Mothra vs. Godzilla (Japanese Import) (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Jan 22, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Mothra vs. Godzilla (Japanese Import) (4K UHD Review)

Director

Ishirō Honda

Release Date(s)

1964 (October 25, 2023)

Studio(s)

Toho
  • Film/Program Grade: A-
  • Video Grade: B+
  • Audio Grade: B-
  • Extras Grade: A-

Mothra vs. Godzilla (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!

Review

[Editor's Note: This is a Region-Free Japanese import.]

Mothra vs. Godzilla (aka Mosura tai Gojira and Godzilla vs. the Thing) ended up being another important step in the evolution of the Godzilla franchise, though not in a way that’s immediately obvious. Godzilla had introduced the legendary monster; Godzilla Raids Again added monster-on-monster combat; and King Kong vs. Godzilla lightened the tone and incorporated the humor that would mark the rest of the Shōwa era films. Mothra vs. Godzilla has all of those same elements, but it added a new wrinkle: repetition. Not necessarily in terms of the frequent use of stock footage that would become more prevalent as the series progressed (although there’s a bit of it from The Mysterians used here), but rather in the way that it reworked familiar story concepts from previous films. That’s something that most of the films going forward would continue to do. Mothra vs. Godzilla isn’t exactly a remake of King Kong vs. Godzilla, but it’s definitely a reworking of the same basic story, and in many ways it’s a refinement of everything that was done in that film. Despite the fact that it was produced for significantly less money (the budget was barely a quarter of what was spent on Kong), it’s a much smoother and more polished effort. There’s a good reason why Mothra vs. Godzilla has long been a fan favorite; in some respects, it’s the Platonic ideal of what a Godzilla movie should be.

Shinichi Sekizawa returned to devise the story and write the screenplay, although the shooting script was heavily rewritten by director Ishirō Honda. As with King Kong vs. Godzilla, the post-war economic miracle rears its ugly head in the form of corporate exploitation, with inevitably destructive results. The Pacific Pharmaceuticals company of the previous film has been traded in here for Happy Enterprises, but their aims are the same: to make a quick buck with little thought regarding the consequences. When one of Mothra’s eggs washes ashore on the mainland, the local villagers claim it as their own and sell it to Happy Enterprises owner Kumayama (Yoshifumi Tajima), who wants to earn a profit by exhibiting it to the public. Yet even Kuyamama can’t front the operation without backing from his silent partner Torahata (Kenji Sahara), who has far more ambitious plans for a full theme park with the egg (and its contents) as the main attraction.

The problem is that the real owner of the egg wants it back. The tiny Shobijin (Emi & Yumi Itō) travel from Infant Island on Mothra’s behalf to plead for its return. The adult Mothra is at the end of her life cycle, and all of Infant Island will be in need of a new protector once she’s gone. The Shobijin enlist the help of Professor Miura (Hiroshi Koizumi), reporter Ichiro Sakai (Godzilla’s Akira Takarada), and his photographer Junko Nakanishi (Yuriko Hoshi), but they’re not able to turn the tide against corporate interests. Yet when Godzilla reappears and Mothra may be Japan’s only hope of stopping it, the trio are forced to travel to Infant Island in order to ask for Mothra’s help directly. Since they failed to secure the return of Mothra’s egg, that means they’re asking Mothra to risk her own life on behalf of the nation that’s still holding her offspring captive.

In other words, the only hope for Japan is that a giant monster will display more basic human compassion than its own people have. In the world of Godzilla as envisioned by Honda and Sekizawa, irony abounds as much as satire does. Befitting that theme, the Infant Islanders are portrayed far more sympathetically here than the Faro Islanders were in King Kong vs. Godzilla. Infant Island itself has been ravaged by nuclear testing, and without their god and protector Mothra, the people have little chance for survival. In the original Godzilla, the people of Japan were victimized by a beast that was birthed by American post-war nuclear testing. In Mothra vs. Godzilla, the people of Infant Island have been victimized not just by nuclear testing, but also by the rise of predatory capitalism in post-war Japan. Asking for their help is as much of a stretch as it would have been for the U.S. Navy to ask for the help of the families of the crewmembers of the Eiko-maru in Godzilla. Yet however heartless that the corporate interests represented by Happy Enterprises may be, Mothra is still able to exhibit a humanistic quality that mankind as a whole often lacks: forgiveness for the sake of the greater good.

