Warning: this review is filled with spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film, go out and watch it so that you may understand my mad kaiju fan ramblings. On the other hand, if you don’t mind spoilers, then please feel free to join in on the quote fun times unquote.
Have you ever wondered what inspired the original concept for Godzilla? It all came together after the infamous Lucky Dragon Incident back in the 50’s where a group of Japanese fishermen are irradiated after experiencing fall out from a nuclear testing sight in the Pacific. Inspired by the suffering of their people from the liberal use of nuclear energy over the years, filmmakers at Toho came together and made a project so that they may properly discuss their opinions on such a major subject. While the message was lost on some there are plenty of people who were able to better understand Japan’s stance on nuclear weapons. The years transpired and, as such, the commentary that Godzilla films made changed consistently. The last entry in the Millennium era didn’t even really make an attempt for a message (besides “Godzilla 1998 sucks“) rather the movie was an energetic finale to what was considered the end of the King of the Monsters for a while. I’d like to think that Toho realized how far they had come from their first concept when they decided to go forth with a modern interpretation. In my opinion (as well as the opinion of many Godzilla nerds), Shin Godzilla is easily the most unique entry in the series that courageously offers an insight on important issues happening in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Shin Godzilla follows a crew of Japanese government officials as they deal with the arrival of some strange creature later dubbed “Gojira”. Unlike the majority of other Godzilla films, this movie marks the first time humanity has faced a monstrosity such as this. The lack of experience leads to numerous mistakes made by the government which lead to a worldwide consensus that Japan is incapable of dealing with this giant monster. The United States jumps in much to the dismay of the government officials but it seems that they may have no choice. Will Japan regain control of the situation? Even if they do, how will they take down Godzilla? Missiles and tanks don’t seem to cause any change. Almost seems like the beginning of the end (!!!).
Shin Godzilla can be best described by the first twenty or so minutes where the Japanese government conducts countless meetings while a giant monster destroys much of Tokyo. For those unaware, the influence for this specific entry was the 2011 tsunami, earthquake and nuclear meltdown. Shin Godzilla shares the specific common belief among many Japanese people that the travesties were poorly handled by the government. The movie, however, does not appear to be a condemnation on the idea of a governing body rather it’s a judgement on how there was a lack of proper response time due to too much needless regulation. This idea is repeated numerous times over the film. Getting aide to the crestfallen citizens or firing upon a beast on the verge of stepping on an elderly couple takes approval from multiple branches. As Shin Godzilla progresses, bureaucracy wins the day but only thanks to everyone coming together on equal footing without all of the red tape. This is an incredibly creative and poignant move by Toho that may lead to a great movie, but does it lead to a good GODZILLA movie?
What works best in Shin Godzilla is how it handles the wide array of topics that could have imploded on less talented filmmakers. I am not the most political person and have no stake in Japanese politics so take all of my opinions with a grain of salt. All I will say is that I think the directors, Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, managed to find a balance in opinions to provide nuanced answers to difficult to answer dilemmas. The US, for example, gets a fair share of heat but does have a moment of redemption near the end where they provide Japan tools to stop Godzilla. On top of these great balance of opinions is a cast that manages to keep your interest during the slower sections. My personal favorite character is Yaguchi with his dry wit and sincerity. The rest of the cast also performs admirably as each of them focus on a trait that keeps them in your head through the entire run time. It was so encouraging to see these elements work expertly since America seems to have a monopoly on the blockbuster industry (blockbuster as in the types of films, not the rental chain. That is truly dead. Don’t weep for it as I have). Shin Godzilla is a purely Japanese film that managed to reach an audience worldwide that will hopefully learn more about an important moment in their history (echoing the sentiments of the first Gojira movie). The film winning the Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture (among six others in other categories) drives home how important it is for you to see this masterpiece. THAT SAID…
As much as I like Shin Godzilla, I must warn the uninitiated that this might not be the best Godzilla film to start off on. Just like Casino Royale, this movie is a deconstruction of the main character and giant monster genre that relies on you to know a good amount of the typical tropes without a ton of action to satiate you. When I cited the beginning of the movie as an indicator for the rest of the run time, I truly meant it. Get ready for meeting after meeting between government officials because that is how this movie rolls. On top of that, so much is thrown at the audience that multiple viewings are a must. A particular problem for those that can’t speak Japanese is the amount of subtitles. I don’t usually complain about something like this but it can get distracting. Names of characters and their official titles flash by quickly, which is sort of the joke. There are so many positions that it is laughable that anything can get done. Just be ready to read titles quickly because you’re not getting another chance on your first viewing. All in all the satire was entertaining though I feel that the filmmakers could have given us more of the King of the Monsters after a thirteen year absence. Speaking of whom, Godzilla’s quite different than his previous interpretations.
Godzilla in Shin Godzilla still derives its power from nuclear energy. Instead of being a giant ancient creature mutated by a nuke, however, this Big G came about a bit differently. He starts off as an amphibious creature that is mutated by radioactive waste dumped in the sea. Bit by bit this monstrosity goes from bipedal fish to a T-Rex like creature capable of shooting pure atomic energy from it’s mouth. Hell, even how Godzilla shoots it’s atomic breath has been greatly altered to be much more creepy. His jaw unhinges like the reaper vampires in Blade 2 to unleash a horrific show of power against humanity. Many compare this moment along with the first use of the atomic breath in Godzilla (2014) to show the intrinsic difference in the approach to the monster. The filmmakers wanted you to truly fear Godzilla. He isn’t something to cheer for in Shin Godzilla as opposed to most of the other entries in the series. This Godzilla is truly living up the the God in his name. In that regard, you better show him the respect he deserve or he’ll melt your city to the ground.
Seeing a new Japanese Godzilla film in theaters was honestly a dream come true. While it may not be the type of movie that many fans and I were expecting I think we can say with certainty that it will make a nice addition to the Godzilla series. Buy the Blu Ray, DVD or Digital Download so that you can judge this potential masterpiece for yourself. What about you? Love it? Hate it? Post some comments and get a conversation going. Hopefully you learn a thing or two. Thank you for reading. I’ve been Superguy and you’ve been awesome. Just be sure you don’t allow an ever mutating creature loose on a major Japanese metropolitan area even if it is for the express purpose of commentating on the competency of your government and/or society as a whole.