Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) review [The Godzilla Project]


With Mothra (1961) and King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), it was a given that Toho would chose to pair Godzilla against Mothra for the next film in the series. Moreover, in order to compete with the growing popularity of the television, Honda, in agreement with Toho, decided to give this narrative an atmosphere that would bothappeal to children as well as adults.

Yet, Honda’s influence over the final shape of the film did not end there. He heavily rewrote Shinichi Sekizawa’s original script to accommodate his own vision and to deliver his own message (General-note 1). So what message does Honda stage in Mothra vs. Godzilla? Let’s find out.  

[This review is part of The Godzilla Project. Click the link to find more reviews and analyses.]


After a typhoon battered the Japanese coastline, Maicho News reporter Ichiro Saki (Akira Takarada) and his photographer Junko Nakanishi (Yuriko Hoshi) are sent to Kurata beach to uncover whether the storm damaged the Kurata Beach Industrialization Project, the prefecture’s prestige project. Thanks to Junko Nakanishi’s keen sense of beauty, they happen to find a strange-coloured object amongst the wreckage.

Around the same time, a giant egg is found floating in the ocean near Nishi beach. Professor Miura (Hiroshi Koizumi) is quickly sent out to investigate the origins of this strange egg. Ichiro Saki and his photographer are sent to interview the professor and end up witnessing Kumayama (Yoshifumi Tajima), the happy show business agent, claiming ownership over it. Not long after that, the shobijin (Emi and Yumi Itō) appear, asking for the egg to be returned to Infant Island.

Mothra Vs Godzilla (1964) by Ishiro Honda

Mothra VS Godzilla explores, as the villagers’ sale of the mysterious egg to Kumayama evoke, the blossoming of the capitalistic impulse within the Japanese society and the growing power of profit to seduce the Japanese subject. This event does not only underline Kumayama’s thirst to exploit the egg for financial gain – i.e. people will be able to admire it for a fee, but also echoes how the focus on profit has subtly ‘poisoned’ the mind of the villagers. The egg, before being turned into an object-of-enjoyment for those thirsty for empty pleasure by Kumayama, is simply viewed as an financial opportunity by the villagers, as a chance to quickly acquire some money (Narra-note 1). In contrast to Mothra (1961) and King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), the post-war capitalistic discourse of profit and consumption is not embodied by one simple villainous character, but is revealed as influencing and rewriting the mind of the common Japanese folk (Narra-note 2).   

The ultimate aim that structures the capitalistic discourse is indirectly revealed when Jiro Torahata (Kenji Sahara), another show business agent, introduces his plans to built an amusement park called Shizunoura Happy Center around the egg and the mysterious beast within to Kumayama. The capitalistic machinery is out to make the subject dazzle him with shots of empty pleasure and ensnare him/her in an endless cycle of imaginary consumption. It produces objects-of-pleasure (e.g. a marvellous egg to admire, an amusement park to enjoy, … etc.) for the subject to fleetingly fill him up with pleasure, but also to leave him, when said pleasure has dissipated, with an emptiness that makes him/her crave for more.       

Mothra Vs Godzilla (1964) by Ishiro Honda

Yet, as Torahata and Kumayama’s refusal to return the egg illustrates, the blossoming of an unmediated capitalistic system goes hand in hand with a blindness to its destructive finality (Narra-note 3, Narra-note 4). And, just like in Mothra (1961) , the monstrous being of Mothra is associated with this other side of the hungry exploitative capitalistic coin. Our moth-like kaiju foreshadows, once again, the very destruction – relational as well as social – that the unrestrained capitalistic machinery fuelled by greed ultimately causes. The subtle difference between Mothra (1961) and Mothra vs Godzilla is that our capitalists are actually breeding their own destruction and organizing the very revelation of the destructive truth they try to repress and remain blind to.   

