Shin Godzilla (2016)
The King of Monsters returns in SHIN GODZILLA with a radical reinvention of his look and origins. As he erupts out of Tokyo Bay to cause devastation can the Japanese Parliament figure out how to save the city and its citzens?
10/11/16 US Limited Theatrical
Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi
Ren Ohsugi as Prime Minister Seiji Okochi
Hiroki Hasegawa as Rando Yaguchi
Yutaka Takenouchi as Hideki Akasaka
Satomi Ishihara as Kayoko Ann Patterson
Akira Emoto as Ryuta Azuma
Kengo Kôra as Yusuke Shimura, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary
Mikako Ichikawa as Hiromi Ogashira, Deputy Director of Nature Conservation Bureau
Jun Kunimura as Masao Zaizen, Integrated Chief of Staff
Pierre Taki as Saigo, Combat Leader
Kyûsaku Shimada as Katayama, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ken Mitsuishi as Kozuka, Governor of Tokyo
Shingo Tsurumi as Yajima, Joint Staff Deputy
Kimiko Yo Reiko Hanamori, Defense Minister
The return of the original Japanese Godzilla is a new beginning, the scariest version of Big G to date brings the thrills as does… bureaucratic red tape? The creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion and the director of the live action Attack on Titan step into the fray to bring us a radical reworking of the King of the Monsters.
Shin Godzilla has a very straightforward premise made very complex and interesting in its execution. In present day Japan, Tokyo Bay some sort of underwater disturbance causes local flooding and large amounts of steam. Members of Japanese Parliament begin to convene and try to ascertain what is causing this disturbance. Just as theories about an underwater volcano or some sort of tectonic shift are being bandied around an enormous tail comes shooting out of the water. Not long after something starts to move in the water and large jagged spines begin to emerge from the water as something huge starts to move in-land via river. The various departments of the Parliament scramble to understand what is happening as this thing makes land.
With huge unblinking fish-like eyes this horrible beast begins to smash through city streets as locals are hurriedly evacuated. This creature shares some typical physical traits with what we know of Godzilla but this monster does not look fully formed. It has a long, ungainly neck with gills from which blood comes pouring out and it does not have real arms just very small stumps. It clumsily clambers over small buildings with its huge back legs. Meanwhile the Prime Minister meets with his cabinet and advisors as they try to decide how to deal with this creature. Some want to attempt to capture the creature while others want to kill it as quickly as possible fearing more human casualties. Then to the surprise of everybody this creature stops moving and then “evolves” in seconds as he suddenly stands up straight, his head changing shape and arms beginning to grow from its stumps. As the creature suddenly changes course and heads back into sea it’s going to take a crack team of experts to find a way to neutralize this monster before measures that could level Tokyo and kill many innocent people become the only option.
As a gigantic fan of Godzilla through all of his various incarnations over the years, Shin Godzilla came as a pleasant if quite odd surprise. When Legendary Pictures’ rather drab reboot stomped into theaters in 2014 I found it all quite boring with too many human characters and not enough of the actual giant radioactive dinosaur of the title. Funnily, there might be a number of people saying the same thing about Shin Godzilla as this is as much a political procedural drama as it is a giant monster movie. You see, this is a very different Godzilla from the 2014 Hollywood film or the Godzilla we have seen in any other movie. This is a modern day Japan who has never experienced a giant monster attack before, effectively rebooting Godzilla for a new age with the huge beast representing an entirely different allegory.
Godzilla is no stranger to being rebooted and not just thanks to Hollywood. There have been several different versions of Big G since he first appeared in 1954 as a monstrous reminder of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War 2. There are effectively three sets of canon for Godzilla in Japan, the Showa, Heisei and Millenium eras. Within those there are also possible different versions of Godzilla and one-off side stories. Toho’s plan with Godzilla has always to milk him for a while, put him away for a bit once we get sick of him and then bring him back out for a triumphant return after a few years rest. Shin Godzilla however is the most radical reboot of the monster ever as his origins and what he represents in Japanese popular culture.
