fleet.” Chapter 6 of MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA, which begins with a different version of the scene and omits the Frontier missile sequence, is titled “Military Orders.”
The slideshow features fifteen advertising images, backed by audio from the opening credits (including the main title music and the typhoon sound effects). One lobby card, from a 1980 reissue of the movie, features the anachronistic image of the goofy-looking Godzilla suit first seen in 1974’s GODZILLA VS. MECHA-GODZILLA.
The Ifukube biography consists of text that provides a brief rundown of the symphonic composer’s career, emphasizing his work on science-fiction film scores. It ends with a moving tribute from producer Shogo Tomiyama, who worked with Ifukube on Godzilla films in the 1990s.
The audio commentary by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski is insightful and informative. The duo discuss the changes made to the film for U.S. release, praise the dubbing, point out the film’s message, and offer up interesting tidbits about the techniques used to bring Godzilla and Mothra to life (e.g., special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya talked Toho Studios into purchasing an optical printer, a device that facilitated combining live-action with miniatures, in order to create smoother composite shots of Godzilla appearing above the real city skylines).
Although fans, Ryfle and Godziszewski are willing to point out flaws, such as the high-speed photography that makes Mothra’s wings beat fast enough to show her take flight – but which also makes Godzilla tumble over like a silent movie comedian. They criticize the artificial look of the Infant Island exteriors and report that director Ishiro Honda regretted not fighting for more elaborate island sets. Ryfle also notes that the story is mostly wrapped up by the time the larvae hatch from Mothra’s egg, so the screenplay is forced to gin up a crisis (some school kids left on an island in Godzilla’s path) to fill up the final reel.

The newly hatched Mothra caterpillars head for battle.

If there is a problem with the commentary it is that the word “realistic” crops up too often in regards to the effects work. By this point in the Godzilla series, it is clear that there was less effort to make the monsters look big and convincing on screen; the scenes of Godzilla battling Mothra or miniatures tanks and airplanes are always exciting and eye-catching, but they are seldom truly convincing.
With all this, the Toho Masters DVD might sound like a must-have item for your collection; unfortunately, the disc falls short in one significant way: image quality. The American print is decent but slightly soft, with colors a tad faded, plus some noticeable scratches and speckling. The Japanese print is better, with a somewhat sharper image and less visible speckling.
The big problem is not colors or scratches but letterboxing, which does not do justice to the widescreen compositions of the original theatrical presentation. MOTHRA VS GODZILLA was shot in a 2.35 anamorphic process that filled the movie screen with special effects, action, beautiful locations, and elaborate sets – some of which are cut off on the DVD.
The American print is framed at approximately a 1.85 aspect ratio that omits large sections of the picture from the left and the right. This problem is most obvious during Godzilla’s brief raid on a metropolitan center. In one elaborate long shot, the camera pans from right to left across a crowd of fleeing people to reveal Godzilla in the far left background – except that he remains off-screen in this version, thanks to cropping off of the edges of the frame.
The Japanese print is considerably better but not perfect. The aspect ratio approximates the theatrical version, with only a minimal loss of picture information on the left and right. In the shot mentioned above, sharp-eyed viewers can catch a glimpse of Godzilla nosing his way into the left side of the frame just before the camera cuts away to another scene.
In this regard, the Toho Masters Collection DVD is inferior to the 1990s Scimitar DVD release of GODZILLA VS MOTHRA, which actually featured a widescreen and a full screen transfer of the English-dubbed GODZILLA VS THE THING.
The widescreen Scimitar transfer framed the image in the correct 2.35 aspect ratio. The print was perhaps darker and grainier, but the speckling was less obvious (except during composite photography). Although far from perfect, the Scimitar version presented the full image to the viewer, so that Godzilla’s dramatic entrance into the panning special effects shot in question was plainly visible.

The newly hatched Mothra caterpillars head for battle.

Because of incorrect letter-boxing, the Toho Masters Collection DVD cannot be considered an adequate replacement for the out-of-print Scimitar DVD. The Toho Masters disc is essential for American fans who want to obtain the Japanese version of MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA on DVD. The bonus features make it a nice addition to the collection of any G-Fan, even those who prefer the English-dubbed GODZILLA VS. THE THING. But cropped image transfer prevents this disc from being reckoned as the definitive DVD presentation of one of Toho’s most highly regarded classic monster movies.
MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (Mosura Tai Gojira, a.k.a. “Godzilla vs. The Thing,” 1964). Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka. Directed by Ishiro Honda. Written by Shinichi Sekizawa. Cast: Akira Takarada, Yuriko Hoshi, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yu Fujiki, The Peanuts (Emi and Yumi Ito), Yoshifumi Tajima, Kenji Sahara, Jun Tazaki, Kenzo Tabu, Haruo Nakajima.
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