The resurfacing of Godzilla should, in Mothra VS Godzilla, again be viewed through the lens of repression and its ultimate failure – the return of the repressed. The threatening shape of this kaiju visualizes, as the references to radioactivity and atom bombs imply, once again the post-war Japanese societal field that is radically scarred by the atomic bombs and the truth of the atomic trauma that Japan, as society, aims to repress but needs to inscribe into its national narrative. Godzilla, in a certain sense, emphasizes the impossibility to repress the atomic event by destroying the traditional Nagoya Castle – the past is annihilated, a mere fantasy to cover up the societal and national truth. Just like in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), we need to uncover the cause of Godzilla’s resurfacing, to determine the trigger that forced the repressed to return.What kind of event has led to the repressed traumatic truth that fundamentally altered the Japanese societal field to wildly lash out again?

Mothra Vs Godzilla (1964) by Ishiro Honda

Godzilla’s awakening seems, indirectly, related to ongoing construction of an industrial complex that will attract five big companies to the prefecture. While, at first glance, this link seems inconsequential, let us note that the prefectural assembly member (Kenzo Tabu) who addresses himself to Ichiro Saki and Dr. Miura is driven by a kind of capitalistic opportunism. He rushes into the promise of prosperity and personal gain while remaining, purposefully blind to the possible negative consequences (e.g. natural, social, …) of such radical growth.

The sequence on Infant Island is, quite clearly, aimed at delivering an anti-nuclear message, to visualize the death and destruction that the invisible heat rays of the atom bombs causes and highlight what the exploitation of science in the name of attaining political power creates. Can we trust humanity if it misuses science to satisfy its thirst for power and to get the upper hand in the international chess game of power? Yet, Honda also utilizes this sequence to deliver what we can call a (m)Otherly message. Saki’s and Nakanishi’s signifiers about treating everyone equally (e.g. those who committed evil, those who are poisoned by the capitalistic system, …etc.), ultimately ask the godly Mothra to assume her motherly shape. Rather than only protecting her little girls like in Mothra (1962), our heroes request her to consider all humans her children and worthy of her motherly protection.

Mothra Vs Godzilla (1964) by Ishiro Honda

Spectators and readers will have realized by now that, within Mothra VS Godzilla, two different societal conflicts are staged. While, on the one hand, Godzilla bursts forth to protect the post-war atomic truth from a vicious capitalistic discourse that aims to violently repress it – death to the exploitative and money-hungry capitalists, Mothra rises up to protect the Japanese subject from the traumatic shape of the post-war truth he refuses to inscribe in his subjective narrative (Narra-note 5). While the first part of the film, once more, underlines that consuming empty pleasure is not viable answer to deal with the post-war truth, the battle between Godzilla and Mothra stages the very key that can free the Japanese subject of its haunting past: forgiveness. The act of (m)Otherly god stages a fantasy where forgiveness is given for the evil that transpired in the pacific war and for what led to the atomic scars veining the Japanese societal field.

With forgiveness ensured, there is no need for repression anymore, no need to avoid the atomic truth edged in the societal fabric. It invites acceptance of the past and motivates the assumption of its truth, as cut from its roots of guilt. This gives Godzilla’s tumble a radical different quality. Whereas before it was a tumble of repression, his fall is marked by a sense of hope and symbolizes the beginnings of subjective and societal healing.   

Mothra Vs Godzilla (1964) by Ishiro Honda

The composition of Mothra VS Godzilla has, just like Honda’s other Kaiju narratives, a pleasant rhythm that invites the spectator into the narrative. The special effects are – and this should not surprise us after seeing Honda’s previous narratives – fluidly integrated into the composition. Imagery of models and miniature landscapes are elegantly concatenated with footage with cast-members and extra’s and effective composite moments (e.g. the villagers watching the floating egg in the sea, Ichiro, Junko and Miura seeing the Shobijin, …etc.) are created and integrated in the visual fabric (Cine-note 1). Honda and Eiji Tsuburayatreat the spectator, once again, to a carefully created spatial and temporal continuity that, due to its smoothness, easily allows the spectator to suspend his disbelief and invest in the world of kaiju. 

