Generally regarded as female by English-speaking audiences, she is a giant lepidopteran with characteristics both of butterflies and of moths. She closely resembles an Inachis io, or a European Peacock Butterfly. The name "Mothra" is the suffixation of "-ra" (a common last syllable in kaiju names, viz. Hedo-ra, Ghido-ra, Ebi-ra, Goji-ra(Godzilla)) to "moth"; since the Japanese language does not have dental fricatives, it is approximated "Mosura" in Japanese. In the American dubbing of Mothra vs. Godzilla, Mothra is also referred to as: "The Thing". She is occasionally an ally to Godzilla but more often than not engaged in conflict due to his anger toward the human race. Mothra holds the most victories against the "King of Monsters." Mothra has never defeated Godzilla on her own, however. In each of these victories, Mothra had an ally; its own twin in Mothra vs Godzilla, Battra in Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth, and Mechagodzilla in Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S..
Film have depicted Mothra in various stages of the lepidopteran life cycle: Mothra's mammoth egg is brightly colored in blue and yellow waves. The egg hatches into her 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. 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. She has also fertilized her own eggs.
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. Also, Mothra is given a short origin story in the Heisei series, with the Cosmos explaining that Mothra is a genetically engineered creation of the Cosmos made from fusing the remaining life energy of their race with a common lepidoptera.
Mothra has become one of Godzilla's more challenging opponents, having achieved the greatest success rate in battle save Godzilla himself: She has once rid of Godzilla in imago form, and twice Godzilla has fought her to the death only later to be bested by her newborn larvae. Mothra has never beaten Godzilla alone (in her Imago Form). Godzilla was defeated by Mothra twin-larvae in Godzilla vs. Mothra in the Showa Era, Imago Mothra and Imago Battra in Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth in the Heisei series, and the twin-larvae and Kiryu (MechaGodzilla) in the Millennium Series.
Mothra is the only kaiju other than Godzilla, Junior, and Mecha-King Ghidorah to appear in more than one Heisei Godzilla movie as she appears in Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla when she sends her Cosmos and Fairy Mothras to help out Miki. In the Heisei Era (1984–1995), Mothra gained her own series of films dubbed in America as the Rebirth of Mothra series (Rebirth of Mothra, Rebirth of Mothra II, and Rebirth of Mothra III). In Japan, the series is simply called the "Mothra Series"(Mothra, Mothra 2: Adventure Under the Sea, and Mothra 3: Attack of Grand King Ghidorah). These series are not connected to the Showa, Heisei or Millennium Godzilla movies and are standalone films aiming towards children. The movies start off as the last Mothra puts the last of her energy into a new egg. From this egg hatches Mothra Leo.
Mothra Leo is supposedly, and regarded as, male, as opposed to the pure female Mothras before (though the English dubbing is inconsistent, going back and forth between "she/her" to "he/him", even "it", and therefore its gender is left ambiguous). It also has "ever-increasing energy" which allows it to absorb energy from other sources to become stronger. The 10,000 year-old tree in Rebirth of Mothra allowed Mothra Leo to change into its imago form as "Mothra Leo", thought to be the most powerful Mothra of all time. Mothra Leo gains several forms throughout the Rebirth trilogy, such as Rainbow Mothra, Aqua Mothra, Light Speed Mothra, Armor Mothra, and Eternal Mothra.
In Godzilla Final Wars, Mothra once protected the world in ancient times from the space monster Gigan (this scenario echoes from the Heisei series of Godzilla films where Mothra was portrayed as an ancient defender of the earth and battle Battra, there are also similar cave-drawings of these two events). After being summoned by her Shobijin to help the Earth in a 21st century assault, Mothra flew over Tokyo to aid Godzilla in a battle against Monster X. The Xilien wouldn't let that happen, though, and they sent an improved Gigan to stop Mothra. Mothra is quickly dispatched by Gigan. Mothra quickly recovers and attacks Gigan and Monster X. Gigan resumes his battle with Mothra, using its laser vision beam, turning Mothra to a wall of fire. As a final effort, a burning Mothra flies towards Gigan, and both kaiju are destroyed in a kamakaze attack by the lepidopteran deity. Mothra does survive and she returns to Infant Island at the ending credits. This is the first time imago Mothra returns home directly after a battle involving Godzilla, excluding her brief appearances in Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster.
