Cast & Crew
An expedition of Japanese and Rosilican scientists visit an island in the Pacific which has been used as an atomic testing ground. They find the island inhabited by tiny tribesmen and discover foot-tall twin maidens guarding a huge egg which is held sacred by the islanders. Nelson, an unscrupulous Rosilican, later kidnaps the twins to exhibit them as freaks in Tokyo. The egg hatches, and a giant larva crawls toward the Japanese capital to rescue the women. Leaving a trail of destruction behind it, the creature finally spins an invulnerable cocoon. Atomic rays are used in an attempt to destroy the cocoon, but the tremendous heat generated speeds up the creature's metamorphosis, and a monstrous moth emerges. As it pursues Nelson to Rosilica, the monster creates powerful wind storms with its wings, destroying the Rosilican metropolis and killing thousands. Angry citizens kill Nelson; and to ensure world peace, the two governments surrender the twins to Mothra, who returns with them to their island.
David D. Horne
Titra Sound Corp.
But even among the best Japanese fantasy films, Mothra has a unique twist. Mothra you see is female and actually makes her debut in the film as a giant caterpillar. She's not a rampaging destroyer like Godzilla but a protective super-being and she lives on the remote island of Baru (near the site of atomic bomb testing) where she's attended by two six-inch-tall twin princesses. A couple of evil scientists steal some larva samples and capture the princesses before heading back to the bright lights of Tokyo with their finds. The almighty larva eventually becomes Mothra and she's not too happy about this particular turn of events.
Everybody who sees Mothra wonders about the actresses who play the tiny princesses. Who were they? They were the Ito twins - Emi and Yumi - a real-life singing duo known as The Peanuts and they even performed on the The Ed Sullivan Show. They became huge stars in Japan in 1959 and appeared in a handful of films; their last film (Kureji no daiboken aka Crazy Cat's Big Adventure) was released in 1965.
Mothra also features other actors familiar to Japanese audiences. Frankie Sakai (as Bulldog) was well known in his own country for such comedies as Train Station and Company President (He also played Lord Yabu in the 1980 TV mini-series Shogun). He won a Japanese Academy Award for Best Actor in 1996, shortly before his death. On the other hand, Jerry Ito (as Clark Nelson) had an American parent and could barely speak Japanese. That didn't stop him from appearing in several Japanese films during the sixties like The Manster (1960) and The Last War (1961). As for the caterpillar version of Mothra, that part was played by several college students in a large costume.
Director Ishiro Honda made the first Godzilla film and numerous science fiction outings such as The Mysterians (1957), Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965) and the unforgettably titled Matango: Fungus of Terror (1963, also known as Attack of the Mushroom People, which is part nightmare/part theatre-of-the-absurd). Like many Japanese directors of that time Honda worked his way through the apprentice system, first as an assistant director for the legendary Mikio Naruse before making his first solo feature in 1951 (he'd previously done some documentary shorts). He ended his career as an uncredited fill-in director for Akira Kurosawa's last three films.
The English-language version of Mothra was scripted by Peter Fernandez who did similar work on dozens of dubbed films of that era. Recently he's worked as an actor and voice director on several animated projects such as The Cartoon Network's Courage, the Cowardly Dog. (In the sixties he provided the voice for Speed Racer.)
Mothra made a few more appearances over the years in films like Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964) and Destroy All Monsters (1968) before the giant monster genre (called "kaiju eiga" in Japan and by fans around the world) began to fizzle out. However, a revival of interest in Mothra led to a cycle of new Mothra films in 1996, though this time they were clearly targeted at children. You can pick up some of these new Mothra films like Gojira vs. Mosura (1992) and Mosura 2 (1997) on DVD in the U.S.
Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka
Director: Ishiro Honda, Lee Kresel
Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa, Takehiro Fukunaga (story), Yoshie Hotta (story), Shinichiro Nakamura (story), Peter Fernandez (English version)
Production Design: Teruaki Abe, Takeo Kita
Cinematography: Hajime Koizumi
Film Editing: Kazuji Taira
Original Music: Yuji Koseki
Principal Cast: Frankie Sakai (Journalist Senichiro), Hiroshi Koizumi (Dr. Nakazo), Kyoko Kagawa (Michi Hanamura), Jerry Ito (Clark Nelson), Ken Uehara (Dr. Haradawa), Emi Ito (Shobijin), Yumi Ito (Shobijin), Takashi Shimura (News editor).
