Godzilla vs. the Thing/Godzilla vs. Mothra/Mothra vs. Godzilla/Godzilla vs. the Giant Moth/Mosura tai Gojira (1964) ***½
Many people consider Godzilla vs. the Thing/Godzilla vs. Mothra/Gojira tai Mosura to be the best Godzilla film of them all. I wouldn’t go that far, but it certainly is among the best of the “vs.” movies. The movie presents itself with a completely straight face, and its story is really quite sophisticated, reflecting a thoroughgoing disrespect for authority that is nothing short of astonishing in a Japanese film. The monster suit used here, which would set Godzilla’s basic look for the next nine years, is one of the coolest of the original series, and the monster battles here are simply fantastic. Note especially the fact that the clashes between Godzilla and the Mothra imago are uncharacteristically created using stop-motion animation, rather than Toho’s traditional rubber suit technique. And most importantly, this was also the last time Godzilla would appear in the role of a serious villain until Godzilla 1985 was made fully 20 years later.
As the credits roll, a typhoon lays waste to a seaside construction site, at which a major industrial center is being built. In its aftermath, reporter Ichiro Sakai (Akira Takarada, from Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Half Human) and photographer Junko Nakanishi (a character whom the American version wisely renames Yuka Nakanishi-- either way, she’s played by Yuriko Hoshi, who got to work on Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster pretty much the moment this movie was in the can) arrive on the scene to get the story for their newspaper. The mayor of the town on whose outskirts the industrial center is to be built is less than thrilled to see Sakai and Nakanishi; Sakai has been reporting how far behind schedule the building project is for some time, and the mayor seems to be getting worried that the enterprise’s financial backers will throw in the towel and go somewhere else. (This is only the first corrupt, dishonest, untrustworthy authority figure we’ll see in this movie. By the film’s conclusion, no form of authority will be left unscathed-- politicians, plutocrats, policemen, priests, and petty bosses will all be portrayed as liars, fools, cowards, or worse.) While he and Sakai argue, Nakanishi finds the weirdest damn thing in a large pile of flooded rubble. Neither she nor Sakai has any idea what it is, beyond roundish, flattish, bluish, and iridescent-- all they know is that it’s unlike anything they’ve seen before.
Meanwhile, at a small fishing village not too far away, the townspeople are panicking over the 150-foot egg that drifted into their harbor earlier that morning. But this town’s mayor is just as wily as the one with whom Sakai is locking horns over at the construction site, and he brings the situation under control by reminding everyone that the village government has salvage rights to anything that shows up in the harbor. Surely somewhere in the world there is a person who would pay good money for a monster egg! The fishermen take the hint, and band together to haul it ashore.
Sakai and Nakanishi head off to the village the next day to report on the egg. There on the beach, they meet a scientist named Miura (Hiroshi Koizumi, from Gigantis the Fire Monster and Mothra) who has come to study the egg. Miura has no desire to talk to the press, but it isn’t long before he and Sakai forget their sparring to face a rather bigger problem. That problem is named Kumayama (Yoshifumi Tajima, of Godzilla’s Revenge and Dagora, the Space Monster), and he is the tycoon to whom the villagers have sold “their” egg. Kumayama plans to turn the egg into the center of a huge, garish tourist attraction; for a small fee, people can flock from miles around to watch the giant egg incubate in a gargantuan greenhouse. Presumably, there will also be all manner of merchandising tie-ins, but Kumayama never gets that far in explaining his vision before Sakai and Miura shout him down with their protests. But there’s nothing the reporter or the scientist can do. Under Japanese law, Kumayama’s contract with the villagers is perfectly legal, and if he wants to charge admission to anyone that wants to look at the egg, that’s his prerogative.
Kumayama, however, is also quite obviously an idiot, so Sakai doesn’t believe for a moment that he alone is behind the egg-buying scheme. And sure enough, Kumayama’s partner is staying in the very same hotel as Sakai, Nakanishi, and Miura, as the three discover when they see the businessman come to the hotel desk and ask to be shown to a certain room. That room is being rented out to another, even richer, tycoon named Banzo Torahata (Kenji Sahara, from The Mysterians and King Kong vs. Godzilla), a man whom Sakai knows quite well. Torahata is a silent partner in just about every shady business venture in Japan; his close ties to all the most corrupt politicians in the land make his assistance invaluable for anyone in Kumayama’s position, and it’s easy to imagine his name being at the very top of Kumayama’s list of potential collaborators in the creation of “Happy Enterprises,” as he so crassly names his new egg-exploiting company.