Unlike the majority of other Toho daikaiju, which are usually performed by stunt actors in a large costume, Mothra has always been operated mechanically as a wire controlled marionette, remote controlled robotic prop, or a combination of the two. Her characteristic chirp was created by speeding up the roar of Anguirus from Godzilla Raids Again. Mothra is known for her habit of dying somehow in many of the movies she has appeared in.
Toho had intended to follow 1989's Godzilla vs. Biollante with a revival of Mothra in her own spin-off film, Mothra vs. Bagan, for 1990 release. However, following the disappointing box office performance of Biollante, Toho discarded the project in favor of another Godzilla film, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991). A 1992 survey revealed that Mothra was Toho's most popular daikaiju among women, an observation which inspired Toho to again revise its plans, abandoning a proposed sequel to King Ghidorah in favor of a Godzilla/Mothra feature. Following the end of the Heisei Godzilla series, Toho produced a trilogy of Mothra films, known in the U.S. as Rebirth of Mothra (1996–1998). Mothra thus became the first Toho daikaiju to lead its own film(s) after its incorporation into the Godzilla franchise.
As a larva, Mothra sprays her opponents with silk as a ranged attack (to entrap or disorient an enemy). She also uses her mandibles for a close combat bite. (Mothra has a habit of biting opponents' tails, although it is rarely effective and, predictably, is usually self-defeating.) As an adult, her wings can (and generally do) create gales which tear apart buildings and send other kaiju flying. Her great bulk of a body is commonly used to her advantage in battle to slam into opponents (both in larva and adult form), and her surprising levels of strength can help her to drag and even lift monsters like Godzilla. Her final strategy is to emit "scales", a yellow poisonous powder that can hopefully asphyxiate an enemy. She only uses that attack when she knows she is going to die, though, because the extreme loss of scales will cause her to lose her flight.
The Heisei version of Mothra had some differences. She could now fire a beam of energy from her antennae, and fire arcs of lightning from her wings, or keep it in her body to release to another through touch. The powder now had a different effect; It would act as a 3-D mirror to trap energy blasts, making them rebound over whatever was inside the cloud of powder over and over again. This proved very effective in turning Godzilla's own atomic breath against him. Godzilla's Nuclear Pulse wasn't reflected by her mirror and she was thrown back, possibly because her mirror can't reflect energy attacks if it is able to pass around her mirror.
In the Mothra Trilogy, Mothra displayed a wide use of energy-projection abilities; ranging from triple prismatic beams from her forehead, to energized tackles, to her Sun Strike Buster, a very potent attack that comes from the sky like a sacred lightning bolt. Mothra Leo, her offspring and successor, shared her energy powers and also possessed the ability to gain alternate forms as a means of adapting to his opponent's fighting styles.
In GMK Mothra was able to shoot poison darts from her abdomen but she lacked both her hurricane force winds and her poison powder. In both Tokyo SOS and Final Wars, Mothra's powder was able to redirect both energy and physical projectiles back to their original senders.
Mothra is usually accompanied by two tiny priestesses or fairies, often called the shōbijin (小美人, "small beauties"), who also speak for her. For Mothra's first three film appearances these twin fairies were played by the Peanuts. 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. These qualities are part of the continuity of all subsequent Mothra appearances. In Mothra vs. Godzilla the Shobijin also demonstrate teleportation, when trying to escape from Kumayama and Torahata. In Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster the girls translate not only Mothra's chirps but an entire conversation among three daikaiju. Decades later, in Godzilla: Tokyo SOS, two other shobijin (portrayed by Masami Nagasawa and Chihiro Ôtsuka) demonstrate telekinesis as well.
