Rebirth of Mothra II - its Japanese title is Mothra 2: The Undersea Battle - is a bad movie. That's not special on the face of it. A lot of daikaiju eiga are bad. But ROM 2 has somehow managed the first Toho monster movie which, in my estimation, is just bad bad - not so howlingly incompetent as to be hilariously awful, but conspicuously lacking in just about every important way that a motion picture can lack. It might very well be the least-enjoyable of Toho's monster movies; there is nothing about it that's unironically good, not even the monster fights, and having ironic fun with it simply isn't worth the effort.

A lot of this has to do with its status as a deliberate children's movie. Rebirth of Mothra was also a children's movie, and it was merely sleepy and bland and not horrible. But that turns out to have been the best-case scenario, apparently. Its sequel finds the twin fairy Elias, Moll (Kobayashi Megumi) and Lora (Yamaguchi Sayaka), working with the newly-born son of Mothra, also called Mothra, though the trademark name is Mothra Leo, having merry adventures flying in front of tremendously obvious rear-projection. Or tremendously obvious green screen. Whatever the hell it is, it's tremendously obvious.

Meanwhile, three children are playing: Shiori, the girl (Mitsushima Hikari), Yoji, the skinny boy with glasses (Maganao Shimada), and Kyohei, the pudgy boy (Otake Masaki). And that is just about the complete amount of personality that will be given to them throughout the movie, though Kyohei is wearing an Oakland Athletics t-shirt, which I gather makes him the Japanese equivalent of a U.S. Japanophile. The kids are mucking about when they find a little furry ball-creature with eyes, feet, and damn little else; the Elias' bad sister Belvera (Hano Aki) identifies this as the legendary Ghogo, and also tries to steal it from them, but she is stymied. Eventually, Ghogo will prove to have a key role to play in the plot - beyond its ability to cure wounds by pissing on them, that is - but this doesn't reveal itself until a very long way into the depths of the movie, which allows us to spend most of the running time assuming that it is there for literally no reason but to be odiously cute and sell toys, and since the kids' extraordinarily tenuous connection to the plot is limited mostly to their status as Ghogo's protectors, we get to assume that they're present for no real reason at all. Yet present they certainly are, as the Elias need some human agents to help in their quest, and apparently all the competent adult humans were off napping and drinking, thrilled because Godzilla was staying dead this time, or something.

The quest involves a search for the lost underwater kingdom of Ninai Kanai, which many eons ago created the monster Dagahra as something of a trash compactor: it destroys anything that seems like pollution, releasing as waste toxic creatures called Barem, which look starfish with grapes glued onto them. But, see, in the late 20th Century, we've fucked up the environment so badly that everything looks like pollution, and the newly-revived Dagahra is going to destroy all the world even more thoroughly than it destroyed Ninai Kanai back in the forgotten time. Belvera is eager to help its quest, but Moll and Lora hope to help Mothra stop the anicient threat once and for all. This involves the children running around and yelling a lot on sets that would have been ashamed to have been involved in a 1990s Nickelodeon show.

It is stultifying. No sugar-coating it. It's all so much kid-vid gobbledygook that proceeds along channels as obviously predictable as they are thoroughly arbitrary. Screenwriter Suetani Masumi's work on the last film was hardly elegant or classy, but the insertion of the child protagonists into ROM 1 was as organic and necessary as the most flawless clockwork compared to how randomly to how needlessly ROM 2 crams them in, for obviously programmatic reasons. The environmental themes are applied as gracefully as a rubber mallet to the face, and the lazy reliance on the ol' lost undersea kingdom bit is charming only in that it is applied without a whisper of cynicism. Director Miyoshi Kunio - his first directorial project, and his last - pushes this through while encouraging the worst kind of "bigness" from his young cast, so the whole thing just feels manic and loud, aggravatingly fast-paced despite the fact that almost nothing happens in the film.

Ordinarily, this is the point where I go into my "but the kaiju scenes" bit; instead, we now come to the "oh, the kaiju scenes..." moment. The effects in the film are terrible: ROM 2 wasn't the first Toho film with CGI, though it relies on it to an exceptional degree, and it is reprehensible: there's a shot of Ghogo's eyes bugging out that nearly made me give up on the film right then and there. But everything is bad: the waves, the backgrounds in Mothra flight scenes, literally everything achieved in CGI.

And that would even be find, but the monster scenes themselves are terrible: Dagahra is by no means one of the better suits Toho produced in the 1990s, looking emphatically rubbery and fake, and effects director Kawakita Koichi doesn't even both putting in effort to stage the fights between it and Mothra with any kind of energy. The climax takes place underwater, with Mothra having evolved submarine capabilities (these leave him looking like a cross between an eagle and a bumblebee); the best Kawakita can do to suggest that it's taking place in the sea is to slap a blue filter on. There aren't even bubbles. It was not his best work - I wonder if there's a way to say that without sounding so pleasant and diplomatic - it was downright shitty work, and it was his last project as effects director for any feature film. This fact depresses me terribly. Though not as much as the knowledge that it was the last project put into motion by producer Tanaka Tomoyuki, the godfather of Toho's daikaiju eiga since the very beginning; he died before it was released.

A miserable swan-song. Nothing works: the twiddly, awful, frivolous score by Watanabe Toshiyuki only comes alive when it's actively stealing from Holst ("Mars, the Bringer of War", specifically, but that's hardly a shock), the images are tacky feel like home videography - a massively foregrounded shot of a cat right before a lit cigarette falls on it and makes it jump up like a stagehand just tossed it into the air is one of the ugliest images I have ever seen in a Japanese film - and the redesign of Belvera's robot dragon, Garugaru, makes it less cute and thus ruins my favorite single part of ROM 1. This is an immensely unpleasant film to watch: the humor is zany and shrill, and the story is entirely free of drama, considering the claim that the Fate of the World hangs in the balance. This is, in sum, everything you've ever thought bad when the phrase "children's entertainment" rears its head, and necessary viewing only for the most masochist giant monster completists.