Sunday, August 24, 2014

60 Years of Godzilla - Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth

Toho's second most popular kaiju enters the '90s.

Back in 1972, Toho Studios and Godzilla series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had given consideration to making an entry in the series that would've been entitled The Return of King Ghidorah. That plan was scrapped, with story elements being reworked into 1972's Godzilla vs. Gigan.

Twenty years later, fresh off the box office success of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, which had been a relief after the failure of Godzilla vs. Biollante, the making of a movie to be entitled The Return of King Ghidorah was again considered. Ghidorah had brought audiences back to the cinemas to see a Godzilla movie, so why not give them more of what they wanted? This time, the King Ghidorah that Godzilla would be facing off against would be a space monster, like the original Ghidorah, rather than the product of time travel and radiation that was featured in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.

But The Return of King Ghidorah didn't make it very far into the development stage before the idea was again scrapped.

Special effects director Koichi Kawakita and monster designer Minoru Yoshida collaborated on a screenplay called Godzilla vs. Gigamoth, an update of the Godzilla vs. Mothra story wherein, rather than two normal Mothra larva hatching in Japan, there is one normal larva and one mutated by radiation, a Gigamoth larva, able to spray an acidic mist from its mouth. Gigamoth did battle with Godzilla throughout the story, with the climactic fight featuring Goji taking on the winged versions of both Mothra and Gigamoth. There was also the odd element of people being able to mentally merge with the moth monsters and control them during the fights.

Toho didn't like the Gigamoth script, but it was a step in the direction they wanted to go in. A poll of the public's favorite Godzilla co-star creatures had revealed that men liked King Ghidorah and MechaGodzilla the best, while women preferred Mothra. Mothra had always been extremely popular, so it seemed like it was a good time to bring the prettiest kaiju back to screens.

Screenwriter Wataru Mimura wrote a draft of a new take on Godzilla vs. Mothra, but that script was also rejected. Mimura didn't get to see his work reach the screen in the 1992 Godzilla movie, but he'd have better luck on future Godzilla projects.

The writer whose Godzilla/Mothra script did get produced was Kazuki Ohmori, who had written and directed Godzilla vs. Biollante and vs. King Ghidorah.

This wasn't the first time Ohmori wrote for Mothra. Directly after making Biollante, Ohmori had been hired to make Mothra vs. Bagan, which would have been the first time Mothra had been on screen without Godzilla since the original Mothra film in 1961. The monster Bagan she would have been fighting was an ancient Chinese monster/god that emerges into the modern world after the glacier it's been entombed within for hundreds of years melts. Bagan had originally been conceived for a version of the film that became The Return of Godzilla, although the creature was reworked for the Mothra story. After Godzilla vs. Biollante was a box office disappointment, Toho got skittish about producing films in which their kaiju were paired with monsters the audience wasn't familiar with, so the Mothra movie was cancelled.

Ohmori attempted to rewrite his Mothra vs. Bagan script into a Mothra and Godzilla story, but then abandoned that approach and started over from scratch. His finished screenplay met Toho's approval and the project moved forward into production.

Although Ohmori had directed the previous two movies, he didn't take the helm of this one. Instead, Takao Okawara, who had been the chief assistant director on The Return of Godzilla, was promoted into the director's chair. Veteran Godzilla composer Akira Ifukube was brought back to provide the score for Okawara's movie.

Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth begins with a massive meteorite entering Earth's atmosphere and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, awakening Godzilla from the rest he's been taking in the Ogasawara Trench. Less than 90 seconds into the movie, Godzilla is active and roaring beneath the sea.

Watching a monitor in a hi-tech facility designed to track Godzilla's status, psychic Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka reprising her role from Biollante and King Ghidorah) is the first to be aware that Godzilla is no longer dormant.

Wearing the newly re-designed Goji suit for this outing was, again, Kenpachiro Satsuma, playing Godzilla for the fourth film in a row.

Godzilla isn't the only kaiju stirring underwater, as some other creature will soon come burrowing out of the ocean floor... Elsewhere, a typhoon batters a seemingly uninhabited island, setting off a landslide that unearths a huge egg.

Takuya Fujito is the Japanese answer to Indiana Jones. An archaeologist and (former) professor, he's even introduced narrowly escaping death after retrieving an ancient idol from a booby-trapped ruin. He loses his hat, though, and never retrieves it, so he's not quite on Indiana's level.

To avoid serving a fifteen year jail sentence for stealing the idol and destroying the historical site, Takuya agrees to do a job for the National Environment Planning Bureau, a government organization that his ex-wife Masako Tezuka, mother to the daughter he hasn't seen in a long time, works for. Takuya is to go to Infant Island, an island that the Marutomo Company is planning to develop, and remove from it a large object recently spotted in satellite imagery. That object is, unbeknownst to them, the huge egg.

After reaching Infant Island, the expedition consisting of Takuya, Masako, and Andoh, secretary to the president of the Marutomo Company, begin a trek through the jungle. Takuya was introduced with a version of a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and during their journey across the island there's a version of a moment from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when a vine bridge snaps while the trio is crossing it.

Takuya discovers a cave hidden behind a waterfall, and on the cave walls are old paintings. Including one of two winged creatures engaged in an aerial battle. Mothra and the thing that came from the ocean floor. Going through the cave, the trio exit into a secret area of the island, and this is where the huge, colorful egg is.

Near the egg are two tiny women. Known as the Shobijin in the previous era of Toho's kaiju films, here these tiny women are called the Cosmos. The Shobijin were played by sister singing duos the Peanuts and later Pair Bambi. The Cosmos are also played by a singing duo (called the Cosmos), but the women, Keiko Imamura and Sayaka Osawa, are not sisters.

