I’m of two minds about Mothra. It’s certainly unique, creating a mythology for the monster; complete with an island habitat and its worshipful natives. The miniature girls add an even more exotic touch. There’s motifs of traditional culture, greed/exploitation, and nationalism. On the other hand, there’s a sweetness that lapses into camp and childishness.
After the dark, menacing Godzilla and Rodan from the mid-’50s, Japanese sci-fi veered into a lighter, playful tone in the 60s. Eventually, we had ‘good’ monsters (Mothra, and even Godzilla) squaring off against ‘bad’ ones (robots and aliens). It’s said that the change was done to attract young kids; judging by the number of more or less silly Japanese monster movies after Mothra, I guess that idea worked.
I remember first seeing Mothra on TV when I was about twelve in the mid-60s. Even then I thought the tone was weird. Mothra just wasn’t scary; my main reaction was that it was vaguely creepy. The singing girls seemed odd; the way they performed, gliding from that gilded coach to the stage, was very dream-like. Not badly done–in fact done very well, but disturbing.
Having a moth for a monster is just bizarre. Who’s afraid of moths? He’s even furry, sort of a teddy-bear. Maybe that’s an upgrade from his initial appearance as a giant tomato worm. The destruction scenes are fairly good, considering that we’re dealing with models and toys. Mothra’s ability to spin a cocoon is even used as a weapon.
The Rolisican subplot is interesting in that it shows how Japan felt squeezed between the U.S and U.S.S.R. In fact, Rolisican military assistance is needed to attack Mothra’s cocoon. His subsequent emergence as a moth makes effective use of the ‘not-so-fast’ ending. In no time at all he’s over New Kirk (York?) City. The cars and buildings blown about by his wings is a wild effect also used in Rodan.
The denouement is curious, but makes sense within the mythology at work here. Mothra’s attracted by the symbol on the airfield, which is a blend of the Christian cross with a rising sun behind it. West/East harmony achieved; he takes the miniature girls home to their island.
The originality of the story makes this interesting and watchable. The pacing is fine, the special effects good enough. Not much in the way of acting, though; I’d say there’s four characters: the Japanese guys, the Rolisican guys, the miniature girls, and Mothra. A different sort of monster movie. 5/10.