For Shinichi Sekizawa’s fantasy film debut, he wrote something unlike anything that had ever come before. Wikipedia describes the plot as:
An expedition to an irradiated island brings civilization in contact with a primitive native culture. When one sensationalist entrepreneur tries to exploit the islanders, their ancient deity arises in retaliation.
Huh, well, that seems sort of familiar. Is there a helpless woman seized by a brute many times her size?
….and then a creature, taken from the island, to perform on stage and on camera?
Did this performance lead to a giant jungle god monster tearing up a major city looking for its favorite little lady, including a major set piece on a recently-completed world-record tall structure?
But did the sequel have Skull Crawlers?
As much as I kid, Mothra is, even more than Godzilla, the mitochondrial Eve of the kaiju genre. It *was* revolutionary, for eschewing the prevalent harder sci-fi realism of the 1950s for contemporary fantasy, and tapping a part of the audience that no prior film had. It’s the first major monster movie where people don’t, in any sense, defeat the monster, they placate it, and it lives to fight another day, because Mothra’s not such a bad guy (girl. you know what I mean), but arguably a heroine. That carries over directly into King Kong vs. Godzilla, and nearly everything that followed.
The movie might not get as much attention as it should because people watch “the Godzilla series” skipping everything in between 1955 and 1962, but Mothra is really the movie that brought about those lighter elements. Mothra has a mural visible from the street at Toho Studios, an honor shared only by Godzilla and The Seven Samurai. And that trend of naming monsters with “name of thing”+ “ra”? Sure, Godzilla sort of started the pattern, but Mothra codified it.
As much as the movie is sort of a riff on King Kong, it’s got its own flavor, and throws in enough twists to make it a classic, even not accounting for its kaiju-sized influence on the future of the genre.