By Lang Thompson
Toho Collection: Icons of Sci-Fi - MOTHRA, THE H-MAN and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE are Showcased in ICONS OF SCI-FI: TOHO COLLECTION
All of the films are also in full widescreen Tohoscope, and two of them are accompanied by authoritative commentaries by the authors and Kaiju experts Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski.
The original Japanese title of The H-Man translates as "Beauty and the Liquid Man", a name that firmly pegs this entertaining hybrid. Police experts investigating sordid drug dealings are stumped when crooks vanish leaving only their clothes behind. No-nonsense Inspector Tominaga (Akihiko Hirata) refuses to give credence to the radical theory of scientist Dr. Masada (Kenji Sahara): radioactivity has transformed six sailors into H-Men, liquid beings that dissolve other humans for food. Alluring nightclub singer Chikako Arai (top-billed Yumi Shirakawa, star of The Mysterians) gets involved because her boyfriend is one of the gangsters thought to have disappeared -- or been liquefied. Two sailors' tale of encountering "living liquid" monsters on a derelict ship is presented in a spooky flashback. The authorities remain unconvinced -- until the H-Men invade Chikako's nightclub, melting gangsters and detectives alike!
The original version of The H-Man is something new for fans familiar only with the shorter, confusing American re-cut. It's been long disparaged as a copycat rip-off of Irvin Yeaworth Jr.'s The Blob, even though The H-Man's Japanese premiere came months earlier. A more likely source inspiration is Hammer Films' 1956 release X-The Unknown. That picture not only features a blob-like monster, it postulates the odd idea that radiation "melts" flesh.
The result of sailors exposed to an American nuclear blast, the "H-Men" monsters also assume the form of green humanoid ghosts, which look great but make little sense. Dr. Masada performs an experiment in which a frog is liquefied by radiation, and becomes a living slime. Nobody seems concerned about the unlucky croaker's fate, and no "green ghost" frogs materialize to complicate things.
Victims touched by the creeping slime collapse as if being deflated, an effect enhanced by dramatic silhouette lighting. A couple of killings involve animation and frozen frames, and are a bad idea poorly executed. But shots of a carpet of slime creeping along the sewer walls are excellently visualized. Toho's miniatures are so carefully used that we're barely aware of them; the final conflagration below Tokyo seems inspired by the end of Warner Bros.' Them!.
Director Ishiro Honda handles his actors well; we recognize many from Kurosawa films. The gangsters are chosen for perverse attitudes, especially the villain Uchida (Makato Sato). The nightclub scenes include a couple of impressively filmed exotic dances. An American cabaret singer dubs Ms. Shirakawa's torch song, very unconvincingly. Compounding the cultural mismatch are inept lyrics that read like vintage Japanese stereo instructions: "I've counted my love", etc. The film's criticism of encroaching American values (flashy gangsters, sexy nightclubs) just looks weird to us Yanks.
Scientists opine that the H-Men may have returned to Tokyo because they retain a human homing instinct. But the script ascribes no particular motivation to the killings, even though most of the victims are Yakuza crooks. The cop / gang moll / scientist romantic triangle stays purely professional, with all parties observing formal manners. But in a scene fairly racy for 1958, Uchida orders Chikako to strip, so as to make the cops think she's been liquefied.
The transfer of The H-Man is bright and colorful, with the green H-Men glowing like electric emeralds. The dubbing in the American version is actually not bad. A large chunk of footage and an exotic dance have been deleted -- the U.S. version may have simply excised three or four scenes in a row. Masaru Sato's music score uses weird string twangs to represent the sneaky slime, but the main theme is a rousing march more suited for a convention of drum majorettes.
A scientist proposes the notion that the H-Men may be the next evolutionary step, an adaptation that will allow man to live in an irradiated atmosphere. The movie can therefore be classified as one of the bleak apocalyptic 50s films that assume the inevitability of nuclear annihilation.
