Everything You Need to Know About Mothra

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the long-awaited follow-up to 2014’s Godzilla and looks to once again prove size matters. Of course, Godzilla can’t be the king of the monsters if there aren’t any other monsters. And it looks as though the big three of Godzilla’s frenemies are making their first appearances in an American movie. Let’s take a look at one of them now!

With two Godzilla movies in the can, a successful movie for Rodan, and a handful of other kaiju and tokusatsu movies under their belt, Toho Studios were sitting pretty with their dominion of giant monsters in the 1950s. Heading into the 1960s, they would up their game once again by unveiling arguably their second most popular character after the big green man himself. Ishiro Honda, director of Godzilla and Rodan, would give the world 1961’s Mothra.

Mothra is a legitimately weird and wonderful movie. It starred a famous Japanese comedian as the story’s lead newspaper reporter (these movies are populated usually by reporters and scientists and few others) but also featured The Peanuts, a popular singing duo consisting of identical twin sisters Yumi and Emi Ito. The story follows a research group investigating an irradiated island in the South Pacific that, as they soon learn, is home to an amazing primitive society, including a pair of eight-inch-high, fairy-like adult twins, whom one of the visitors kidnaps for use in a Vegas-style show.

Unfortunately, the island is under the protection of Mothra, the ancient and constantly reborn insect deity, who hatches from her egg in a larval form and goes on a rampage looking for the two tiny ladies—Mothra’s heralds—and eventually turns into a full winged moth to take out the Japanese mainland in retaliation.

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Mothra is rare for the Toho kaiju movies in that the titular beast is very clearly a protector to begin with, and only attacks humans to protect those under her care. In other words, man’s greed is the real villain. In fact, the first movie is the only one where Mothra is a villain of any sort, even a justifiable one; thereafter, she is always a hero. In the ’50s and ’60s, women were the highest percentage of moviegoers in Japan, and Toho realized their audience always complained at the end of movies like Godzilla because the monster dies. Mothra was not only a protector, but lived through almost all of her films.

After the instant success of Mothra, Honda returned the following year for the first big kaiju grudge match: King Kong vs. Godzilla. This movie is dumb, but it proved that two big names could sell tickets in a major way. In 1964, Honda was back, this time with Mothra headlining the fight in Mothra vs. Godzilla. When Godzilla attacks, the Japanese people beseech the fairies to summon Mothra to stop him. But Mothra is old and near death and only keeps Godzilla at bay for a short time. Thankfully, her two larvae hatch in time to take out the big guy using their silk spray.

From this point on, it became a full-on kaiju war. The same year as Mothra vs. Godzilla, fans got what was basically The Avengers but with monsters: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. In this film, an evil alien beast is on its way to Earth and humanity turns to the kaiju to help. Unfortunately, Godzilla and Rodan want nothing to do with man’s war and just spar with each other instead. It’s only because of the efforts of a larval Mothra and the fairies that they eventually convince the two other big beasts to help take down “King” Ghidorah.

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Mothra had a day-saving cameo at the end of 1966’s Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, where Godzilla fights the titular evil lobster monster, but it’s up to Mothra to save the humans before an island explodes. In 1968’s Destroy All Monsters, Mothra is used in an evil alien plot—along with literally all the other kaiju—to destroy various world cities, before she joins Godzilla and the others to take down Ghidorah again.

Mothra sat out the next 15-ish years, returning in the rebooted continuity in 1992’s Godzilla vs. Mothra, where the two actually fight Mothra’s evil clone Battra. Then came 1994’s Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, which is as dumb as it sounds. But Mothra’s staying power proved too strong and she was eventually given a trilogy of films in the mid ’90s called Return of Mothra, outside the ongoing Godzilla continuity, and focusing on her as the world’s lone ancient protector.

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As with all the Toho kaiju movies made in the 2000s, Mothra’s appearances in the so-called Millennium timeline are big, bombastic, and silly. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack from 2001 is a perfect example. Packed with way too many monsters, Mothra, while still a hero, gets sidelined a bit in favor of Godzilla battling the likes of Baragon and Ghidorah. Arriving two years later, Godzilla: Tokyo SOS has a lot more for her to do; in fact, we get a fully grown Mothra plus two of her larvae helping destroy Godzilla. And finally, Mothra finds a home in 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars.

Despite getting short shrift in a few movies, Mothra is easily the best of the kaiju outside of Godzilla himself, and often was the lone hero in a movie full of bad beasts. Mothra’s brief moment in the Godzilla: King of the Monsters teaser gives us hope she’ll be on the side of good opposite the universe’s biggest threat, Ghidorah.

Are you excited to see Mothra return to the big screen? Let us know in the comments below!

Editor’s Note: Nerdist is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks

Images: Toho

Kyle Anderson is the Editor at Large for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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