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The giant divine moth, who would later share the screen with Godzilla, returns with a Blu-ray re-release of her first cinematic appearance in 1961. 


When Mothra makes her appearance in 2019’s actually-pretty-good Godzilla: King of the Monsters it is with ludicrous grandiosity: great, bioluminescent CGI wings unfurling from beneath a CGI waterfall, with stirring synth strings in the background. It was a sign that King of the Monsters was properly devoted to its predecessors that it would invoke this island moth-goddess with as much wonder, and as little knowing irony, as possible.

It’s a touching tribute to one of the cuddlier creatures in the perennially wonderful Godzilla canon. Mothra’s eponymous first appearance, recently re-released on Blu-Ray, has inevitably been made to look ramshackle by its modern successor. But it’s still an incredibly lush, lovely, good-hearted production, with a visual imagination that frequently outshines its grimmer American offspring.

Mothra’s director, Ishirō Honda, and its special effects maestro, Eiji Tsuburaya, created a phenomenon with Godzilla in 1954, still a pinnacle of movie art. In Mothra, one of multiple giant monster follow-ups, Godzilla’s apocalyptic black-and-white visuals and famous propulsive score are replaced by lavish tropical colour and a cute magical song performed by a tiny fairy pop duo, while its antiwar politics are retained in day-glo fashion.

After the aforementioned tiny women (played by real pop twins, The Peanuts) are discovered during a research expedition to a former nuclear test site, they are kidnapped by Nelson, a rapacious capitalist from the thinly-veiled American analogue nation of Rolisica. In Japan, he places the foot-high women on display in a sort of bizarro King Kong stage show, where they sing their cute magical song. (That song, incidentally, was reprised for those synthy strings in King of the Monsters).

The film’s stellar cast of good guys — including the comedian Frankie Sakai and Tokyo Story’s Kyōko Kagawa as a pair of peppy journalists — try desperately to release the fairies, and their efforts are doubled when they realise the song is actually an incantation to Mothra, the giant divine moth of their island. She awakens in larval form and bears down unstoppably upon Japan to rescue the fairies.

From there, the stage is set for a joyful showcase of Tsuburaya’s talents for giant monsters and toy tanks. Model boats and buildings are smashed with great aplomb by the adorable, big-eyed, furry moth. While, after Mothra, the Godzilla franchise would be increasingly cut adrift from its origins in post-war grief, the era of good-natured spectacle that it began has a special value all of its own.

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