Shin Godzilla (Review)
New facial cleanses have gotten out of control!
Godzilla was on one of his occasional breaks after his Final War while the US developed their own Godzilla franchise. But after that monster hit, Godzilla reawoke in Japan to return with a spiritual successor to the original Gojira that is also one of the most successful films in Japan. Godzilla is back as a force of nature, the appearance and response directly referencing the Japanese Fukushima earthquake/nuclear disaster. Much of the film is spent in a West Wing style series of high level government meetings, in which entrenched minsters and officials do little of consequence in order to avoid looking bad if their actions don’t have the desired effect. While that sounds like it could be terrible, it’s actually really good, the scenes are cut quickly and innovatively to keep things moving briskly along while still giving you the feeling that the characters were in long unproductive meetings.
Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi were given free reign to tell their story, the pair having collaborated on Evangelion, with Anno subsequently directing cult live action films such as Cutie Honey and Higuchi doing effects work on the Gamera trilogy and directing the Attack on Titan features. Their strong pedigree promised that we would get something unique and entertaining, and the pair delivered with a strong entry.
The effects are a bit mixed, the final form of Godzilla is well done, but the earlier forms look goofy and some effects with them seem more rushed. While most of the music is new, there is some nice Akira Ifukube put in at the right time, with tanks driving around and blasting away that helped made the scene come together, you won’t care that everything is now CG instead of models and a guy in a suit. It really is modern mixed with the past, besides the retro tank fight, we have unmanned drones attacking Big G at one point, and the final sequence has a bunch of industrial and civilian vehicles that make up the heart of Japan’s economic might being used to save Japan.
A mysterious steam eruption in Tokyo Bay causes minor disasters, which quickly turn major when the source is determined to be an unknown giant creature that starts making its way up the canal system through the city. The government hems and haws as they delay action and don’t recognize the threat as the danger it is while it continues to evolve. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi seems to be one of the few who recognizes the problem, identifying the source as a giant creature before the rest, bringing in a colleague (Mikako Ichikawa as Hiromi Ogashira, a Cutie Honey alumni and one of the few actors I recognized) to analyze the creature when respected biologists refuse to make definitive statements about anything. Yaguchi’s late father was a popular minster who used his influence to get things through the system, but also helped many people so that characters will specifically mention they owe the father a debt and will help Yaguchi with little hesitation.
As the Prime Minster hesitates on a military response due to the amount of civilians in the area (to the point where even two civilians are too many), Godzilla evolves into a larger form and then wanders away. The team is left to figure out what to do next, while Yaguchi was recognized as correct enough that he is put in charge of the response team (it’s also a job no one with experience wants as they see it as career suicide when they get blamed when whatever plan they come up with inevitably fails.) Yaguchi doesn’t hesitate to staff it with young go-getters, and even works with an American representative, Kayoko Ann Patterson (Satomi Ishihara), the daughter of a US Senator with political ambitions of her own in the US. Eventually, Godzilla returns bigger and more powerful than ever, and it is a race against time for Yaguchi and his team to figure out how to stop him before the Americans nuke Tokyo to prevent Godzilla’s spread.
Godzilla looks like a thing out of nightmares, veiled talk about an evolved prehistoric sea creature, Godzilla evolves as the movie progresses, from a goofy, gilled version that bumbles its way through a canal and later down streets to the more upright and devastating versions that smash through buildings and generate offensive and defensive energy weapons. Godzilla is larger and more destructive than any previous version, entire neighborhoods of Tokyo are laid to waste and his spontaneously evolving point defense system even takes out US stealth bombers. The look of Godzilla is more monstrous, with raw red sections of skin that look like burns, jagged spines, and short, stumpy arms that look more tyrannosaurian than the usual man in suit.
While most reboots of Godzilla keep the original film in canon, Shin Godzilla tosses everything to create a world where giant monster attacks are just as unusual as ours. The future of the Japanese branch of the franchise is still up in the air, we could conceivable go to a direct sequel (especially with what looked like a giant cliffhanger at the end) and even reinvent the entire kaiju canon in Shin Godzilla style (something fan art has already been burning through online, along with a slew of hilarious cartoons involving the goofy first evolution of Shin Godzilla!)
The older generations red tapes themselves to death and the younger crowd starts working to get things done, bypassing where necessary but still doing things in a uniquely Japanese style. The film seems like it will be cited by people to explain politics in Japan for years, probably by the same people who think that because they saw every episode of The Wire, they understand how everything in Baltimore works.
Shin Godzilla does something I’m actually surprised never happened before in a Godzilla movie, which is having the American character also be Japanese! It seems so obvious, especially with the US being full of people from all over the world. Kayoko has a spiritual connection to her grandmother’s home country while using her position to wield political muscle to help shape the world into a better place. She’s a perfect counterpart to Yaguchi, both of them building on legacies but also willing to risk everything to do what is right. At times her English dialogue isn’t as convincing as it should be (especially as she’s written to not be comfortable with Japanese formal/informal speech), but that’s probably a minor quibble.
Shin Godzilla got a one week run in US theaters that was since extended due to popular demand, and it is easy to see why, as everything comes together into an amazing spectacle. (also, no one is calling it Godzilla: Resurgence despite it being originally marketed as such!) It’s a great addition to the Godzilla mythos, and I look forward to seeing how this influences kaiju films from here on out.
Rated 8/10 (logo, siren, hesitation, meetings, figuring it out, folds, a tail, waiting)
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