Creature Double Feature 4: RODAN (Toho 1957) and MOTHRA (Toho 1961)

Let’s begin “Halloween Havoc!” season a day early by taking a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun for a pair of kaiju eiga films from Japan’s Toho Studios. Both were directed by GODZILLA’s Godfather Ishiro Honda, have special effects from Eiji Tsuurya, and feature the late Haru Nakajima donning the rubber monster suits. But the similarities end there, for while RODAN is a genuinely scary piece of giant monster terror, MOTHRA is a delightfully bizarre change-of-pace fantasy that began Toho’s turn toward more kid-friendly fare.

RODAN was filmed in 1956, and released in America a year later by DCA (the folks who brought you PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE! ) under the aegis of The King Brothers . There’s more A-Bomb testing in the South Pacific, as Americanized stock footage tells us before the movie proper begins. Miners digging deep into the Earth’s crust are trapped by flooding, and a dead man looking like he’s been “slaughtered like an animal”, his face frozen in horror, has been discovered. Officials are baffled until the appearance of… a GIANT PREHISTORIC BUG! The bug is tracked down into the mineshaft, where security finds a whole mess of the nasty creatures. Their bullets can’t stop them (of course not!), when suddenly an earthquake causes a cave-in.

Reports of a UFO spotted around the East puzzle authorities, too, until we learn this earthquake has led to the hatching of Rodan , a giant pterodactyl. Scientists determine Rodan is a 20 million year old flying reptile weighing 100 tons, with a wingspan of 500 feet! Rodan’s great wings cause hurricane-like destruction, toppling buildings and wrecking trains, and panic in the streets. Not only that, turns out there’s two of the massive monsters, and Japan’s military might proves once again ineffective against the fearsome monstrosities. After scenes of the deadly duo’s rampaging carnage, the military comes up with a bold but dangerous plan – bombard the beasts in their volcano hideaway and let nature take its course.

The local citizens are evacuated and the military unleashes its biggest weapons, erupting the volcano and ending in fiery doom for the Rodans. The movie is a blast (pun intended), and Honda keeps things taut and terrifying throughout. Among the dubbed voices you’ll immediately recognize Paul Frees in a couple roles and veteran Keye Luke doing some narration. Allegedly, STAR TREK’s George Takei also did some dubbing. RODAN is one of Toho’s scariest, definitely not for kids. Our next feature is a different story.

MOTHRA (in Toho-Scope!) is pure adventure-fantasy, which seems to have “borrowed” heavily from KING KONG. I watched the original (subtitled) Japanese version, and it was a revelation, a charming take on the genre complete with comedy and musical interludes between the destruction. A typhoon causes a Japanese ship to sink, and some survivors are found on Infant Island, used for atomic testing by the Rolisican government. Don’t worry of you’ve never heard of Rolisica; it’s entirely fictional! Anyway, those survivors show no signs of radiation poisoning, and a joint expedition by Japan and Rolisica is formed, including Rolisican explorer Nelson, Japanese linguist Chinjo, and others… but no reporters allowed! This doesn’t stop intrepid newshawk Zen “Bulldog” Fukuda (played by comedian Frankie Sakai) from stowing away onboard disguised as a cabin boy!

The expedition discovers a lush green jungle valley, and the curious Chinjo stumbles upon a clearing filled with colorful flora straight out of ALICE IN WONDERLAND. He also stumbles upon The Fairies, twin foot-high girls played by Japanese singing sensations The Peanuts (Emi and Yumi Ito). Meanie Nelson tries to snatch them, when the expedition is surrounded by menacing island natives, forcing him to reconsider. But later, when the expedition is finished, Nelson and his thugs return to Infant Island, kill the natives, and kidnap the girls, exploiting them as the main attraction at a Tokyo theater a la KONG’s Carl Denham.

But the twins have the power of telepathy, and use their singing talents to summon the great god Mothra to rescue them. Mothra hatches from her big blue egg (yes, Mothra’s a she), and the immense caterpillar swims her way to Japan. Nelson refuses to give up his miniature meal tickets, and the relentless Mothra crumbles everything in her path before building a cocoon around the Tokyo Tower. Japan and Rolisica team to blast said cocoon with atomic heat rays, which results in the creeping caterpillar emerging as a full-grown giant (and very colorful!) moth! Mothra makes a beeline (or is it mothline) for Rolisica’s capitol, New Kirk City to free the twins, which in turn leads to a strange and wonderful happy ending for all. Except Nelson, of course.

Honda’s direction here is much lighter in tone, and I enjoyed Sakai’s performance as the reporter Fukuda. The Ito Twins also appear in this film’s sequel, GODZILLA VS. THE THING, in which “The Thing” is none other than mighty Mothra! Their singing is a delight (though I didn’t understand a word of it, not being fluent in Japanese), and the score by composer Yuji Koseki is my all-time Toho favorite. RODAN and MOTHRA would make a perfect ‘Creature Double Feature’ for your upcoming ‘Halloween Havoc!’ party.

Speaking of ‘Halloween Havoc!’, it officially kicks off tomorrow with a titanic trio of classic horror stars sending up Edgar Allan Poe! In the meantime, enjoy these links to other posts in the ‘Creature Double Feature’ series:

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