Despite those weighty themes, Mothra vs. Godzilla never loses sight of the fact that it’s primarily a well-crafted piece of popular entertainment. Godzilla had been a somber meditation on the perils of the nuclear age, while King Kong vs. Godzilla had arguably tipped the scales too far into slapstick comedy, but Mothra vs. Godzilla is the perfect balance between the two. The key is that the satiric and openly comic elements are largely confined to the human characters, while the monsters are still taken quite seriously. The new Godzilla suit is a great design, with pronounced eyebrow ridges that give it an appropriately menacing appearance. This is the last time during the entire Shōwa era that Godzilla would be an unambiguously villainous character, and other than a couple of moments where it displays some uncharacteristic clumsiness, the monster action is still relatively straightforward. That would change with the next film Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, which doubled down on the slapstick from King Kong vs. Godzilla. Yet for a brief moment in 1964, the Godzilla franchise found its own perfect harmony with Mothra vs. Godzilla.

Cinematographer Hajime Koizumi shot Mothra vs. Godzilla on 35 mm film using anamorphic Tohoscope lenses, framed at 2.35:1 for its theatrical release. While the original nitrate negatives for Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again no longer exist, the negatives for the rest of the franchise do—with one major caveat. The negatives for King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra vs. Godzilla, and Invasion of Astro-Monster were all cut to conform to the abbreviated Toho Champion Festival versions in the Seventies. The missing material had to be sourced from master positive elements instead. Everything was scanned at 4K resolution, with all digital restoration work being performed in full 4K.

No High Dynamic Range grade has been applied to any of Toho’s 4K restorations for the Godzilla franchise, but they do take advantage of 10-bit color in the BT.2020 color space. Depending on how your display is set up and calibrated, SDR BT.2020 may require some adjustments in order to work properly. Some displays will default to BT.2020 for HDR but automatically switch to Rec.709 for SDR material, and that can cause the colors to look pale and washed out. Manually switching to BT.2020 instead should restore the colors to their intended glory. (You’ll need to remember to switch back later or else colors will distort on other discs.)

The differences aren’t subtle, and in Rec.709, Mothra vs. Godzilla will appear desaturated. Properly calibrated, however, it’s a different story. While it’s a bit less colorful overall than King Kong vs. Godzilla, the colors here are still nicely saturated and they generally look natural. The grain is softer and fainter this time since more noise reduction has been applied during the restoration process. Grain hasn’t quite been erased, but it’s definitely been reduced. Fine textures haven’t been erased either, although they have been softened. A few textures like some of the fabrics in the costuming do smear a bit when in motion, although they’re stable when static. Mothra vs. Godzilla has more optical composite work than in any previous Godzilla film, so those dupe shots look even softer (Toho’s composting department wasn’t the best), but there’s nothing to be done about that. There’s also some significant anamorphic distortion at the edges of the frame, and a few focus problems as well. Despite all of those minor issues, there’s still far more detail visible here than in any previous home video version. That includes the fact that the seams and other imperfections in the background cycloramas are clearly visible. Actual damage to the elements is limited to some faint small scratches and occasional debris at the edges of the frame. While it would have been preferable for Toho to have used a lighter touch with the noise reduction, the flip side is that the dupe footage like the optical composites and replacement Champion Festival material blends better with the negative scans here than it did in KKVG. So, there are some pluses to go along with the minuses. Contrary to what some fans may think, the use of digital tools isn’t inherently bad; it’s all a question of degrees.

Audio is offered in Japanese 2.0 mono LPCM and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio remix from 2003, with optional Japanese barrier-free subtitles (the Japanese equivalent of SDH). Mothra vs. Godzilla was originally recorded and mixed in mono (even the music), so this 5.1 track is just processed mono rather than a true remix. There’s a bit of separation between the channels, and an occasional effect that’s been steered one way of the other, but that’s about it. There’s a little more presence due to the fake stereo spread, but on the other hand it sounds less robust overall than the original mono track does. The choice is yours, but the latter arguably has a slight edge.

Toho’s Region-Free 4K Ultra HD release of Mothra vs. Godzilla comes in a black Amaray case with striking metallic silver artwork on the insert. Per standard Toho policy, neither the film nor any of the extras offer English subtitles. That’s not necessarily an insurmountable obstacle, however. Some players like the Oppo UDP-203 and UDP-205 offer the ability to load external subtitles. You’ll have to do a little Googling to see if your particular player does so as well. If it can, all that you need to do is take the English subtitle file (with an .srt extension) from disc like Criterion’s Blu-ray. Rename it “sub.srt,” create a folder on a USB drive called “sub,” and place the file in that folder. Insert the drive into the USB port on your player, then when playing the disc, use the subtitle button on your remote to select “other,” and Bob’s your uncle. You’ll have to adjust the sync to get it to line up properly. On the Oppos, that’s accessible using the Option button.