The exultantly juvenile Battle in Outer Space is a gaudy wonder show that presents Star Wars- like space combat a full decade before George Lucas. Agile jet-job flying saucers oppose Earth's Defense Force fighter rockets in the stratosphere, in orbit and on the dark side of the moon.
After a worldwide spate of bizarre disasters -- train wrecks, flooding, etc. -- the United Nations traces the nefarious acts to alien forces called "Natalians". Twin rocket ships are launched from a Japanese space center to investigate what might be an enemy base on the lunar surface. The expedition barely escapes from flying saucers launched from Natal's base of operations, the Mother Ship. Worse, a member of the expedition has been brainwashed by the space enemies, and telepathically commanded to sabotage the UN spaceships.
The nations of Earth join in a rush project to front a massive defense against the invaders. Squadrons of rocket fighters spring forth from underground silos to engage Natal's armada. The Mother Ship launches giant space torpedoes that devastate San Francisco and New York City. And when the saucers and rockets do battle in the skies over downtown Tokyo, Natal unleashes its ultimate weapon -- an anti-gravity ray!
Battle in Outer Space has everything a space-addled 1950s kid could want. The spacemen rumble across the moonscape in space buses that resemble Oscar Meyer's Weinermobile. Sizzling animated rays zap across the screen. A mass dogfight breaks out in Earth orbit. Aerial bombs blow up the Golden Gate Bridge, an impressive special effect for its time. The anti-gravity ray churns up downtown Tokyo, flinging buildings, cars and people into the air like a tossed salad.
Other details aren't as appealing. Columbia's original English dub track is packed with inane, inconsequential dialogue. The unimpressive aliens from Natal look like a pack of plastic-helmeted space kids waving their arms and making beep-beep noises. And don't refer to Battle for good science. A suspension bridge levitated by Natal's anti-gravity ray shows signs of having been lowered in temperature to near absolute zero. As we all know, gravity ceases to effect very cold objects!
Few picture changes were made to the import version of Battle. But large sections of the American cut have been re-scored with adequate but undistinguished library cues. Ifukube's infectious march theme enforces a feeling of communal spirit, underlining the fact that Japanese, American and Russian rocket aces have joined forces. That alone makes Battle in Outer Space progressive sci-fi in the Cold War era.
Sony presents Battle in Outer Space in dual language versions of near identical quality. Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski's earnest commentary communicates a real enthusiasm for Toho artistry and provides a wealth of information. The technical detail reaches down to the thickness of the wires suspending the elaborate miniatures. The impressive exterior of the "Japan Space Center" is actually a Sports complex built in advance for the '64 Olympics.
At the same time that Toho was injecting more overt horror into pictures like the disturbing Matango, they also experimented with a giant monster fantasy suitable for small children. The famous Mothra is a colorful storybook tale and an interesting political satire. In keeping with Sci-Fi's newfound ecological theme Mothra is the first Kaiju in which the monster is the hero. Mothra's giant wings blow cities to rubble, yet it retains the full sympathy of the audience.
A scientific team is dispatched to investigate a mysterious radioactive island thought to be uninhabited. It now supports a population of sad, reclusive natives. Dr. Sinichi Chujo (Hiroshi Koizumi) meets the tribe's tiny twin "Shobijin" fairies (Yumi & Emi Ito, aka "The Peanuts", a singing duo very popular in Japan). The tiny women communicate telepathically. Stowaway reporter Senichiro Fukuda (Frankie Sakai) befriends the fairies, but sneaky Rolisican gangster-entrepreneur Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito) secretly returns to the island, murders a number of natives and kidnaps the Shobijin to sing in a stage show back in Tokyo. Official efforts fail to force Nelson to relinquish the tiny girls. They tell Senichiro that they are sad, not for themselves, but for Tokyo: Mothra will come to their rescue. And indeed, as the natives back on Infant Island dance, a giant egg hatches an equally monstrous larval moth, which immediately sets sail for the Japanese capitol.
The charming Mothra is packed with excellent effects and terrific set pieces. The giant larva plows a wake of destruction across enormous miniature sets. Kids react positively to the psychic connection between the fairies and the monster, and the metamorphosis from caterpillar to colorful moth is an affirmation of nature's triumph over man's petty politics. The title monster is an impressive screen presence despite the fact that it is little more than a giant fuzzy marionette. Its mighty wings produce a blast of wind like an atomic-era Big Bad Wolf.
