The Rebirth of Mothra Trilogy
The past several years have been fraught with disasters, anxieties and troubling developments. A lot of the films that we watch reflect this, while it seems rare to find something that points towards a better future. In times like this, the perfect films to watch are the Rebirth of Mothra trilogy, which is just about the most optimistic film series I’ve ever seen. It confronts the issues that faced (then) current humans and attempts to fix the issues that we brought on ourselves. This is all filtered through an odd mixture of kaiju film, kids comedy and magical-girl series. It creates a unique trilogy of films that stand apart from the rest of the kaiju canon.
I started watching kaiju films when I was very young. I had tapes for Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster (Ebirah: Horror of the Deep) and Godzilla Vs. Megalon that I wore into dust. The films themselves appeal to younger viewers, and for this article I watched the trilogy again with my youngest son, who was riveted by every moment. I think that it’s important to address the issues of today through a lens that younger viewers can understand, and these films explore this territory in a way that is fascinating.
Rebirth of Mothra: Resurrection and the Earth
The first film covers the titular rebirth, where Mothra dies to give her progeny, Mothra Leo, a chance to survive. Her death is caused by the emergence of Desghidorah (Death Ghidorah, in some translations) who has emerged because of logging and breaking up of the earth. Desghidorah was originally sealed away under the surface of the planet by the Elias, a race composed of tiny, fairy-like entities. The only Elias to survive the conflict are the good Moll and Lora, and the evil Belvera. Before they release Desghidorah, they attempt to stop the humans. The rest of the plot concerns Mothra Leo’s and the two good Elias’ attempts to stop Desghidorah.
The film kicks off the trilogy very well. They introduced us to the Elias, who will be the only recurring characters other than Mothra Leo. Each of the films features a cast of children and (usually) their family who assist Mothra Leo and the Elias, though the exact characters change from film to film. The first film deals primarily with the destruction of the Earth through human greed, as evidenced by the logging and blasting that led to the release of Desghidorah. The most impactful moment is the death of the original Mothra, who slowly sinks into the ocean after being mortally wounded in the initial conflict with Desghidorah.
Something that is definitely worth noting is that the film never really presents Belvera as fully evil. She is simply reacting to an event, the destruction of her people, in a more negative way with negative emotions than her sisters. These characters take the place of the twins seen in earlier Mothra films, and creating a conflict between them creates a smaller scale conflict that reflects the larger scale kaiju battles and thematic concerns of each film. They resemble, both in their design and story arcs, the magical girls of several anime series and add another dimension to a film that increases its depth and meaning.
Mothra Leo, who turns out to be the strongest Mothra of all time, eventually defeated Desghidorah. However, Mothra Leo wouldn’t exist without the sacrifice of his mother, and the sacrifice of the parent produces an individual capable of dealing with the mounting difficulties of the world. They show this when Mothra Leo defeats Desghidorah, only to still feel a sense of loss at the destroyed portions of the environment. Mothra Leo heals the ruined areas, restoring the balance of nature and locking away the forces that would destroy it. Throughout this process, the children in this film have convinced their parents, who run the logging company, that continuing on their path is wrong. All the plotlines wrap up neatly, allowing for a reset that leads into the second film.
Rebirth of Mothra II: The Ocean and the Rage of the Waters
Whereas the previous film concerned itself with the land, the second film takes us directly to the sea. Pollution has caused strange, gross starfish creatures called Barum. These creatures appear in droves, seemingly reminiscent of jellyfish and algae blooms that occur with changing oceanic environments. From this degraded environment, a creature named Dagahra emerges, who creates the starfish creatures. The creatures and Dagahra himself are killing all underwater life and making the ocean uninhabitable to any animal, humans included.
Dagahra is an interesting design because the creature is mainly aquatic, and so most of the battles with Dagahra take place beneath the waves. It turns out an ancient, Atlantis-like civilization created Dagahra to clean up pollution in the water and keep the world in its natural state. However, the sheer level of oceanic pollution has caused Dagahra to essentially go berserk, producing massive quantities of the Barum that are killing the ocean and, sometimes, people. The children tasked with reversing this course of action are pursued by thieves who have been mind controlled by Belvera, hoping to gain control of an ancient power in a sunken temple.
