Photo: ‘Rebirth of Mothra’
The ‘90s was a good time to be a Godzilla fan. Save for 1990 itself, every single year came with a new film in the franchise…well, sort of. After the “Heisei era” came to an end with ‘Godzilla vs. Destoroyah’, and before the “Millenium era” began with ‘Godzilla 2000’, a trilogy of spin-off films in the franchise were released. While the Godzilla franchise never had very strong continuity (heck, most of the films in the Millenium series were their own separate retcons), this trilogy took things a step further by removing Godzilla himself entirely. Instead, it focuses on one of the other popular monsters from the franchise, the giant moth known as Mothra. Between 1996 and 1998, the ‘Rebirth of Mothra’ trilogy saw its release in Japan, before seeing an English release a few years later on both DVD and the Sci-Fi Channel. The actual story of the films, all of which were written by Masumi Suetani, largely revolved around the dying Mothra’s son, Leo, who would carry on his mother’s legacy by fighting ill-willed monsters threatening mankind.
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One other notable aspect about the ‘Rebirth of Mothra’ films was that, unlike the Heisei movies that had just concluded, they were explicitly targeted towards children. The obligatory main human characters are kids themselves, one of the villains feels straight out of ‘Power Rangers’, and the general tone (of the first two films at least) is far more cartoonish than what you’d expect from a normal Godzilla film. Heck, the films even contain some pretty in-your-face environmental themes. At that point in time, there had been a few Godzilla films aimed at younger audiences, but this trilogy made no attempt to hide who it was aimed at. It’s hard to find information regarding the general reception of the ‘Rebirth of Mothra’ movies, but in the past few decades following their releases, they’ve long since been forgotten by just about everyone outside of Godzilla’s fanbase. And as a pretty big Godzilla fan myself, I thought it’d be fun to reflect on this strange little blip in the franchise’s history, giving my personal thoughts on each of them.
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‘Rebirth of Mothra’
When a Japanese logging company inadvertently breaks the seal containing an ancient, destructive three-headed dragon known as Desghidorah, it’s up to the last surviving members of the Elias, a race of tiny humans, to summon Mothra in an attempt to fight it. However, Mothra is in a very weak state, and her offspring, Mothra Leo, must step in and help. In the meantime, two of the remaining Elias members must deal with their sister Belvera, who’s determined to see humanity perish at the hands of Desghidorah. It was the last film that long-time Godzilla producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was involved with before his passing the following year.
Objectively speaking, ‘Rebirth of Mothra’ is the best film in the trilogy. It’s got a solid story, good special effects, and even a surprisingly emotional moment. Sure, its environmental message is about as unsubtle as possible, and some of the fighting between Mothra and Desghidorah goes on for longer than it probably should, but this is honestly a solid kid’s movie that works as a way to introduce younger audiences to both the Godzilla franchise and kaiju films in general. It’s never too intense or violent, but it also never sugarcoats its threatening aspects. This film (along with the other two in the trilogy) also has an excellent orchestral soundtrack by composer Toshiyuki Watanabe that manages to perfectly convey feelings of whimsy and tension. While there’s ultimately not too much to say about the film, I think it does its job just fine.
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‘Rebirth of Mothra II’
When the large reptilian beast Dagahra awakens, the Elias sisters Moll and Lora enlist the help of three children to seek out a sunken temple belonging to the ancient Nirai Kinai civilization that created the monster and to find the treasure within that can save the Earth. The kids themselves come across a small, fuzzy creature that has some sort of connection to this ancient civilization. However, Belvera has taken Dagahra’s side and talks two fishermen into helping her get to the treasure first. While all of this goes on, Mothra Leo is summoned to fight Dagahra, keeping the beast from wreaking havoc on society.
This film is often considered not only the worst ‘Rebirth of Mothra’ film, but one of the worst kaiju films of all time, and it’s honestly not hard to see why. The story is a screenwriter’s worst nightmare, with nonexistent story structure and absolutely nothing to the human characters. They’re complete blank slates for the target audience to identify with, having no arcs or development whatsoever. And yet…this was my favorite of the trilogy. It’s such an insane movie, even by Godzilla standards, that it was highly entertaining all the way through. From a creature that resembles a bearded Furby who can heal wounds with its urine, to acid-spitting starfish that symbolize pollution, to a giant sunken temple belonging to an ancient civilization, there’s too much going on for me to muster up any kind of actual hatred for this film. Belvera in this film is so hammy (especially in the English dub) that any scene with her in it is a delight, and like the first film, the kaiju action on display isn’t half bad. I can safely consider this a “So Bad It’s Good” film, and would honestly kind of recommend it in that regard.
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‘Rebirth of Mothra III’
King Ghidorah kidnaps the children of Tokyo and traps them in a large, organic dome in hopes of feeding off of their life force. To make matters worse, when Moll and Lora encounter him, the dragon hypnotizes Lora, turning her against her sister. Moll finds a boy named Shota and convinces him to help Lora. Moll also uses most of her power to send Mothra Leo back to the time of dinosaurs, when King Ghidorah first appeared on Earth. Curiously enough, despite airing on the Sci-Fi Channel (and later a few Starz channels) alongside the first two, this film was never given any home media release in the United States until 2014.
Out of all the ‘Rebirth of Mothra’ films, this was the one I disliked the most. Unlike the second one, I found ‘Rebirth of Mothra III’ to be very dull and lacking in the charm that made me enjoy the second one so much. The sense of whimsy that the first two films had is almost nowhere to be found, making this film come across as a lot less “fun”. Both the special and practical effects are also notably worse than the previous two, with one effect in particular (wormlike tentacles from Ghidorah’s dome) looking straight out of a PS1 game. However, there is a silver lining: This film boasts the best soundtrack out of the three films, with some really great atmospheric tracks. Particularly beautiful is a song that Lora sings to revive Leo Mothra after he sustains some pretty nasty damage. The darker story and time travel elements sound intriguing on paper, but sadly, I did not enjoy this film at all.
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If you’re someone who’s into Godzilla like I am, and you’ve never seen the ‘Rebirth of Mothra’ films, I’d say they’re at least worth checking out, as they’re a fairly interesting addition to the franchise, to say the least. Non-Godzilla fans might not get a whole lot out of these films, however, especially considering their younger target audience. Either way, I’m someone who enjoys exploring niche content, and while the ‘Rebirth of Mothra’ films are far from the greatest, it was fun to revisit them when writing this retrospective. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be trying to get Mothra’s summoning song out of my head.
By Austin Oguri
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Austin Oguri is a screenwriter and has deep appreciation for the art of film in general, he aims to offer unique perspectives through his film reviews and feature articles. He also has a soft spot for lesser-known works, and enjoys spotlighting them whenever he can. Austin has always found it necessary for people to encourage and bring out the best in each other, and as a writer at The Hollywood Insider, he can combine that ideology with his ability to think outside the box and truly express his love for the arts in the best ways possible.