lessons from a classic monster movie – Film Stories
At 60 this month, what messages can Mothra do they still teach the public? We took a look at a classic monster movie.
Spoilers for Mothra are coming.
This month marks the 60th anniversary of one of cinema’s most beloved monster movies: The Marvelous Mothra. The 1961 Toho opus is a feature film filled with vivid special effects, gorgeous Tohoscope photographs, and a layered political message that catapults the film to the best of its kind. I would also say that his unabashed positivity still resonates today.
If you are not familiar with the movie, the setup goes as follows. After the discovery of shipwrecked survivors near Infant Island, a mysterious land exposed to nuclear testing, an expedition is mounted. Led by shady entrepreneur Clark Nelson (played with great malice by Jerry Ito), the team meets the Shobijin (literally translated as “little beauties”), two little women who end up saving the life of one of our heroes. , Professor Chujo (the wonderful Hiroshi Koizumi). Unbeknownst to the rest of the expedition, Nelson and his henchmen later return to slaughter the Infant Islanders and kidnap the Shobijin. Back in Japan, Nelson exposes the girls, unaware that the song they sing is actually a call to their monster god, Mothra.
The character of Clark Nelson is a citizen of Rolisica, a fictional fusion of Russia and America that presents itself as a thinly veiled successor to the latter – along with New Kirk City. It is thanks to Rolisica that the director of the film, Ishiro Honda, and its screenwriter, Shinichi Sekizawa, manage to make some striking political commentaries.
International tensions mount as the film progresses, with Rolisica initially defending Nelson’s ownership of the Shobijin, a tacit endorsement of what is effectively slavery. As Mothra begins his formidable march through Japan to save the girls, the heroes of the film – led by Japanese comedy legend Frankie Sakai – struggle to do the same. However, Rolisica eventually gives in and even lends several atomic heat cannons to Japan to use against the irritable insect. With this international cooperation in full swing, the film speaks of both real and abstract ideas.
In 1960, Japan witnessed some of the biggest protests in its political history, outright against the revision and renewal of the controversial US-Japanese security treaty. The original form of the treaty was signed towards the end of the American occupation in 1951. One of its most controversial terms was that the United States could maintain a strong military presence in Japan and could even exert power over them. national quarrels.
Tensions increased throughout the 1950s, as did the number of protests against certain aspects of the US military presence. As the renewal of the treaty approached amidst unrest, the Prime Minister Nobosuke Kishi (himself an accused war criminal) tried to rush controversial revisions through the Japanese Diet. The climax of political strife erupted on June 15, when student protesters broke into the Diet building, and a bloody battle with right-wing ultranationalists and police ensued. At its end, a young woman had died.
With unprecedented TV coverage, it’s more than likely that Shinichi Sekizawa was aware of the political turmoil, not least because a direct commentary on the security treaty appears in one of the film’s early drafts.
With Rolisica, replacing the United States, placing military hardware on Japanese soil in the form of atomic heat guns, there are two ways to read what follows. More cynically, the fact that these cannons do little more than lift Mothra out of her chrysalis can be read as an indictment of the alleged protection afforded by such a military presence. But on the other hand, it reads more naturally as an improvement in international relations. Sekizawa, having been drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army, hated his wartime experience. As film historian David Kalat noted, this may have paradoxically influenced the lighter tone of his screenplays. The positivity with which Sekizawa approached his own philosophy can therefore be seen in the way Mothra takes place, a remnant of reaction to the authoritarian regime that sent him to war.
At the end of the film, Rolisica and Japan improved their relationship, Clark Nelson was arrested by authorities in Rolisica, and Mothra reunites with the Shobijin. Justice prevails. In the Void, the film always ends with hope and poise, as Mothra returns to Infant Island. But, taking into account the very real political climate which presided over its production, Mothra ‘The vision of hope is shaped by unhappy realities. The protests against the security treaty between the United States and Japan (mentioned here in detail only) are just background to consider while playing this film.
It should be clarified, however, that Rolisica was not an intentional indictment of the United States, as these readings may lead you to believe. Not only did Columbia Pictures Corporation co-fund the film (New Kirk City was included as part of a stipulation that the climax takes place in an American-looking venue), Toho was certainly savvy enough not to directly criticize. America when he wanted to export his films abroad. However, although Rolisica is barely veiled, this same aspect helps to project criticism against her against a number of imperialist states. Thus, the film has a greater bearing in its message.
With the theme of “brotherhood of mankind” appearing repeatedly in director Ishiro Honda’s sci-fi filmography, the end of Mothra, with international cooperation fostering a happy resolution, is a broad picture of a better world. Meanwhile, the individual actions that characterize Rolisica’s place in the narrative can be read as a more generous description of the very real political turmoil that Japan had witnessed a year before.
Watching Mothra today can be somewhat sobering, as the film’s international optimism is marred only by the memory of the real-world horrors that unfolded over the following decades. Again Mothra ‘hope is not entirely vanquished. The film envisions a world that still suffers from capitalist greed, nuclear colonialism, and political strife, but it also says these issues can be resolved. Justice can prevail. More than a year after a deadly pandemic, political violence at home and abroad and injustices projected on our screens every minute, what can we do Mothra – or any film – offer us?
A movie is just a movie, and it is not a substitute for real, material action to improve our world. However, the world as director Ishiro Honda and screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa envisions that he exists for us forever in this wonderful film. In our words, in our actions and in our hearts, we can try to ensure that it does not stay there.
Happy 60e, Mothra.
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