Rebirth of Mothra (1996) Rebirth of Mothra / Mothra, Queen of Monsters / Mosura (1996/2000) **

     The first two times Toho meant to put Godzilla to bed permanentlyó with Destroy All Monsters in 1968, and then again in 1975 after Terror of Mechagodzillaó it was because of a perception on the part of the studioís leadership that audiences had grown weary of kaiju at long last. So when I learned in the late 1990ís that the last of those new Godzilla movies that hadnít been released in the United States ended with the King of the Monsters being really killed off for real, and we totally mean it this time, I initially assumed that a similar market calculation lay behind the decision. But in fact it wasnít kaiju eiga that went away in 1995ó it was merely Godzilla himself. At Daiei, the resurrection of Gamera was just beginning, and more to the point of this review, no sooner did Toho finish performing Godzillaís third set of last rites than they turned around to give his longtime stablemate, Mothra, a Heisei trilogy of her own. There was a significant difference between the 90ís Mothra movies and their Godzilla counterparts, however. Whereas the Heisei-era Godzilla films, at least in theory, had sought a darker, more mature tone than their predecessors of the 60ís and 70ís, returning the star monster to something approximating his original characterization, Rebirth of Mothra and its sequels went in the exact opposite direction. Although it followed the lead of Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth by making Mothra explicitly the guardian of the biosphere, and therefore an overt environmentalist metaphor, the new Mohtra series was aimed squarely at a juvenile audience. You might think of Rebirth of Mothra as the Japanese equivalent to ďCaptain Planet and the Planeteers.Ē

     Savvy watchers of monster movies will have Rebirth of Mothraís editorial position pegged from the moment they hear that Yuichi Goto (Kenjiro Nashimoto), the first character introduced, works for a paper company, second only to nuclear power plants among screenwritersí favorite environmental malfeasors since Prophecy at the very latest. Gotoís firm is called Hokkoku, and his role in it entails responsibility for its logging operations in Hokkaido. Those operations ground to a halt recently thanks to an unexpected discovery on the worksite, so Gotoís boss orders him to fly out and investigate personally. In all probability, thatíll mean another weekend away from home for him, and his wife, Makiko (Hitomi Takahashi, from Fruits of Passion and Ultraman Cosmos: The First Contact), is pissed when she finds out. Iím pretty much on Team Maybe You Should Have Thought of That Before You Married an Executive Vice President, but Iím sure it must suck for the coupleís two children. Anyway, the Hokkaido logging crews were in the process of clear-cutting what seemed like a perfectly ordinary mountainside when they exposed a strange and plainly purposeful rock formation. The foreman nonsensically suggests that it might be a fossil, but any fool can see that itís an ancient monument of some kind. In front of a massive cairn of boulders that might otherwise be taken for the result of a natural rock fall is a flat stone slab engraved with a complicated circular pattern in extraordinarily deep relief. The center of the circle is marked by a small dome, crowned with a medallion of what appears to be silver-inlaid gold. Whatever was used to fasten the medallion to the dome, it has lost enough of its adhesive quality to enable Goto to pry the treasure loose with his fingers. Underneath is just a hole about the diameter of a manís thumb, which would be totally unremarkable were it not for the faint, pinkish light glowing from somewhere in its depths. Goto doesnít feel qualified to render a decision about the monument on the spot, so he decides to put everything on hold pending consultation with experts in the relevant fields. Mind you, his boss wonít be happy about that, but Goto attained his present position by being conscientious, not by kissing ass. With those arrangements made, he then races to the airport in the hope of catching the last flight home to Tokyo before the weekend. On a whim, he brings along the medallion to give as a present to his little daughter, Wakaba (Maya Fujisawa), a gesture which doubles handily as a peace offering to Makiko.

     Meanwhile, in a mysterious grotto deep under the ground, a pair of tiny, singing sisters by the names of Moll (Gamera the Braveís Megumi Kobayashi) and Lora (Tomie: Replayís Sayaka Yamaguchi) come in supplication before a moth the size of a Boeing 767, which sits brooding over an egg so huge that even the monster bug canít plausibly have laid the thing. The girls worriedly report that the Seal of Elias has been broken, raising the possibility of some terrible creature freeing itself. Evidently even worse is the parallel prospect of the seal falling into the hands of someone called Belvera, for that would enable her to control whatever it is that the seal was supposed to keep incarcerated in the earth. Clearly the only thing to be done now is for Moll and Lora to go south in search of the seal, and hopefully to locate it before this Belvera person does. Obviously a pair of nine-inch girls dressed as outer-space princesses are going to find it challenging to use an airport, so Moll and Lora instead summon Fairy, a duplicate of the giant moth small enough for them to ride it like a supersonic pony, which is apparently alive even though it looks for all the world like a plush stuffed toy.

     Alas, Belvera (Aki Hano) has a head start on them. She reaches the Goto house shortly after Wakaba and her bratty big brother, Taiki (Kazuki Futami), have gone to bed. Like Moll and Lora, Belvera turns out to be an itty-bitty woman. We can tell at once that sheís the baddie, though, because her personal style is less Fire Maidens of Outer Space than Devil Girl from Mars, and instead of a Beanie Baby moth, she rides a miniature animatronic dragon. Belvera persuades Wakaba to let her see the pretty necklace her daddy brought home from Hokkaido, and come the next morning, Wakaba has become just the cutest little avatar of vengeance you ever saw, heaping all manner of psychokinetic abuse on Taiki. He, therefore, is the Goto to whom Moll and Lora make themselves known first. Taiki points the sisters in the right direction, and soon they and Belvera are laying waste to the house as they pilot their respective mini-monsters in a 1/18-scale aerial dogfight. Belvera comes out on top this time, and although her bewitchment of Wakaba is broken, she escapes with the Seal of Elias. Something tells me the next monster fight will be full-sized.

