Monday, July 12, 2010

Godzilla Battles for the Earth

Godzilla and Mothra: Battle for the Earth
(Gojira Tai Mosura, 1992)

DVD Description:
Released by Sony/Tristar; additional material: trailers

Directed by Takao Okawara

Starring Tetsuya Bessho, Satomi Kobayashi, Megumi Odaka, Keiko Imamura, Sayaka Osawa, Takehiro Murata, Saburo Shinoda, Akira Takarada, Shoji Kobayashi

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The Heisei-era Godzilla films (1984–1995) began on a promising note, with Return of Godzilla (a.k.a. Godzilla 1985), which—though flawed—unfolded as much like a contemporary disaster film as a monster story. The following film, Godzilla vs. Biollante, was equally flawed, but it ventured into some new territory for the series; featured a redesigned, fierce-looking Godzilla; and brought the suitmation technique for endowing monsters with life to a more sophisticated level. Then...Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah happened, which might have been a spectacular visual treat, but was a holy horror in the plotting/internal logic department. The film was a box-office success, however, and Toho rushed the following film, Godzilla vs. Mothra, right into production.

While the Heisei films generally maintained consistent continuity, the plot mostly ignores the events of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, for which one may well be thankful; however, the story rates among the most didactic of the Godzilla films, with an environmental theme so overbearing that even if you buy the message you wouldn't be averse to clocking the messenger. From its opening moments (an overt homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark), the film feels derivative, with much of its storyline lifted from 1961's Mothra and 1963's Mothra vs. Godzilla. Numerous environmental disasters wrack the earth simultaneously, from typhoons to volcanoes to landslides due to over-development. In response to the ecological damage, Mothra and its darker sibling, Battra, are awakened—the latter with the aim to put things right on Earth by force. The more gentle Mothra opposes Battra, but its caretakers—the ten-inch tall fairies (now known as the Cosmos)—are kidnapped by the profiteering Mr. Tomokane of the land-grabbing Marutomo Corporation, and Mothra turns its ire on Japan in attempt to rescue them. In the meantime, Godzilla is not particularly happy with either monster, and comes around periodically to tangle with them—until, in the end, they team up and do a little whooping of their own.

The two main characters—rogue archaeologist Takuya Fujita (Tetsuya Bessho) and Masako Tezuka (Satomi Kobayashi)—provide slightly more engaging personalities than some of the other Godzilla films of the era; they are divorced and not amiably so. Some of the acrimonious interplay between them is convincing if not always appealing. Takehiro Murata, as Marutomo representative Kenji Andoh plays a corporate beanpod who almost has a conscience well enough, and even provides a touch of comic relief now and again. The greedy head of the Marutomo Corporation, played by Makoto Otake, is an amalgamation of notorious exploiters Clark Nelson from the original Mothra and Jiro Torahata from Mothra vs. Godzilla, but Otake's performance tends to be a bit over the top and devoid of any depth. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the cast stands around and offers nothing to the story, especially Heisei series regular Megumi Odaka as psychic Miki Saegusa, whose appearance in this film is solely to look worried.

While some of the special effects work may be impressive, the Mothra and Battra designs and execution are anything but. Mothra, in both larva and imago form, never appeared so artificial; despite the advances in SPFX technology in the intervening years, the Showa-era Mothra in all its various incarnations appeared more convincing, especially in the original 1961 film under the supervision of effects director Eiji Tsuburaya. Battra is a suitably evil-looking creature, but the puppet could hardly be less animated, and in many scenes its supporting wires are clearly visible.

During his tenure as special effects director, Koichi Kawakita had a tendency to overdo the optical effects, with an abundance of fiery rays constantly crossing the screen, sparkling flashes erupting over the landscape, and brilliant halos surrounding the monsters. In Godzilla vs. Mothra, there's scarcely a scene with the monsters that isn't optically enhanced, and though the light show occasionally highlights the raw power of the monsters' deadly exchanges, for the most part, it simply distracts.

Unquestionably, the movie's single most effective feature is Akira Ifukube's musical score. While most of the themes are familiar, especially the Mothra motif used in the original Mothra vs. Godzilla (based on Yuji Koseki's score for the original 1961 Mothra), the richness and variations of the orchestrations add a poignancy the soundtrack, particularly the ending theme as Mothra flies into outer space to intercept and destroy a meteor on a catastrophic collision course with Earth.

Overall, Godzilla vs. Mothra doesn't hold a candle to the Showa-era Mothra vs. Godzilla, to which it must inevitably compare, and at the time of its release, I would have called it the least entertaining of the Heisei-era Godzilla films, for despite its inane plot, at least Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah offered something unique. Unfortunately, there would be at least one other entry in the Heisei series to make Godzilla vs. Mothra look like a classic....

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