The sad thing about the film is that Dagahra was produced for good, but an overload of pollution has led to his current actions. However, his mind and body are too damaged to be rehabilitated, so he is eventually destroyed by Mothra Leo. The major threat of Dagahra is his production of Barum, but destroying his organs that produce them lead to his death. Mothra Leo gains a few alternative forms in this film, specifically that of Rainbow Mothra and Aqua Mothra. Rainbow Mothra is a more powerful version of Mothra Leo, while Aqua form allows him to take the fight to Dagahra beneath the ocean. We can say that these forms adapt from the current necessity of the world, and Mothra Leo functions as a protector who must change in order to face the current issues.
This is also seen in the human characters, who have to adapt to the changing world in order to fix it. Even the thieves who are under Belvera’s control eventually break free, throwing off their greed and helping the children to escape the temple that they find themselves in. This is a recurring element, where forgiveness and change are large parts of what drive the character arcs of the Elias and the human characters. This is something we will see come to complete fruition in the last film of the trilogy.
Rebirth of Mothra III: We Must Create Our Own Future
The last film in the trilogy wraps up all the previous plotlines, as well as increasing the power of Mothra Leo through understanding and change. The threat in this film is King Ghidorah, who in this continuity crash landed on Earth in the distant past. Now, he is trapping all the children of the world in an enormous dome, looking to absorb their energy to make itself more powerful and to destroy the planet. Mothra Leo attempts to destroy King Ghidorah, but is quickly outmatched. From here, he must return to the past to defeat Ghidorah when he was weaker.
The narrative of this film ties the child characters in much better than the previous films. The main character is bullied, but is protective of his family. He has his issues, but rises to the occasion to save humanity and the world, regardless of his treatment of his bullies. His arc also changes his family, helping his drunken father (played by Japanese deathmatch wrestling legend Atsushi Onita!) to get healthier. This leads to a happier and closer family unit, which had seemed distanced and troubled at the beginning of the film.
In the past, Mothra Leo destroys Ghidorah, but a sliver of Ghidorah’s tail falls off and plants itself in the ground. Leo is then covered in Mothra larva, who cocoon him and protect him from an erupting volcano. In the present, King Ghidorah vanishes, but it is quickly replaced by a second Ghidorah, who regrew from the tail in the past. To combat him, Mothra Leo bursts forth from his cocoon in a new form, Armored Mothra.
I find this series of events thematically rich and indicative of the overall spirit of the series. Mothra Leo attempted to fix the past directly, but instead produced another Ghidorah. This says that we can’t really go back and fix the past, since it has already happened. Mothra Leo can only grow stronger through connection with his own past, the ancient Mothra larva, and understanding that we can only work towards the present or the future. This ultimate lesson allows Mothra Leo to attain his most powerful forms. They reflect this in the human story, where he cannot change his bullying but can work to make things better for everyone.
This through-line is carried by the Elias characters as well. Belvera eventually discovers that, should King Ghidorah win, everything is lost and the world will end. She reconciles with her sisters and their combined powers allows them to assist in the conflict with the greater evil. Through these scenes, we get a lot of insight into why Belvera ended up who she was and the original schism between her and her sisters. We don’t see a character that is pure evil, but a person making critical decisions based on negative emotions. These are some of the most effective moments in the film, and it is reinforced by the sisters still not seeing completely eye-to-eye in the end, but reaching a begrudging respect for each other.
Ghidorah cannot handle the newest forms of Mothra, having stuck to his course of action and not grown from the past. He is easily dispatched being completely taken apart by an incredibly powerful Mothra Leo. The film ends with Belvera continuing to argue with her sisters, not being able to come up with a decision on how to interact with humans. The children are freed; the sky clears up and Mothra Leo turns into Eternal Mothra and flies away. There is the possibility of future conflict, but for now, the world and humanity are safe.
While these may not be the best films in the long history of Kaiju films, I think they stand out as something fairly different from the others. The conflict between the Elias sisters is pronounced in a way that keeps a good character through-line across the entire trilogy, while changing the human characters allows the film to focus on the general thematic thrust of each entry. While a lot of the childish humor and slapstick can fall flat for adults, it makes a lot of the more heady material palatable for younger viewers (my youngest absolutely adored these films).
There’s also something to be said about the positivity and optimism that’s contained in this trilogy. Times are hard, and it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees. However, the attitude and ideas in these films are ones that resonate even today, and can hopefully put a smile on your face and resolve in your heart.