Even though home video is a wonderful thing and an invaluable tool when it comes to writing “Toho In America,” it also consistently leads to more work for the writers. After a comparison of the English and Japanese theatrical versions of a film, more often than not we find ourselves adding an extra paragraph or two explaining why the tape you bought at Suncoast isn’t precisely what was described in the article as the “American version.” This almost seems to be the rule when it comes to home video releases of the American versions of these films.
Mothra represents a rare case in that not only do U.S. video releases and TV broadcasts vary from the original American theatrical release, but multiple variations of the original Japanese film appear on home video in that country as well. Additionally, between the formats described above, three American versions exist! It’s difficult to decide which is more frightening – that so many variations exist, or that they all seem to be born not by design, but by repeated bungling of the rather common task of creating the video masters. A description of the variants found is described below and organized by country of origin.
JAPANESE VIDEO RELEASES
The variations found ofMothrain Japan can be seen by comparing the two video editions most known to westerners – the two laser disc releases of the film. The first disc (TLL-2007) appears to utilize the same transfer as Toho Video’s first Japanese widescreen VHS release. This transfer (before the days of stereo sound video or digital audio laser discs) appears to represent a complete mono version of the Japanese theatrical release ofMothra. In recent years, a re-mastered version ofMothrawas released (TLL-2464) on laser disc, again in widescreen, but this time in digital stereo sound (representing the original release’s Perspecta Stereophonic Sound mix) and with the Japanese theatrical trailer included as an extra.
While these amendments technically qualify the newer disc as a slightly different version of the film, they aren’t enough to normally warrant noting. What truly pegs this newer release as a “variant” version is a difference found on the re-mastered film’s sound-track. On Side B from 38ml5s to 38m43s (Mothra taking flight for the first time), the wrong music cue (an instrumental of the same melody sung by the Shobijin as Mothra emerges from the cocoon), is heard over this scene until it abruptly switches back to the correct music! This audio anomaly does not appear in any other known video release of the film.
Oddly, neither of these arguably most-defenitive releases attempt to insert the film’s opening overture, as heard on the film’s soundtrack CD (SLCS-5065), at the beginning of the video, as was done with Toho Video’s laser disc of The Last War. The music exists, but at press time, we were unable to confirm whether or not it was actually used in theaters.
For the sake of completeness, it should be also be mentioned that a laser disc of Mothra was included in Toho Video’s Champion Matsuri box set. The was the reissue version re-cut by Honda himself to only 62 minutes!
AMERICAN VIDEO RELEASES
RCA Columbia first releasedMothraon home video in 1984. The source for this video appears to have been a 16 millimeter pan-and-scan television print. As such, the video was identical to TV broadcasts up to that time (i.e. a pan-and-scan version of the American theatrical release). Other than a few seconds missing at reel changes and a brief, inexplicable black out of part of the shot of a newspaper headline superimposed over the shipwreck survivors, this video transfer is otherwise fairly accurate to U.S. theatrical/TV prints. In 1986, RCA Columbia releasedMothrain slightly different packaging – an identical video transfer as the original, save for a new hi-fi mono audio track which was advertised on the new box. In 1988, the video rights toMothraand several other RCA Columbia video titles were licensed to Goodtimes Home Video, who released the video only in the cheaper LP speed. Bearing two different box designs, the Goodtimes tapes utilized the same transfer as the previous RCA Columbia releases, though the film’s opening Columbia logo was removed.
While the Goodtimes tapes were still being sold in stores, Columbia proceeded to re-master Mothra for television broadcasts, presumably with the intention of using the new transfer for future video releases. Two attempts were made, neither of which was completely successful. These new transfers appear to have been made by combining the audio of the shortened U.S. version with a print of the film which included most if not all of the scenes previously seen only in the Japanese version. Those who attempted this re-master were apparently unprepared for this and had no guide for matching the audio to the video.
The first attempt aired on the Cinemax cable network in 1991 and was a complete disaster. Running approximately two-and-a-half minutes shorter than the previous video releases, the soundtrack falls out of sync at every point where Japanese footage was deleted because the footage is no longer missing! This would go on for a few seconds until the correct audio and video would synch up again…that is, until the next scene with deleted footage intact would throe it off again. One can only imagine the telecine operators constantly having to stop the machine to figure out what happened. This problem is worst during Mothra’s arrival in Tokyo; up until the point where Mothra builds the cocoon, the audio and video are completely off, with voices and sounds accompanying completely unrelated images.
Fortunately, Columbia made a second attempt which was far more successful, though not perfect. It is this version which has aired on American television since around 1992 and was re-released on VHS tape by Columbia/TriStar Home Video in 1995. This transfer is about 30 seconds longer than the original U.S. version and again features the accidental insertion of Japanese footage previously cut out.
The following is a list of significant differences from the original U.S. version, with approximate times indicated:
Despite the glitches and the fact that it’s not a precise reproduction of the original American theatrical version ofMothra, the new transfer far out weights the reconstruction problems and is the best presentation of the U.S. version ever released on home video. One can only hope that Columbia/TriStar will undertake a letterbox transfer on DVD. This would be a great opportunity to fix some of the problems from the last transfer.
Portions of this article originally appeared in the Annual Readers’ Infosium section of Video Watchdog Special Edition #2, 1995
Article ©1998, 2004 Brian R. Culver/Daikaiju Publishing.