Five Decades of Graceful Destruction
MOTHRA 50th Anniversary Film Festival
Author: Tom Dougherty, Clawmark Toys
The Ginza area of Tokyo is known as an entertainment district and it is only fitting that it was the site for a 50th anniversary celebration of the creation and release of the first ever Mothra movie in 1961. And what more fitting for a celebration of this exciting Japanese Kaiju film than an entire day devoted to Mothra films and the exciting stars that helped make the magic.
I had attended Kaiju film festivals in this Ginza Theater before and so I knew I was going to be in for a treat. The Cast Co. of Japan’s Nagata Daisuke and his wonderful hard working staff along with several other movers and shakers in the Japanese Kaiju movie fan world came together and made sure this was going to be a fitting MONSTER celebration! Since the earthquake, tsunami and related disaster, much of Tokyo is either doing without air conditioning or living with reduced air conditioning to save power. The theater was no exception and I was very glad I had worn my handy dandy light weight Clawmark Toys Tee shirt for the occasion! It was going to be warm, but lots of FUN!
The day started off with a brief introduction followed by a screening of a flawless print of the original MOTHRA (1961) directed by none other than Ishirô Honda with amazing special effects by the father of Japanese Kaiju Movie special effects Eiji Tsuburaya. The small theater was packed with excited fans who thoroughly enjoyed seeing one of the legendary films from the golden age of Japanese cinema.
I personally love watching the evil bad guy Nelson played by the incomparable Jerry Ito. Nobody quite sneered like the evil Nelson! I was fortunate to meet and spend time with Mr. Ito on several occasions prior to his death, but he never sneered once! It was a real treat to see the movie again on the big screen. I especially enjoyed watching the all the native action and big doings on Infant Island. The special effects were just amazing! Of course the cast would be hard to beat with lots of action and a good helping of comedy to boot.
Everyone enjoyed every minute of this classic Kaiju film. The end of the film was met with people applauding and making various joyous noises to show their respect and appreciation to this fantastic film. Following the film was a highly enjoyable and informative talk show. The crowd was excited as Hiroshi Koizumi entered the theater and took his place on stage. When the applause finally died down (it took a while) Koizumi-san began to answer questions from host Takeshi Maruyama. He was able and quite willing to reach back fifty years and provide the excited audience with insights into the movie’s production and his role as Dr. Shin’ichi Chûjô. I was personally impressed with the fact that on stage before my very eyes was the only human to have ever survived an encounter with the Vampire Plant!
The advertising for this wonderful event had said that several surprise guests were scheduled to show up. Everyone was wondering who these mystery guests might be. I had several ideas who just might pop in and… I was wrong! About half way through the interview everyone was excited and surprised by the appearance of Tayama Masami who played the pudgy little boy who single-handedly took on the evil Nelson while trying to free the poor captive Twin Fairies from Infant Island. I think everyone was really, really surprised at his appearance. The pudgy little boy was pudgy no more! His addition to the panel was really interesting because he was relaying the memories of the movie production as seen through the eyes of a child. The crowd loved it and you could see the chemistry between Koizumi-san and Tayama-san was still there after all these years.
Following this informative and fun filled talk show, everyone was given a chance to get an autograph from Koizumi-san who as always is warm and friendly to his many, many fans. Cast Co. had sets of MOTHRA Bromide Cards made for this event and many of the people there had Koizumi-san sign one of the wonderful cards in the set. After a short break it was time to grab some Japanese popcorn, a cold bottle of green tea and get ready for show time!
Everyone was now ready to sit back and enjoy the next screening of… GODZILLA-EBIRAH-MOTHRA, BIG DUEL IN THE SOUTH SEAS, also known as GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER! Although the print of this film was not as sweet or scratch free as the original MOTHRA 1961, the movie was fun to watch as always. This 1966 film, which was the first directed by Jun Fakuda, was the first step away from the mostly serious plots of the first Godzilla movies. Jun Fukuda had made a series of “Young Guy” comedies for Toho and so naturally this film had quite a bit of comedy spread throughout.
The film begins with a ship in a storm in an angry tropical sea. The sailing ship is spared from just sinking in the storm by being smashed to bits by a GIANT LOBSTER! Fast forward two months to somewhere in Japan with an old soothsayer saying sooth! What a way to begin! The fortune teller lets a grieving mother know her shipwrecked son Yata was actually not drowned and still alive…somewhere. Most of the story takes place on a tropical island, two actually if you throw in… you guessed it, Infant Island! The Evil Red Bamboo (a nasty group of uniform wearing thugs) are using captives from Infant Island to make ju-ju to keep Ebirah at bay while the Red Bambo works on weapons of mass destruction (boy were they ahead of their time).
Yata’s brother Ryota (Tôru Watanabe) and his friends “borrow” a ship to go search for his brother. Already on the ship is the not so evil bank robber Yoshimura (Akira Takarada one of Japan’s most dashing leading men) who’s skills as a bank robber come in handy later on. Anyway, they of course are shipwrecked and after meeting up with the mysterious jungle girl Daiyo (the always lovely and talented Kumi Mizuno) run afoul of the dreaded Red Bamboo.
