Mothra

Mothra by Alex Pardee

Mothra is a kaiju, a type of fictional monster who first appeared in the serialized novel ‘The Luminous Fairies and Mothra.’ Since her film début in the 1961 film ‘Mothra,’ she has appeared in several Toho tokusatsu films. Mothra is a giant lepidopteran with characteristics both of butterflies and of moths.

She closely resembles an Inachis io, or a European Peacock Butterfly, but it is said that the Atlas moth is its inspiration. The name ‘Mothra’ is the suffixation of ‘-ra’ (a common last syllable in kaiju names (e.g. ‘Goji-ra’ [Godzilla]) to ‘moth’; since the Japanese language does not have dental fricatives, it is approximated ‘Mosura’ in Japanese.

She is occasionally an ally to Godzilla but more often than not engaged in conflict due to his anger toward the human race. Despite having wrought destruction worthy of any Toho daikaiju, she is almost always portrayed as a kind and benevolent creature, causing destruction only when acting as protector to her worshipers on Infant Island or to her egg, or as collateral damage while protecting Earth from a greater threat.

Film have depicted Mothra in various stages of the lepidopteran life cycle: her mammoth egg is brightly colored in blue and yellow wave and hatches a larva, a massive brown, segmented caterpillar (resembling a silkworm) with glowing blue—red when angry—eyes. In rare circumstances, twins may emerge from the egg. The caterpillar eventually spins a silken cocoon around itself (the pupa stage), and from this cocoon the imago (adult) Mothra emerges, a gigantic moth-like creature with brightly colored wings. Mothra’s life cycle—particularly the tendency of an imago’s death to coincide with its larvae hatching—echoes that of the Phoenix, resembling resurrection and suggesting divinity.

Mothra has proven a formidable adversary in combat: in larval form she may use her silken spray to wrap and immobilize an opponent, and has a knack for biting and clinging to foes’ tails. In imago form her powers vary widely from film to film, including very animalistic scratching and dragging, incorporating several bolt and beam weapons in the Heisei era, and often concluding with a poisonous yellow powder (or ‘scales’) —her last defense. Mothra is one of the most powerful psychics in the Toho universe. She has had the ability to use this power benevolently, to communicate with humans, or aggressively, to destroy her enemies.

Mothra is usually accompanied by two tiny priestesses or fairies, often called the shōbijin (‘small beauties’), who also speak for her. For Mothra’s first three film appearances these twin fairies were played by the Peanuts (a Japanese recording duo comprised of twin sisters). In Mothra they demonstrate telepathic ability, within speaking range with people and over great distances with Mothra. They explain that while they call to Mothra in prayer and song, they and Mothra are also connected on some deeper level beyond their control, and it is this connection that impels Mothra to find them no matter where they are. The fairies’ famous song ‘Mosura No Uta’ (‘Mothra’s Song”) was written in Indonesian, though the Shobijin often sing Japanese approximations to the original lyrics.

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