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BLU-RAY REVIEW: Mothra

Godzilla, King of the Monsters, has a varied history that includes the enormous radioactive lizard as, alternatingly, a friend and a foe to humanity. However, within the pantheon of giant, destructive monsters from Toho Studios, Mothra has consistently been the most benevolent. That is not to say that Mothra doesn’t have a rap sheet for destroying cities, but Mothra’s damage has typically been the byproduct of reacting to the aggressive behavior of human beings — especially when those human beings enslave the diminutive twin priestesses of Infant Island, with whom Mothra shares a symbiotic relationship. Earlier this month, Mill Creek Entertainment released the first Blu-ray edition of the original Mothra film from 1961. This SteelBook edition may not be chock full of extra features, but since the film constitutes a unique entry in the annals of formative monster movies, this edition is a must-have for any serious kaiju fan.

The story, itself, borrows heavily from King Kong. After a typhoon causes a boat to land on the supposedly uninhabited Infant Island, where the country of Rolisica (a fictional country based on the US) had been testing atomic weapons, the survivors discover that a primitive Polynesian tribe occupies the island. A joint scientific / business expedition ensues, and the twin, 12-inch-tall priestesses of the island are abducted for the purpose of exploitation — by a sinister Rolisican businessman. When the little ladies are forced into showbusiness, Mothra awakens. Mothra, of course, is an enormous moth-like creature, who homes in on the priestesses, and attempts to rescue them while destroying everything in its way.

The film is directed by Ishirô Honda, who directed and co-wrote the original Godzilla film as well as directing the majority of the original Japanese kaiju films. The film stars the Japanese pop star twin sisters, Yumi and Emi Itô (known as The Peanuts) in the roles of the priestesses; and Furankî Sakai as the bumbling but courageous reporter Senichiro ‘Sen-chan’ Fukuda. The film is generally loved by fans for the presence and performances of the twins just as much as it is for its monster mayhem and its not-too-subtle depiction of — and reasonably suitable caricature of — the USA facsimile, Rolisica.

The video and audio presentations are decent. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and there are English and Japanese language options; both options are DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. For those wishing to view the film in its original language, there are English SDH subtitles. The image quality is very good, but given the limitations of the film’s production — especially where blue screen techniques and wires were used — an improved quality makes some of the primitive special effects stand out. That said, it is very amusing to get a clear image of the miniature stop-motion tank commanders during the sequences when Mothra causes major metropolitan destruction.

The extra features include a nice photo gallery, a trailer, and a commentary track featuring Japanese, Sci-fi Historians / authors Steve Fyfle and Ed Godziszewski. The track will appeal most to kaiju fans, but it also contains plenty of informational nuggets about monster films, in general, and their significant role within the Japanese film market. Fyfle and Godziszewski rarely pause for breath in between their discussions of Mothra’s story origin, its cast and crew, its place in Japanese fantasy film history, its controversial elements in the eyes of American distributors, the story behind the iconic Mothra song, the unusual exhibition / promotional suggestions given to theater owners by American distributors, design / model details of the creature effects, and an alternate — and still unseen — ending.

All in all, this is a very enjoyable package. Die hard kaiju fans may be frustrated by the sparse extra features, but the audio and video presentations will provide them with the best option yet available for screening the film, and the commentary track provides a healthy introduction to the world of kaiju films as well as plenty of inside baseball for the initiated.

About Scott Feinblatt

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