The Cosmos proceed to deliver a whole lot of exposition: they have been living on Earth since before humans existed, so they know that 12,000 years ago there was an advanced civilization on Earth, nature was in perfect balance, and the planet had a guardian called Mothra. But Earth is a living being and can be offended, and that's exactly what happened when scientists created a device to control the climate. To strike back, Earth created "the black Mothra", Battra, which set out to wreak havoc and destroy anything that Earth perceived as a threat. Mothra battled Battra to protect the people and managed to beat the creature, laying it to rest in the sea. But the climate controller was destroyed in the process, causing massive flooding on the Earth, covering most of the land with water. The Cosmos and Mothra survived by staying on a mountaintop.

Now, the inhabitants of the Earth are carelessly destroying the planet, even the Marutomo Company is guilty of tearing down forests. The result of man's disrespect for nature can be seen in climate change, abnormal weather, the rising sea level. If things keep going on the way they are, Earth is headed for doomsday. The meteorite hitting the ocean hasn't helped things. The acts of man and that event worked together to unearth the Mothra egg. She has awoken, and the Cosmos fear that Battra may have as well.

The explorers decide to go through with transporting the egg to mainland Japan, believing it will be safer there for the egg than on Infant Island, they'll be able to preserve it in a stable environment. The Cosmos agree to the plan, trusting them. They're not aware that the head of the Marutomo Company actually wants to make the egg a public attraction.

Masako also reports to the Japanese government that a creature called Battra may be in the area... And the Godzilla trackers have indeed noticed that Battra is swimming toward Japan. Once the creature, which looks like an evil variation on a Mothra larva, reaches land, it starts getting around by burrowing through the ground. When confronted, it also displays the abilities to blast energy beams from its eyes and the horn that juts out of its head. Despite the military's efforts to stop Battra, it manages to cause mass destruction in the city of Nagoya.

Being out at sea doesn't spare Takuya and company from the monstrous activity. As the ship towing the Mothra egg to Japan passes near the Philippines, Godzilla rises from the ocean, seemingly determined to destroy the egg mid-transportation. Before he can do so, the egg cracks open and a Mothra larva emerges from within, immediately engaging in a fight with Godzilla.

The Godzilla vs. Mothra match-up is soon disrupted by the arrival of Battra, who knocks Mothra aside and proceeds to battle Godzilla underwater while Mothra beats a hasty retreat. Godzilla and Battra go at it for a while, beating on each other, blasts of energy beams and atomic breath filling the water... Until they're interrupted by the eruption of an underwater volcano.

The expedition team reaches Japan and briefly it appears that all is well and the movie has reached its end. Mothra swam back to Infant Island, Godzilla and Battra were swallowed up by the volcano, and Takuya and Masako are re-connecting, becoming less hostile toward each other.

But we're only halfway through the movie. Fearing the repercussions of returning from Infant Island empty handed, Andoh delivers the Cosmos over to the head of the Marutomo Company, who wants to use them in advertisements and promotional stunts. Before that can happen, Takuya steals the Cosmos in an attempt to sell them off so he can pay Masako's alimony.

To escape from captivity, the Cosmos begin singing the famous song that always brings Mothra to them. On Infant Island, Mothra hears them.

Mothra travels across the sea toward Tokyo. The military tries to stop the swimming larva, but no matter how much ammo they expend, Mothra does not stop or even slow down.

Mothra isn't the only one who hears the Cosmos' song. Miki also hears it, and is able to lead Masako (with her daughter Midori in tow) to the small women so they can try to convince the Cosmos to talk Mothra into not destroying Tokyo... Which the larva starts to do as soon as it reaches the city.

After being scolded by his daughter and his ex, Takuya hands over the Cosmos and Midori talks them into convincing Mothra to stop the destruction. Mothra listens and begins to return to Infant Island, but the military continues trying to destroy the creature. Soon it appears that the larva has been mortally injured... but actually, it has only reached the end of the larval stage of its life cycle. It builds a cocoon around the Capital Building.

While the cocooned Mothra goes through its final stages of metamorphosis, Godzilla makes his return into the picture, erupting out of Mt. Fuji with a flood of lava, having ridden lava streams from the Philippines all the way to the mountain in mainland Japan. As Godzilla makes his way toward the city of Yokohama, the winged Mothra exits the cocoon and flies off... Off to find Battra and destroy it.

Battra is again swimming toward Japan when it also changes into a winged version of itself, but there's no cocoon needed for its metamorphosis, it just transforms instantly with flashes of energy running through its body.

The three kaiju converge at Yokohama's seaside amusement park, called Cosmo World, home to one of the biggest ferris wheels in the world (112.5 meters/369 feet tall and capable of holding 480 passengers). That ferris wheel doesn't survive the ensuing monster fight. Like the ancient cave drawing depicted, Mothra and Battra do aerial battle with each other, and this time Godzilla is in the mix as well... and the way things play out is not how you would expect them to.

Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth is a solid '90s-style take on the Godzilla vs. Mothtra story, modern for its time but also brought to the screen with a tone that evokes the spirit of the series' '60s installments. It's a fun movie with a pleasantly colorful look and some spectacular special effects, from the monsters to the model work.

Of the three Godzilla movies Kazuki Ohmori had scripted to this point, Godzilla and Mothra is the one I had the least amount of issues with, and I think having a different director was a benefit for the film. There is still an uncomfortable amount of running time for which Godzilla is absent, but the movie makes up for it once he comes out of Mt. Fuji.

I'm not generally much of a Mothra fan, but I thoroughly enjoy The Battle for Earth. That seems to be the way it goes for me with Mothra - I think the creature is kind of lame, and yet it's in good movies.

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