In the Godzilla films of the 1990s Mothra's priestesses (played by Keiko Imamura and Sayaka Osawa) identify themselves as Earth's Cosmos, who claim to have been created by the very life force of Earth, along with Mothra and Battra—a "Black Mothra" (as described in Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth) or "Battle Mothra" (as described in the Super Godzilla video game manual). The Cosmos speak not only for Battra and Mothra, but for the living Earth as well. The Cosmos say that Battra was first created by the Earth to balance the ecosystem, which was disrupted by the climate-altering device of an advanced civilization, 12,000 years ago. However, Battra proved to be a little too enthusiastic about its task, and not only destroyed the things of man, but of the natural order as well. The first Mothra was then created to restore the true balance, and stop Battra's rampage. The Cosmos revere both Mothra and Battra as two different divine forces of nature. They act concerned when Battra is injured, and are pleased when Mothra finds a nonviolent method of stopping Battra, "making friends", as they say in the film. They know when Battra has awoken, and what his tasks and motivations are, but Battra does not appear motivated to seek them out, unlike Mothra, who seems compelled to protect them, and talks to them directly.
In the Rebirth of Mothra trilogy, made in the late 1990s, Mothra's priestesses were the Elias; the Elias differ from earlier incarnations in that they are not mindlinked twins but individual persons, Moll (or Moru or Mona) and Lora. They are also seen to have an older sister, a dark Elias called Belvera. In addition to accompanying Mothra, the Elias would also ride smaller offspring called Fairy Mothras. Mothra would reprise the role of ancient guardian, though with only a passing homage to the Cosmos, (who were the twins from Gamera 3: Awakening of Irys) in Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.
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. The song was composed by Yuji Koseki. Other verses and entirely new songs (in Japanese) have been added by various composers over Mothra's film history. The Shobijin have also been portrayed by Pair Bambi (Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster) and Megumi Kobayashi and Sayako Yamaguchi (the Mothra Trilogy).
There are many other Mothra songs that have been used over the years all the way from the Showa series to the Millennium series:
"Mahara Mothra" - Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964), Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992)
"Sacred Springs" - Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964), Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992)
"Mothra's Song" - Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966)
"The Song of Prayer" - Rebirth of Mothra (1996)
"Mothra Leo" - Rebirth of Mothra (1996)
"Haora Mothra" - Rebirth of Mothra 3 (1998)
Outside of Kaiju Films, the Mothra Songs have received a lot of popular acclaim and have been performed by many musical groups as well as individual artists.
Covers by musical groups:
"Mothra Song " – Deja Vu
"Mothra Song" – All-Male Japanese Choir
Broadway: Mothra is given mention in the song "Two by Two" in the musical Book of Mormon. Two characters are assigned their mission in Japan, and they exclaim "Japan...Home of soy sauce..and Mothra!"
Heavy metal band Anvil has a song about Mothra on their 1982 album Metal on Metal.
Canadian artist C.J. Harder has a song called Mothra, a track of his Fear Of A Digital Planet album. The song has recurring child vocals, singing Mosura No Uta.
Mothra's character and personality
Mothra's character/personality has developed substantially over the years. For instance, when she appeared in her first movie, she only protected her own people on Infant Island and did not care for the entire world like the later Heisei and Rebirth versions did. In the Heisei Era, Mothra became the environmental savior as well as the human savior of the Earth—which means that she was the guardian of the planet as stated by the Cosmos in Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth. In the Shinsei series though, Mothra reverted back to her original self as she was in the Showa series. Mothra is an unusual kaiju (in the Toho universe—Gamera fulfills this role in his own long-running series) in that she battles on behalf of the betterment of the Earth, and for years has continued to establish that pureness of heart in her character. In the trilogy, Mothra even sacrificed her own life for the sake of other guardian monsters.
Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964)
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966)
Destroy All Monsters (1968)
Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) (stock footage)
Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992)
Monster Planet Of Godzilla (1994)
Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) (also as "Fairy Mothra")
Rebirth of Mothra (1996) (also as "Mothra Leo")
Godzilla Island (1997)
Rebirth of Mothra II (1997) (as "Mothra Leo", "Rainbow Mothra", and "Aqua Mothra")
Rebirth of Mothra III (1998) (as "Rainbow Mothra", "Light Speed Mothra", "Armor Mothra", and "Eternal Mothra")
Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)
Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002) (stock footage)
Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)
Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)