Rebirth of Mothra is all about family. It’s about a mother’s love, two sisters’ forgiveness, a father’s atonement, and a brother’s fortitude. It’s also about the giant, fire-breathing, three-headed dragon that comes between them. Silly dragons, always complicating things.
Rebirth’s first scene is a montage of logging operations in Hokkaido. The shots of destruction are intercut with shots of the forest’s frightened animals immediately clue the viewer in to the film’s environmentalist message. The logging company’s foreman is Yuichi Goto, a man with a wife and two children he doesn’t get to see very often thanks to his job. When he finds a tiny metal medallion in the excavation site, he thinks it will make a great gift for his daughter Wakaba. What Yuichi doesn’t know is that the medallion is really a seal keeping something very dangerous locked away, and that by bringing it home he’ll drag his family into an ancient battle between good and evil.
The film stars three main kaiju, Mothra, her son Mothra Leo, and the evil Desghidorah. The reason I’m drawn to tokusatsu is the care and detail put into designing and crafting the creatures, and Rebirth is a great example of that. The adult Mothra is the same puppet from 1992’s Godzilla vs. Mothra, and the soft, rounded design sufficiently communicates her role as nature’s protector. By contrast, Mothra Leo’s design is more angular and aggressive, which reflects his role in the film as a young kaiju warrior.
The 1991 King Ghidorah from Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah has always been my favorite kaiju design, and Desghidorah continues his cousin’s standard of excellence. The flame thrower built into his central mouth is a great feature, and a nice deviation from the traditional lightning blasts that Ghidorahs usually use. I also appreciate that Rebirth kept Desghidorah from taking flight until a sufficiently dramatic moment. He’s got a menacing presence that really adds to the film’s dramatic stakes.
Aside from an overlong dogfight between Fairy Mothra and Garu Garu, mini versions of the film’s main attractions, the action in Rebirth is excellent. Mothra’s powers are clearly defined through the film’s visual language, something I feel is missing in some of her appearances in other films. Her death scene is also wonderfully shot, as is Leo’s metamorphosis. The film’s direction really treats the kaiju well, and the human bits are competent enough not to detract from the whole thing.
The diminutive Elias sisters take the place of the traditional fairy twins we usually associate with Mothra. There are three sisters this time around, and one of them is the evil Belvera. The good sisters, Lora and Mona, mainly assist the Goto family and summon Mothra. Belvera is ostensibly evil, you can tell because she wears all black, but we don’t get any hint as to why until the very end of the film, and even then it’s just a tease. Taiki Goto is the human protagonist, mainly tasked with keeping his parents and younger sister from panicking. The rest of the family goes through some internal and external drama, but their stories aren’t explicitly resolved and we’re left to assume that they just learned their lesson at some point.
In addition to the logging montage at the beginning, there are two other wildlife montages that mirror the first but on different occasions, both centered around Mothra Leo. This way, even when the human drama takes front and center, the film’s environmentalist through-line is preserved. Thematic consistency is always a huge selling point for me. Great kaiju action and a mostly coherent human element make Rebirth of Mothra a worthy entry in the Toho canon.
Film Club Discussion Topic: Was Desghidorah a suitable villain, considering the message the film was trying to portray? Why or why not? Let us know what you think in the comments.