Not to worry, a sleepy Godzilla gets thrown in the mix and is promptly forced to flame a giant condor as well as a full squadron of jet fighters! The fun and excitement continues when you add a couple of adorable singing twin fairies, lots of wild and crazy Infant Island native dancing, a big splash of Mothra to the rescue and you have one really fun Giant Kaiju cinematic romp!
I don’t know if you can tell, but I REALLY like this movie! Following the film we were treated to another Talk show hosted by Takeshi Maruyama. The special quest this time was none other than one of the Magic Fairies (one of the attending Japanese told me they were the “Pair Bambi” and who am I to argue!). The lovely and talented Youko Sugiula was greeted with lots of applause and a few whistles! She was truly gracious and absolutely full of energy. She seemed to be enjoying herself relating stories of the movies production and the singing biz.
Once again following the Talk Show, everyone was treated to an autographed photo of the beautiful “Pair Bambi”. I could tell in the way that Youko smiled and warmly greeted each fan that she is a really beautiful lady through and through! Following a break which provided ample time to spend way too much money on really nice new Cast Co. Dioramas and a few of the new books celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of MOTHRA, it was once again… show time!
The next and final film for the day was MOTHRA 1996! Mothra 1996 was directed by Okihiro Yoneda with special effects by the one and only Koichi Kawakita. This was the first in the new series on Mothra and it was a wonderful way to begin the trilogy. The print we were treated to was perfect. Not a scratch or a blemish to be seen! This film is just like the rest of the Mothra series, full of magic and wonderful Fairy Tales. It is a classic tale of good vs. evil. The coloration was amazing!
Of course the film starts out with a construction crew discovering an ancient rock formation with a special insignia on a small silver amulet covering the center of the formation. Naturally the boss of the company, Mr. Goto (Kenjirô Nashimoto) breaks it loose and like any loving father takes it home as a present for his lovely little daughter Wakaba (Maya Fujisawa). Just like a boss to go messing with things! Anyway because of the missing amulet, an evil fairy Belva (Aki Hano) is now loose to cause havoc starting with the Goto’s nice upscale home! In short order the good faries Lora (Sayaka Yamaguchi) and Moll (Megumi Kobayashi) come to the rescue and with the help of Mothra, summoned of course by a series of beautiful and magical songs are able to put things right. Of course before they can put things right, things go really wrong! Belva is able to release the one and only three headed DEATH GHIDORAH!
The special effects and monster costumes in this film are simply amazing! (I have never been able to figure out how they can use that many explosions and flames without melting the monster costumes!). When the film starts out the Goto’s children Wakaba and Taiki are fighting like cats and dogs. As a matter of fact at the beginning of the film Mom and Dad are butting heads too over his long hours away from home while he is busy out disturbing ancient rock formations. By the end of this wonderful, colorful and magical Mothra movie everyone is loving each other and very, very happy… except Belva who is banished to parts unknown (see the other two movies in the series to see how she makes out).
At the end of this film the audience was really MOTHRA’d UP! Everyone was excited in anticipation of the upcoming Talk Show. And HEEEEEEREEEEEES KAWAKITA! It’s always a treat to see Koichi Kawakita. He’s always upbeat and ready to share his joy of Kaiju film making. Kawakita-san has such a wonderful smile. You can tell that he enjoys doing what his does (really well too)!
After Kawakita-san was able to relate some of the challenges of doing the special effects on this film (including all the wire work associated with all the flying fairies good and bad) it was time for the next special mystery guest! Apparently it was time to introduce the next generation of Mothra actors. I had enjoyed the acting skills of both children during the course of the movie, but I was very impressed that little Wakaba (Maya Fujisawa) has grown up to be such a beautiful, talented and gracious young lady! Everyone in attendance was charmed by the beauty and grace of Ms. Fujisawa as she joined Kawakita in talking about the rigors of the production of the Rebirth of Mothra. Again, her prospective of the filming was that of a little girl on a big movie set. She relayed funny stories about playing with the sets and some of the magical goodies laying around in the Toho Studios.
When she came to the stage she brought a prop Mothra from the film. It had a wingspan of about sixteen inches and was made of vinyl and rubber. I was envious! It was MONSTER COOL! Everyone in the theater really enjoyed the discussion and could feel the wonderful bond between Kawakita-san and Fujisawa-san.
Following this truly entertaining Talk Show the audience was again given the opportunity to get autographs from both Kawakita-san and the beautiful Maya Fujisawa. When it was over and everyone wandered off into the night, I was dragging a suitcase full of books (some signed), posters and five large bags full of amazing Cast Co. Dioramas! By the time I finished the train rides necessary to get me back to my digs, I had put in a fourteen hour day of fun.
What a fitting way to help celebrate a piece of Japanese Fantastic Kaiju film history! The Ginza area in Tokyo is indeed known as an entertainment district and everyone lucky enough to attend this wonderful 50th Mothra anniversary party was indeed entertained!