There are other sources for .srt files, but you’ll have to discover those on your own. There’s a more drastic (and permanent) way of adding subtitles to a film that doesn’t offer them, but that’s also something that you’ll have to find out for yourself. Google will be your friend here.

The following extras are included:

  • Audio Commentary with Kenji Sahara
  • Trailers:
    • Special News Trailer (4K – 1:03)
    • Textless Special News Trailer (4K – 1:03)
    • Trailer (4K – 2:09)
    • Textless Trailer (4K – 2:09)
    • Toho Champion Festival Special News Trailer (4K – 4:29)
    • Toho Champion Festival Mothra vs. Godzilla Trailer (4K – 2:09)
    • New Version of Mothra vs. Godzilla Trailer (4K – 1:33)
  • Toho Champion Festival Version of Mothra vs. Godzilla (HD – 74:05)
  • Making-of Video (Upscaled SD – 4:19)
  • Unused Special Effects Footage (HD – 8:28)
  • Godzilla: The World of Modeling (HD – 28:26)
  • Mothra vs. Godzilla Battle Sketch (HD – 2:46)
  • Mothra Attacks Tokyo! 8 mm Digest (HD – 4:44)
  • Mothra Attacks Tokyo! Picture Book (HD – 3:09)
  • Still Galleries
    • Cast (4K, 21 in all)
    • Special Effects (4K, 74 in all)
    • Promotional Materials (4K, 111 in all)
    • Press Books (4K, 68 in all)

Since many of these extras are in Japanese with no way to add subtitles, they’re of limited utility to anyone who doesn’t speak the language. All’s not lost, however. Google Lens with Google Translate can also be your friend in deciphering some of the text, and a few of the extras are English-friendly. The shortened Toho Champion Festival version appears to have been sourced from the same scans as the full-length version of the film, but without all of the rest of the work that was done to that. There’s a bit more damage visible, and none of the noise reduction. It makes an interesting comparison. The Making-of Video is silent 8 mm behind-the-scenes footage shot on location by producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, with some additional footage of audiences lining up outside a theatre to see the film. The Unused Effects Footage is a reel of silent outtakes from the effects unit that includes the typhoon, the egg, and the Shobijin, as well as extra Godzilla and Mothra rampages. Some of the most interesting material includes composites with flaws like bleed-through and shots with the small Godzilla and Mothra puppets that were used for closeups—they ended up being discarded because they really look like they’re just puppets. (Note that the effects footage of the Frontier missile attack that Tsuburaya’s crew produced for the American version of the film hasn’t been included here.)

Godzilla: The World of Modeling is an interview with Yuji Sakai, who is an artist, sculptor, and modeler. He worked on both Godzilla vs. Destroyah and Godzilla 2000, but he’s probably best known as a figurine designer for companies like X-Plus and S.H. Model Arts. HE’s also produced garage kits independently. Fans of figure modeling will enjoy this interview even without English subtitles, because it offers plenty of footage of models from Sakai’s vast collection. There’s also a brief visit to Eiji Tsuburaya’s birthplace before the interview begins. The Mothra vs. Godzilla Battle Sketch is conceptual artwork exploring ideas on how to stage the fights in the film. The Mothra Attacks Tokyo! 8 mm reel is actually a condensed version of the original Mothra, not of Mothra vs. Godzilla, but it’s still interesting. The Mothra Attacks Tokyo! Picture Book, on the other hand, isn’t really from either. It’s a pure work of the imagination with artwork by Takeaki Tsukuda, featuring Godzilla doing battle with Mothra and a variety of other kaiju and mecha. Finally, the various Still Galleries offer plenty of material that valuable with or without subtitles.

Will there eventually be a domestic release of this 4K restoration? Maybe, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. Toho has a long history of only offering substandard masters for overseas distribution—witness the poor-quality masters that they provided to Criterion for the Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954–1975 Blu-ray set. Time will tell, but for the time being, Toho’s 4K release of Mothra vs. Godzilla is the best possible option. Exchange rates are currently favorable, too. That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be cheap, because physical media in Japan has always been expensive relative to North America. Whether or not it’s worth the cost is up to you. It was worth it to me, because Mothra vs. Godzilla remains one of the crown jewels of the entire franchise.

- Stephen Bjork

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