Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (20th November 2020).
The Film

When a freighter ship caught in a typhoon runs aground on Infant Island, the only four surviving men become a medical anomaly by exhibiting no ill effects from exposure to the nuclear testing site. Physicist Dr. Harada (Gorath's Ken Uehara) is a bit too cautious in his attempt to interrogate the men about their experience, and it takes the tenacity of reporter Fukuda (Chushingura's Furank Sakai) and his photographer colleague Michi (Tokyo Story's Kyko Kagawa) who have sneaked into the hospital to discover that the men encountered natives on the island and that the juice fed to them may have protected them from radiation poisoning. When Fukuda's story breaks, the Rolisican government must do damage control since they assured the Japanese that the island was uninhabited before the testing went underway. Although the ambassador (The Mysterians' Harold Conway) expresses skepticism about the men's claims, the government proposes a joint expedition with the Japanese to the island. Although the press are forbidden from attending, Fukuda sneaks aboard the ship in time to learn that Harada and ethnologist Dr. Shin'ichi Chj (Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster's Hiroshi Koizumi) have misgivings about the leadership of Rolisican sergeant Nelson (Message from Space's Jerry It) who wants all notes to go through him. Landing on the island, they discover beyond the scorched and lifeless coast a surprisingly vibrant inner jungle with mutated abnormally large plants including a carnivorous plant that attacks Chj who believes he was saved by a pair of foot-high women. They discover that the women or fairies ("The Peanuts" singers Yumi It and Emi It) do indeed exist, but Nelson is prevented from capturing them by a horde of normal-sized natives. The expedition returns to Japan but Fukuda and Chj do not discover that Nelson has gone back and captured the fairies, ordering his soldiers to shoot their way out, until a story appears in the papers in which showman Nelson plans to exhibit his "discovery" in a traveling show. The Japanese scientists are disgusted with Nelson's plans but he has a high-powered lawyer and the Rolisican embassy behind him to fend off charges of exploitation. Nelson allows Chj, Fukuda, and Michi to interview the fairies knowing that they do not speak Japanese; they do, however, communicate by telepathy and express their optimism that their goddess Mothra will come and take them back to the island while lamenting that the good people they have met on their journey will suffer as much as the bad. When a massive silkworm makes its way through the sea towards Tokyo following psychic waves to the fairies, Nelson refuses to release the girls despite mounting pressure on the Roliscians who offer help in the form of atomic weapons. When Mothra pauses amidst decimating the city to form a cocoon, the military decides to try to destroy it with atomic heat weapons; unfortunately, they only accelerate Mothra's metamorphosis into its final form.

A decidedly more fanciful and light take on the kaiju genre from Godzilla helmer Ishir Honda, Mothra is family-friendly fun with a side of burst dams and decimated cities. The Mothra cult looks like something out of a Western jungle picture with a ritual summoning of Mothra that looks like a Vegas floorshow, the infectiously catchy "Mothra" theme all the more sinister because it functions as a distress call even as it entertains Nelson's audience the kind faeries, a subplot involving Chj's kid brother Shinji (Masamitsu Tayama) attempting to rescue the faeries himself, and its light critique of American involvement in post-war Japan through the stand-in of Rolisica and its skyscraper-filled capital of "New Kirk City" where the climax takes place. However ridiculous the idea of a giant monster moth sounded on paper, the Eiji Tsuburaya-designed Mothra is an impressive mechanical puppet and the model work of its urban mass destruction is more impressively realized than in Godzilla. The plot is driven by setting things right rather than destroying the monster and both the compassionate scientists and the comic relief reporters are as likable as It's theatrical villain is slimy, making this the strain of kaiju to watch when viewers are in need of something uplifting. While Godzilla was quickly followed up by sequels and different cycles, Mothra's follow-ups would be crossovers into the Godzilla universe and the goddess would not get a chance to be reborn until a trilogy of films in the nineties.