     The kaiju which Belvera calls forth from beneath the monument in Hokkaido certainly looks like bad news. Itís a black-scaled, quadrupedal dragon, 50 meters high at the shoulder and 100 meters long from snout to tail. No, waitó make that snouts to tail, since the monster has three heads. It also has a pair of membranous dorsal crests suggesting underdeveloped wings, and it breathesÖ Well, frankly Iím not sure what that purple stuff is supposed to be, but it sure does cause some impressive explosions. The creature doesnít do much at first except to glower in triplicate, but Moll and Lora assure the Goto kids (and their parents, who rather surprisingly end up along for the ride in this movie) that it will become more active soon enough. This thing, you see, is Death Ghidorah. Death Ghidorah came to Earth 70 million years ago, and over the next 5000 millennia or so siphoned off enough of the planetís bioenergy to trigger a mass extinction. Earth would be a dead world today had it not been for the Mothras and their humanoid familiars, the Elias. The former fought Death Ghidorah to a standstill, while the latterís magic imprisoned the monster for what was supposed to have been eternity. That was the work of two entire races, you understand. Nowadays, the only Mothra left is the one we saw brooding that giant egg, and Moll, Lora, and Belvera are the last of the Elias. The good news is that Death Ghidorah is nowhere close to full strength, and that the Seal of Elias still contains the power to bind the monster. The bad news is that Mothra is weak herself from the strain of laying an egg five times her size, and that Moll and Lora have had no luck getting the seal away from Belvera. Maybe the Gotos could help them with that last part, especially since Yuichi was the dumbass who broke the seal in the first place? Of course, the mere fact that Mothra has an egg introduces a bit of an x factor, insofar as eggs tend to hatch. Two Mothra caterpillars sufficed to take down Godzilla once, so maybe one caterpillar is enough to tip the scales against Death Ghidorah, even if the mature Mothra, by all rights, should still be on maternity leave.

     I enjoyed the first half of Rebirth of Mothra a lot more than I was expecting to. I knew going in that this movie and its sequels were essentially kidvid, and I remember vividly how deadly childrenís entertainment in the late 1990ís could be. Whatís strange is that Rebirth of Mothra goes down easy at first, even as it assiduously checks all the usual awful boxes. It has a dysfunctional central family with a workaholic dad, a shrewish mom, and two mutually antagonistic children. It has schoolyard bullies, albeit schoolyard bullies that donít get enough screen time to be worth mentioning in a synopsis. It has characters that seem purpose-designed to be turned into toys, and as if in apology for that, it also has a clumsily handled educational message that feels poorly illustrated by the actual story. And in material terms, Rebirth of Mothraís first hour has only its legally protected Toho intellectual property to distinguish it from some of the better funded just-for-kids output of Charles Bandís direct-to-video empire. Belveraís mini-dragon in particular would be perfectly at home in Prehysteria, and the criminally cheap CGI for Fairyís flying scenes isnít even up to that standard. Yet for reasons Iím having a hard time explaining even to myself, I initially found Rebirth of Mothra rather charming. It may be significant here that Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster was among my favorite movies when I was little. Rebirth of Mothra canít match the gonzo originality of that film, but it does represent a similar combination of plot elements and thematic concepts. All I can say is that none of this movieís missteps kept me from getting fully behind it for some 50 minutes, and that I remained at least moderately well-disposed toward Rebirth of Mothra until about minute 75.

     So what happened then that blew it for me? The easiest way to put it is that somewhere over the course of those 25 minutes, Rebirth of Mothra stopped being a peppy, off-kilter kiddie fantasy, and became a shitty kaiju flick. Incredibly, itís precisely when Mothra and Death Ghidorah square off that the movie starts taking on water. Their battle has no sense of time or space, no dynamics or choreography, no feeling of urgency despite everything weíve been told about the threat posed by Death Ghidorah. The monstersí power levels are wildly inconsistent, to the point that it can be difficult to assess at any given moment which one of them is winning. The fight goes on and on, too, which makes all of the above defects even more exasperating. And when it finallyó finallyó ends, the movie still isnít over! In fact, thereís a whole ínother act yet to come. To be fair, this has been the standard kaiju eiga structure since King Kong vs. Godzilla; the good monster always gets its ass kicked the first time it clashes with the bad one, and then we get a rematch in the final reel. The trouble is, Rebirth of Mothra has already gone through two actsí worth of ups and downs by the time Death Ghidorah awakens. The architecture of the film subliminally cues us to expect the first battle between him and Mothra to be the climax, and the endless, shapeless sprawl of their tussle reinforces that expectation in and of itself. I mean, weíve seen Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla and Godzilla vs. Destroyer, right? Endless, shapeless, and sprawling was exactly how Tohoís kaiju climaxes rolled in the mid-to-late 90ís. And knowing that renders doubly dismaying the realization that Rebirth of Mothra isnít done yet after all, since itís as good as a promise that the real final bout is going to be just as limp and flabby as the false one.



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