For Mothra vs Godzilla, Honda spends a little bit more time on framing the suits and the meticulous created miniature sceneries, granting the spectator a change to admire, in a more satisfying way, the artistry and the beauty of Tsuburaya and his team’s creations and the destruction that so pleasantly follows. The battle between Mothra and Godzilla is, in fact, one of the best staged monstrous face-offs yet. Nevertheless, some spectators might be disappointed that the final battle does not take place in a city where more havoc and destruction can be caused.   

Mothra Vs Godzilla (1964) by Ishiro Honda

The dramatic music that accompanies the opening of Mothra VS Godzilla gives rise, just like in Godzilla (1954), to a form of fearful anticipation concerning the soon to materialize monstrous threat (psycho-note 1). While in the first Godzilla narrative, the threat was not an image yet in the spectator’s mind, the dramatic and threatening tones that open Mothra VS Godzilla brings the monstrous shape of Godzilla and his destructive passages immediately to the spectator’s mind. Other musical pieces in the narrative also retain the dramatic flavour and a serious tone of the opening, e.g. the music that accompanies Godzilla’s rampaging. Yet, despite the serious threatening music, the spectator eventually develops a certain pity for Godzilla – he is, after all, a traumatic truth that is violently persecuted by those who, despite being scarred by it, refuse to accept it and give it its rightful place in the societal narrative.  

Mothra vs Godzilla is a splendid Godzilla narrative that does not only delivers Kaiju action in a satisfying and engaging way but also continues the questioning of the blossoming of the capitalistic logic within Japanese societal field and the state of the post-war atomic truth in a constructive way. Ishiro Honda’s Mothra Vs Godzilla is ultimately a message of liberation addressed to the Japanese subject. The beautiful and enthralling ending sequence motivates the Japanese subject to undo the shackles of guilt and trauma from the post-war atomic truth edged into the societal fabric by forgiving the societal Other as well as himself, as subject structured by that Other.


General-note 1: One of the biggest difference is the setting. While Sekizawa wanted the narrative take place in Rolisica, the fictional representation of America, with Rolisicans as villains, Honda set the narrative in Japan.

Narra-note 1: The villagers are, in fact, duped in two different ways. They do not only fall victim to their own thirst for profit, thereby willingly selling it instead of exploiting its worth themselves, but are also duped by Kumayama who exploits their thirst to buy the egg for a bargain.   

Narra-note 2: In King Kong VS Godzilla (1962)and Mothra (1961)the Japanese public is merely represented as a target of the capitalistic force as embodied by the ‘villain’. The capitalistic figure, be it Mr. Tako or Nelson, merely aimed to ensnare Japanese subjects into the celebrative circuit of consuming objects-of-pleasure, to seduce them with ‘empty’ pleasure so that they loyally serve the demand to enjoy consumption and be happy.

Narra-note 3: What’s even more, to keep the machinery of empty pleasure and profit going, our capitalists quickly refer to the symbolic coordinates of the societal fabric, the letter of the Japanese law. Indirectly, Honda underlines here that the Japanese symbolic coordinates do not simply help the exploitative capitalistic system thrive within society, but ultimately protects it against criticisms and opposition.

Narra-note 4: This blindness is also emphasized by Torahata and Kumayama’s desire to attain and exploit the Shobijin as well. They are unable to take the guardians of Mothra and their warning seriously because they simply perceive them as wondrous objects that can be exploited for profit.  

Narra-note 5: Godzilla’s desire to destroy the eggneeds to read through the lens of the  capitalisticconflict that marks Japanese post-war society.The egg is only threat to Godzilla because it has become an object-to-enjoy in the capitalistic machinery, the same machinery that tries to cover up the societal scars and repress the truth of the atomic trauma our beloved kaiju so monstrously symbolizes.   

Psycho-note 1: The fearful anticipation that marks the field of cinema is, obviously, marked by pleasure. The sliver of fear that a cinematic narrative tries to induce in the spectator allows him/her both to enjoy the state of anticipation as well as the eventual materialization of what that induced fear referred to.   

Cine-note 1: Just like in Mothra (1961), the combination of two fragments into one is marked by a visual roughness, it does not diminish its effect on the spectator nor does it endanger the spatial and temporal continuity of the film.  


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