The iconic name is first spoken by a wounded native living on the atomic bomb-irradiated Infant Island. The bearded old man, weak and wounded by machine gun fire, struggles to climb what appears to be an enormous stone altar. "Mothra!" he calls out. Thunder rolls! The rock face crumbles! The island's mighty protector is revealed! It's a moth egg.
After Godzilla, king of the monsters, Mothra is the most famous giant creature to emerge from the vast catalog of Toho studio's "strange beast" films. The eponymous 1961 release, which stars Japanese comedian Frankie Sakai as a newspaper reporter bumbling his way through the entomology story of the century, is also easy pickings for anybody who likes to riff on old movies, Mystery Science Theater 3000-style. In fact, anybody who wants to know what MST3000 alum Michael J. Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy have to say about the killer egg that turns into a killer caterpillar that turns into a city-dwarfing moth that flattens buildings with the beating of her giant wings can find out when Mothra is revived on movie screens around the country this week. Nelson's RiffTrax company broadcasts live, snarky commentary from Nashville's Belcourt Theatre direct to Memphis' Paradiso.
With its mix of weird, slapstick comedy, Spielbergian sweetness, and social comedy, Mothra is a quipper's goldmine start to finish. Even though Infant Island has been subject to nuclear tests, the big beast is only summoned after exploitative Japanese businessmen steal the "Mothra fairies" — miniature twin "beauties" whose bizarre language sounds like organ music and church bells. The natives have priorities.