The giant larva climbs Tokyo Tower and spins a cocoon. When the fairies are taken to a foreign country called Rolisica, the newly hatched giant moth files halfway around the world to rescue them. In the context of the movie "Rolisica" is clearly an amalgam of Russia and the United States. Rolisica is the trouble behind everything -- they assume control of the expedition to Infant Island, which they once used as an atomic blast site. Roliscia denies that the island is inhabited in the face of hard evidence, kind of a pre-echo of Radio Bikini. The Rolisican villain Clark Nelson is a combo of Carl Denham and Al Capone, committing theft and mass murder against a native population. Clark wiggles out of charges of kidnapping and slavery by claiming that the Shobijin are merely merchandise. They like to sing and dance, so he's making them happy! The Rolisican government is complicit with Nelson's efforts to loot the world, at least until Mothra arrives to wipe out its capitol, "New Kirk City." The Russian aspect of Rolisica can be seen in the combination of symbols on the flag of the Rolisican Embassy and the Russian-looking uniforms of the Rolisican generals helping to fight Mothra.
New Kirk City has Manhattan skyscrapers, the Golden Gate Bridge and Los Angeles' Harbor Freeway. In the Japanese version Nelson occasionally speaks in English. He and his gangster pals laugh themselves silly: "Mothra is dead! Now we can be happy and filthy rich! Ha ha ha ha!"
Clark Nelson's final act is to knock the cane out from under an old man! I think there were some happy subversives at Toho that year.
Co-star Kyoko Kagawa has a fairly thankless role as a photographer sidekick. The loveable Frankie Sakai's nickname in the original is "Snapping Turtle," changed to "Bulldog" for the American dub version. Bulldog is a master of the obscure martial art of slapping bad guys on the head with folded pieces of paper.
Sony's Mothra is splendid in full color and Tohoscope, with a rich original Japanese soundtrack. Yuji Kosecki's unique, magical music score includes a catchy title tune sung by the Shobijin in a command performance similar to the exhibition of King Kong. When cut and re-dubbed for America, Mothra lost 13 minutes of running time. In the uncut Japanese version, the Peanuts perform a second number in kimonos on a little cherry blossom set. It is interesting that the stadium audience is delighted, when nobody beyond the first two rows could possibly get a good look at the tiny twins.
Ryfle and Godziszewski's commentary is even more impressive, with a full rundown on the Infant Island back-story dropped for the film, an alternate ending and a wealth of production detail. The large crawling larva monster was twenty feet long and operated by several men, Chinese Dragon style. The commentary also gets deep into the political context of the movie, which shapes up as a P.C. fairy tale about superpower arrogance.
The Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection adds another winner to Sony's ongoing series of disc sets of genre classics. The packaging is a little worrisome -- the three discs are stacked on a single hub in the keep case, which would seem to make scratching them all the easier.
One disc has a serious subtitle problem. The English subs on the Japanese version of Battle in Outer Space are "dub-titles", copies of the subtitles on the re-written American version. Subtitles appear for dialogue not heard in the Japanese track, and pop on at the wrong time. For all we know, the American subs on Battle could be seriously misrepresenting what's being said. The subtitles on the other two films are fine.
Sony should still be commended for going to the trouble to put these genre favorites out in dual language versions; fantasy fans will be delighted. The expert commentaries make the Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection one of the brightest releases of a year seeing a general lack of genre classics.
For more information about Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection, visit Sony Pictures. To order Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Toho Collection: Icons of Sci-Fi - MOTHRA, THE H-MAN and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE are Showcased in ICONS OF SCI-FI: TOHO COLLECTION
This is the first Japanese monster film in which the monster doesn't get "killed" at the end.
This is the only time that Mothra's island is called Beiru. In her next three appearances, the island's name changes to Infant Island.
Copyright length: 91 min. Released in Japan in July 1961 as Mosura. According to one source, the film is based on the story "Shukan Asahi" by Shinichiro Nakamura.
Released in United States 1962
Released in USA on video.
First film in the series that introduced the monster "Mothra."
Released in United States 1962