Friday, November 6, 2020

MOTHRA (1961) (Eureka! Entertainment Blu-ray Review)

MOTHRA (1961) 

Label: Eureka! Entertainment
Region Code: A
Rating: PG
Duration: 101 mins (Japanese) & 90 mins ( US)
Audio: English & Japanese LPCM Mono 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: Ishirō Honda
Cast: Frankie Sakai, Hiroshi Koizumi, Kyōko Kagawa, Emi Itō, Yumi Itō

Synopsis: Following reports of human life on Infant Island, the supposedly deserted site of atomic bomb tests, an international expedition to the heavily-radiated island discovers a native tribe and tiny twin female fairies called “Shobijin” who guard a sacred egg. The overzealous expedition leader kidnaps the Shobijin to exhibit in a Tokyo stage show but soon they summon their protector, hatching the egg and releasing a giant caterpillar. When Mothra arrives in Japan and transforms into her final form, the nation and its people face their destruction.

During a severe tropical storm a tanker ship sinks off the coast of Beiru Island near mainland Japan, which had previously been the site of atomic weapons testing. Rescuers are surprised to find the sailors alive a few days later, appearing to have suffered no ill effects from the radiation exposure, which they later attribute to the natives living on the island, who gave the sailors an elixir with restorative properties. 

The island is supposed to have been uninhabited so the Japanese government sends an expedition to the island to explore these claims, and sure enough they find a heretofore unknown indigenous people, as well as strange oversized vegetation which includes a man-eating plant. The strangest find on the island is a pair of otherworldly twins (Emi and Yumi Itō) who though adults are only doll-sized. The twins implore the scientist to leave the island and to please stop their atomic testing, and the scientist agree and leave the island, agreeing amongst themselves to keep the revelation of the pint-sized twins to themselves.

However, an unscrupulous businessman named Nelson (Jerry Ito) learns of the twins and returns to the island, kidnapping them  and making them the star attraction in his "Secret Fairies Show" in Tokyo, featuring the diminutive beauties singing ethereal songs to large crowds. 

The kidnapping of the twins angers the native people of the island who then hold a ceremony, awakening their ancient god, a giant caterpillar called Mothra who emerges from an enormous egg they worship. The deity-creature immediately begins swimming across the Pacific towards Tokyo to recover the twins, seemingly linked to them telepathically. Along the way the creature destroys a cruise ship and manages to survive an attack from military jets dropping bombs and napalm upon it.

Arriving in Tokyo the crawling menace lays waste to the city, bringing down a damn and causing catastrophic damage, before building a cocoon at Tokyo Tower, emerging as the the now winged kaiju Mothra we all know and love. The best parts of Mothra, as with most kaiju movies, are the scenes of the miniature cities and vehicles being destroyed by the giant winged creature, and we get plenty of that with some nifty looking miniatures, though some of the effect are a little ropey looking in HD, but if you're a kid and heart and not completely fucking jaded it still a fun time. 

The worst parts of it have to do with an ongoing legal battle to determine if the unscrupulous businessman should relinquish his claim to the twins, all that stuff was a bit of a slog to get through. The twins themselves are absolutely a highlight, delivering charismatic performances and regaling us with mesmerizing ethereal songs, but overall the film feels a bit slower than I remembered as a kid, but it has loads of charm and plenty of destructive kaiju-action and vintage Toho miniature work, so it's still a pleaser. 

Audio/Video: Kaiji classic Mothra (1961) arrives on Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment framed in the original  2.35:1 widescreen and presented in 1080p HD. The source looks slightly flawed by way of vertical lines, speckling and some minor imperfections, including some optical shots marred by dirt and debris inherent to the source, but on the whole the presentation looks quite good. There's some inherent softness, and the grain is not as finely resolved as a new scan would have offered, but colors generally look good, there's a fair amount of fine detail and texturing throughout. To my eyes this looks to be the same HD master used by Mill Creek Entertainment in the U.S. for both the U.S. and Japanese cuts of the film, which themselves look to be sourced from the same master as well with extended Japanese cut containing footage of similar quality. Some scenes seemed to have better resolved grain structures, still chunky looking, but slightly better resolved, perhaps owing to a better encoding on the disc.  

Audio comes by way of English and Japanese LPCM Mono 2.0 with optional English subtitles. I chose to watch the English-dubbed version, like my Italian giallo films I prefer my Kaiju with some English-dub, the way I remember watching them as a kid on TV, it's not the most subtle or fidelic audio option but it serviceable and does the job just fine. 

Eureka come through with a couple of new and exclusive extras for their Mothra release, we get a new audio commentary with film historian and writer David Kalat, plus a new interview with film critic and author Kim Newman on the history and legacy of Mothra, and Newman is always a fun time, I've long been a fan of his musing on genre film, and have rarely heard him speak of kaiju, so that was a treat.  

Archival extras come by way of an entertaining and well-informed audio commentary from Japanese sci-fi historians Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski, a pair of trailers and an extensive image gallery of poster artwork, promotional stills and lobby cards. We were only send a 'check disc' without any of the cool packaging like the slipbox and collector's booklet, and of course we are bitter about that, but the retail packaging extras are detailed below, hahaha. 

An extra that was advertised when this was first announced was a third shorter version of the film, the1974 Champion Festival Version that ran sixty-one minutes long – a special version of the film edited by Ishirō Honda for the 1974 Toho Champion Festival, which apparently did not make it to the final cut, which is a shame. 

Special Features: 
- Hardbound Slipcase also containing a reversible poster featuring the film’s original US and Japanese poster artwork
- Reversible poster featuring the film’s original US and Japanese poster artwork
- Includes both Japanese (101 min) and English (90 min) versions of the film. 
- Original mono audio presentations (LPCM)
- English subtitles (Japanese version) and English SDH (English version)
- NEW! Brand new audio commentary with film historian and writer David Kalat
- Audio commentary with authors and Japanese sci-fi historians Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski
- NEW! Kim Newman on ‘Mothra’ – an interview with film critic and author Kim Newman on the history and legacy of Mothra (15 min) HD
- Trailers (4 min) HD
- Stills Galleries featuring rare archival stills and ephemera
- A Perfect Bound 60-age Collector’s Booklet featuring essays by Christopher Stewardson and Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp (Midnight Eye); a new interview with Scott Chambliss (production designer on 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters); an extract from Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski’s Ishirō Honda biography; and archival reviews and stills.

Mothra (1961) is the undisputed Queen of the kaiju classics and it still holds up for monster kids of all ages. Eureka have put together a great looking edition that includes all the archival disc extras and a few new ones that are great value-adds that make this a desirable release. 

Screenshot Comparison:
Top: Mill Creek Entertainment (2019) Japanese Cut 
Bottom: Eureka Entertainment (2020) Japanese Cut