Review: RiffTrax Live Gang Gives MOTHRA the Treatment

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[Images courtesy Fathom Events, and copyright Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.]

Mothra
Written by Shinichi Sekizawa
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Copyright 1961, riffed in 2016

It’s been a busy year for MST3K alums. There’s the reboot of the series well underway of course, and the tenth anniversary of RiffTrax has been an eventful one. This year has seen the introduction of an automatic app for syncing riff tracks with movies, and a bunch of new riffs by the original crew and some old and new faces to boot. Probably the biggest news this year was the long-awaited reunion when almost the entire cast of the old series got together for one night of full-tilt riffing.

But that was only one night in RiffTrax’s live schedule for 2016. This year so far, we’ve also seen a riff for fan-favorite Time Chasers and the latest addition to their Kaiju collection: the original Mothra.

Coming live from the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville as usual, the three RiffTrax principals (Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett) started the evening with the traditional short-subject. This time around it was Soapy the Germ Fighter, a hygiene film from the inanimate-object-comes-to-life school of filmmaking, a curiously common sub-genre. The film is very much typical of its type: well-meaning, full of questionably sourced information, and unbelievably bizarre. The gang take their time, gleefully deconstructing it to the delight of the audience.

In a way, it is somewhat surprising that the RiffTrax guys never tackled Mothra before. They pretty much worked their way through the Gamera films, and even several of Godzilla’s oeuvre. The closest they ever got was Godzilla vs The Sea Monster (1966), in which the giant bug played opposite the title monster. Still, it’s better late than never as the trio gleefully riffed their way through the film.

Still from Mothra
“I’m just wanting to hear some music, man!”

The film itself is a curious beast. Early days in the Kaiju genre, it takes its time getting up and going, so that the film is a third of the way through before we see the title beast, and over the halfway point before it starts to fly. A scientific expedition to investigate an island previously believed to be uninhabited discovers a pair of tiny women guarded by a tribe of natives. Nelson, the leader of the expedition, sneaks back and captures the two girls and brings them back to Tokyo, where he forces them to sing and dance for paying audiences. The islanders awaken Mothra, which hatches from her egg and swims to Japan, making a beeline for Tokyo and destroying everything in her path. Eventually, a couple of reporters and a linguist manage to rescue the girls and give them back to Mothra, which (you should excuse the expression) bugs off.

The riffing is pretty solid throughout, with only a few jokes falling flat. Much hay is made of Mike Nelson’s sharing a name with the principal villain. There were a few areas throughout the film where the trio fell silent for an unusually long time; fortunately, this was an exception rather than the rule. The movie provided lots of rich fodder to work with: bad miniatures, terrible camera tricks, a principal character played by a rather over-the-top performer (actually comedian Frankie Sakai). It’s an odd little film, clearly created before the tropes of Kaiju films had really been established.

Mothra is a fun film to riff, and the RiffTrax crew do a good job of it. There will be an encore performance on Tuesday, August 23, via the Fathom Events network. Check with your local theatre or fathomevents.com.

 

Kelly Luck, like Mothra, is also easily lured by miniature singing twins. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.

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