Released theatrically in English-speaking territories by Columbia Pictures in a version running ten minutes shorter than the Japanese original, Mothra was only available in English-friendly form in panned-and-scanned VHS editions while the Japanese version was reissued a few times on letterboxed laserdisc. When Sony got around to releasing the film on DVD in the U.S. and U.K., they not only restored the original 2.35:1 framing but also included both cuts of the film. While Mill Creek's DVD reissue only included the English version, their subsequent Blu-ray again featured both cuts. Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen presentations of the Japanese version (100:50) and the English version (90:12) are presumably derived from the same materials, looking clean and colorful with the English version looking a tad contrastier owing to the materials a generation or two away from the Japanese originals. The high definition presentation does impart nice textures to the location and studio work including Mothra's egg which looked smoother on DVD while not doing the optical composites any favors (a composite shot late in the film has the same flickering in both transfers).


The Japanese original release of the film had a Perspecta mix which steered a single mono signal between speakers. While we are not sure if the Toho Blu-ray's 4.0 track is an approximation of that or a stereo remixing of the mono DME stems, Eureka like Mill Creek includes only LPCM 2.0 mono tracks for both the Japanese and English versions. It may be subjective, but the the Japanese track's mix of effects sounds more refined than what is presumably the same effects track on the English version while it is disheartening to think that the English dub here was considered one of the more quality dubs in terms of voice talent and delivery more so than the fair audio quality. Optional English subtitles are available from the menu only for the Japanese version (HoH subtitles on the English version are only selectable via remote).


The Japanese version features a new audio commentary by film historian and writer David Kalat in which he describes the film as the "most important and most influential Japanese monster movie" and then proceeds to outline why, noting the departures from the Godzilla formula, the attempts of Toho to appeal to a female demographic since women tended to bring dates or friends with them to theaters, the serialized "novelization" penned by three authors who divided the writing into thirds that appeared ahead of the film's release, and the important contributions of director Honda, effects artist Tsurabaya, and screenwriter Shin'ichi Sekizawa. Some information overlaps with the earlier audio commentary by authors and Japanese sci-fi historians Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski on the English version, but they also discuss the origins with Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka (Yojimbo) deciding to commission a story from a literary writer rather than a sci-fi writer for this change of pace, and Sekizawa's adaptation and simplification of the aforementioned novelization, as well as including an excerpt from an audio interview with the late Jerry It (not "Jeri It" as credited in the English version they point out).

The Japanese version is also accompanied by an optional isolated music and effects track in LPCM 2.0. Also new to the Eureka edition is "Kim Newman on Mothra" (14:42) in which the author describes the film as "everyone's second favorite kaiji" while offering some possibly controversial opinions about what would be the third and which films are considered the worst of the genre. While the commentators on both tracks have noted the parallels of Mothra with King Kong, Newman also suggests that the formula for Godzilla was derived from The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and the increasingly "soapy" turns of the subsequent Mothra films. The disc also includes two stills galleries production stills and ephemera (51 images) and concept art (15 images) as well as a U.S. teaser trailer (1:25), and a U.S. theatrical trailer (1:56).


Packaged with the disc is a 60-page booklet featuring essays and production stills. In "Jasper Sharp on Mothra", the Japanese film expert discusses how Honda as a director was perceived in Japan and abroad particularly the latter through the "revamped" English versions while in "Designing the Queen of the Monsters: an interview with Scott Chambliss" by Simon Ward, Chambliss discusses his affection for the original films and his designs for Godzilla: King of the Monsters. In "Mothra: Utopia in Hell", Christopher Stewardson offers up a reading of the film that examines "its thematic and narrative parallels to Operation Crossroads; the nuclear test series carried out by the United States in the summer of 1946" while "Mondo Artwork" by Peter Santa Maria debuts a new print of Mothra for Toho. "Ishirō Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa" is an extract from the book by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski that provides an overview of the film's production and reception. The booklet also includes viewing notes and Blu-ray credits.


Causal viewers who think all kaiju films are the same should take the opportunity of Eureka's release of Mothra to enjoy a lighter-toned entry into the genre and a sense of where it came from in contrast to the Godzilla series.


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