What does Godzilla mean to me? All I had were half-remembered fragments. A sense that I loved his adventures but no concrete reasons why. Most of his movies I hadn’t seen since childhood. Some not at all. I could remember all the monsters — Biollante, Destoroyah, Mothra, Rodan, Gigan, Godzilla himself. But the stories? I had to watch them all again. Who was this character who sat large in my mind, so ill-defined?
The best way to find those answers was to watch them all back-to-back — and then to take the question to the G-man himself.
Are You There, Godzilla? It’s Me, Evan.
Confession: I kind of like Mothra more than you. Please forgive me. She’s a giant fuzzy moth who guards Earth from threats both human and monstrous. What more could I want?
Mothra’s popularity in the Toho Kaiju canon is second only to yours, as evidenced by her numerous film appearances — including her very own trilogy during the 1990s. Her first appearance, Mothra, was basically King Kong with a more benevolent beast. That film introduced her home, Infant Island, an idealized Pacific Islander nation free from the awfulness of modern humankind, as well as the Fairies (or Cosmos … or Elias, depending on your canon) who accompany her, singing her song when in need of help: Mothra, oh, Mothra / If we were to call for help / Over time, over sea, like a wave / You’d come, our guardian angel!
Who sings for you? That’s right. Nobody.
Mothra is equal parts adorable and deadly. Unlike you, she’s also deeply self-sacrificing — usually dying to defend nature and those who ask for her help. In later films, she frequently died to charge you up versus a greater foe. But we’re not there yet. The circle of life is her backup plan: She always has an egg with two little caterpillar Mothras ready to escape and avenge her.
In fact, an egg was the impetus for Mothra vs. Godzilla, your first encounter. After a typhoon washes one of her giant eggs onto the shores of Japan, a wealthy industrialist attempts to secure sole rights of ownership. “Do you have Mothra’s power of attorney?” someone asks him angrily.
The typhoon brought you ashore, too, but you weren’t the star of Mothra vs. Godzilla. In fact, you were explicitly the antagonist, in full angry-asshole monster fashion. Maybe you deserved to be a little angry: Those humans were bothering you again. The conflict between the cruel unfettered greed of the human world and natural law wasn’t subtle, with the villains trying to control Mothra and her spawn. Organized crime, the bedfellow of power, showed up, too: For the first time, one of your movies depicted human-on-human gun violence.
It’s implied that the typhoon that washed the egg ashore was caused by further hydrogen bomb testing, “the fire that destroyed Infant Island.” Quite an event to happen offscreen, seeing as this was a direct sequel to Mothra (as well as King Kong v. Godzilla). Eat your heart out, Marvel. The Fairies ask Mothra to judge Earth accordingly, and it’s telling that she still believes in mankind’s potential as stewards once she’s done killing all the baddies. Best girl Mothra. You and Mothra acted out the human conflicts like massive shadow puppets. You, a result of human evil. Mothra, a spirit of the Earth — proving capable of great destruction in an instant.
Although later films in the franchise humanized you and placed you into Mothra’s role as hero, here you were the most like your first appearance in Gojira. Big and mean — maybe your biggest and meanest. Your battle with Mothra was crueler and more violent than your sparring with Kong or even Anguirus in previous films. Mothra fights so heroically in defense of Earth but is no match for you. You rip her apart. Jump on her. Straight-up murder her. It’s up to her two caterpillars to cocoon you, and even then the fight is brutal. Your collateral destruction on human cities is targeted and extreme. You weren’t just an animal here. Godzilla, you were a monster. If you’d shown up this malevolent in your first movie, well … maybe you deserved a dose of WMD asphyxiation.
This is the last film with you as an out-and-out villain. What a pleasure.
New installments of Are You There, Godzilla? It’s Me, Evan will post regularly leading up to the May 31 release of Godzilla: King of the Monsters.