But Sakai, Nakanishi and Miura aren’t the only ones who don’t want the giant egg turned into an amusement park. While Torahata and Kumayama discuss their plans, they are visited by representatives of the egg’s real owner. I refer, of course, to the Twin Fairies (Emi and Yumi Ito, reprising their roles from Mothra), pocket-sized spokeswomen for the Polynesian insect-god Mothra. The Fairies make their case to Torahata and Kumayama, but neither man is particularly inclined to listen to a couple of girls scarcely a foot tall. After narrowly escaping from the businessmen, the Fairies try their luck with Sakai, Nakanishi, and Miura, whom they meet out in the woods behind the hotel. The Fairies explain that the egg was washed out to sea when the typhoon that struck Japan earlier swept over their island, and that they want it brought back partly for Japan’s own good. Eggs, after all, tend to hatch, especially if you incubate them, and when this egg hatches, the people of Japan will have a 50-meter caterpillar on their hands. The huge bug won’t want to hurt anybody, the Fairies continue, but it’s going to be hungry when it hatches, and that means that even if it makes straight for home, it’s going to cut a swath of destruction across as much of Japan as may lie between it and its island. Then, in a bargaining ploy the two girls really ought to have tried on Torahata and his partner, the Fairies mention that the Thing would also like very much to see the egg returned, motioning to the spot behind Sakai and company where a moth with a 100-meter wingspan waits patiently for the Fairies to conclude their business. Again, I really think they ought to have tried that on Torahata.
Had they done so, they would have spared Sakai, Nakanishi, and Miura the trouble of fruitlessly negotiating with the tycoon on the Fairies’ behalf. Torahata, the scumbag, wants to see the power-of-attorney forms delegating the Thing’s authority over the egg to Sakai. Then, as if that weren’t enough, he tries to buy the Fairies for 200,000 yen! The girls may be tiny, but they’re not stupid, and they know that some people just cannot be helped. After this last rebuff from Torahata, they and the Thing go home, leaving Japan to fend for itself in the event of the egg’s hatching.
Coincidentally, that also has the effect of leaving Japan to fend for itself when Godzilla wakes up and claws his way out of the ground where that industrial center was being put up-- looks like that funny iridescent lump was a small particle of Godzilla shit! Thus commences the usual frantic deployment of the ever-outmatched JSDF, accompanied by the usual frantic construction of the ever-ineffectual cordon of high-tension electrical towers. I don’t care if they want to call it “artificial lightning” this time around-- hundreds of thousands of volts of electricity didn’t stop Godzilla in 1954, and it’s not going to stop him in 1964 either. And the Japanese government seems to know this just as well as we do, because it has also made a deal with the US, which will send in its navy to attack the monster with the new Frontier missile system. (This overlong but rather nicely done battle was shot by Toho but, oddly enough, appears only in the American version of Godzilla vs. the Thing.) Of course, we know how much good even an American-made missile is going to do against Godzilla, don’t we? The only real hope for Japan, as suggested by one of Sakai’s coworkers, is for Sakai, Nakanishi, and Miura to go to Mothra’s island and ask the Twin Fairies to send the Thing to fight Godzilla. This is going to be a hard sell, not only because they failed miserably to persuade Torahata to release the egg, but also because the island has been ravaged by nuclear weapons experiments, and its people now trust the industrialized world about as far as they could throw it. But it’s the only chance Japan has, and after much pleading and cajoling, Nakanishi is able to sway the Fairies and their people to lend Mothra’s services to Japan. The only trouble is that the Thing, the current incarnation of Mothra, is nearing the end of its apparently rather short lifespan, and in that state, it may be no match for the King of the Monsters. On the other hand, perhaps the new Mothra growing in “Kumayama’s” egg can do something even if the Thing fails...
So why, you might ask, would this movie’s American distributors release it stateside as Godzilla vs. the Thing? The Japanese version’s title translates to “Mothra vs. Godzilla,” American audiences had already been exposed to Mothra a few years earlier, and the mouth movements of the characters look an awful lot more like “Mothra” than they do like “the Thing.” Frankly, I have no real idea what the answer to this question might be. Perhaps the moneymen were afraid no one would take a giant moth seriously as an opponent for a monster that gave even King Kong a run for his money. Perhaps they were concerned about marketing confusion-- Mothra played America billed primarily as a movie for kids, a fate that would not befall the Godzilla series for a few more years. Or maybe the decision was driven by the really cool lobby card the advertising department came up with, which dares the audience to come see the movie by covering up Godzilla’s opponent with a white placard reading:
In any event, it almost doesn’t matter anymore. Current TV and home video prints all use the title Godzilla vs. Mothra, both in the main title display and the external packaging. This, of course, introduces a new problem, the possibility of confusing this film with the later Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth, which also goes by the name Godzilla vs. Mothra. Truly the life of a B-movie obsessive is filled with hardship...