Going back to what I mentioned earlier, this film is the closest a Godzilla film has ever come to showing the real life effects of a monster attacking a city in Japan. The closest film comparison that springs to mind is Kathryn Bigelow’s historical drama Zero Dark Thirty. The layers of presentation in this film is almost unbelieveable, we are given so much information, introduced to so many people, given so much news footage and “on the ground” perspectives from the Tokyo populace, and that’s only the beginning. This film, with painstaking detail, presents meetings between Japanese Parliament members as they prepare to try and advise the Prime Minister of what to do. Character after character is presented, frequently in very tight close-up as they talk with their names and official titles given, the level of information the viewer is bombarded with is excessive. This seems to be the point, however. While Godzilla has, for most of his history, been an allegory for the bombing of Tokyo he now represents something quite different.
Shin Godzilla is about the massive earthquake that hit Japan in March of 2011 and the following tsunami and radioactive reactor leak at Fukushima. Godzilla has become the embodiment of this much more recent disaster and the film’s focus on the legislature and the glacial pace in response to him is at the core of this film. That makes for this strange presentation where meetings are held, news is delivered by note by one aide after another until it can be delivered to the Prime Minister. Then the entire room looks to that man to make critical life and death decisions. Depending on how one feels about procedurals large parts of these films will either feel confusing and boring or as in my case utterly compelling. I too very much enjoyed Zero Dark Thirty and found the various departments of the Japanese Parliament coming together to try and react to this crisis quite compelling. Luckily things are made more exciting by a maverick group put together by a young cabinet secretary Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) and the intervention of beautiful Japanese American diplomatic aide Kayoko Ann Patterson (Satomi Ishihara). It must also be noted that every single member of this cast gives it their all. They act their asses off as if they are reenacting the most important moments in Japanese history. Except any of the white English-speaking actors who are, in the one nod to Godzilla tradition, all absolutely terrible. Just the worst. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“But isn’t this a Godzilla movie?” you’re probably asking and after the 2014 Godzilla you have every right to be concerned. Don’t be, however, because despite the socio-political rumblings going on with Shin Godzilla a great deal of time is given to Big G and boy is it ever worth it. Let’s tackle the radioactive elephant in the room: yes this Godzilla is CG. Gone is the guy wearing an increasingly complicated monster suit, this monster was born digitally. There are moments when a large puppet is used but for most of the action we’re talking computer effects. Unfortunately it is very clear that the budget of Legendary’s Godzilla or Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim are absolutely massive compared to Shin Godzilla. This is a more modest and localized amount of destruction compared to either of those other films. There are times, such as with certain sequences of destruction, where the CG looks downright bad. Also at times despite the fact the claims are this is the largest Godzilla ever it just doesn’t look that way at all. Either those claims were bogus or something is lost in the move to CG. However just as you could see the zipper on the back of the old costumes you can sometimes see the imperfections in the effects, but nothing ever overshadows the main attraction. In fact Godzilla is the one and only threat in this film and does not have to share screen time with any other beasts, Shin Godzilla is definitely back to basics. When first seen in his bizarre semi-amphibious form he is both scary but ungainly and a little goofy looking. His huge unblinking eyes are vaguely reminiscent of the monsters of Attack on Titan, which should not be a surprise as co-director Shinji Higuchi just worked on the two live action adaptations. This early state does also seem a little reminiscent of the strange beast of Bong Joon-ho’s The Host as its mutation by radioactivity has left it misshapen and clumsy. It is certainly not a naturally occurring life form.
However once Godzilla takes on his final form everything starts to come together, this is the scariest version of Big G ever. Those unblinking fish-like eyes remain, giving way to a mouth full of jagged, uneven teeth. His skin looks less like lizard scales and more like cragged rock, his arms are very short like a T-Rex but bear massive claws. In broad lines across his body are sources of glowing red light to represent the radioactivity at his core. His back has the classic over-sized spines that crackle with energy but his tail is enormously long, seemingly with a mind of it’s own. Even more alienating is when he launches fire from his mouth his lower jaw splits in two down the middle to make his roaring maw even wider. While Godzilla has gone through many design changes over the years never has he looked so utterly alien, single-minded and evil. Godzilla is here to destroy everything in his path and as Japanese Self Defense Forces begin to attack discover, he has new tricks up his sleeve that make him near-unstoppable. The film does not shy away from showing the human toll of this attack. Limbs are shown protruding from wreckage, tunnels collapse, pilots and drivers are shown as their vehicles are destroyed. Characters lose friends and colleagues, overcome grief and force themselves to carry on. This is a disaster movie where the unstoppable force of nature is a giant radioactive monster from Hell.
So is Shin Godzilla good? I loved every second of it, every quirky camera shot, every discussion, every second that Godzilla is on screen. Is it for everybody? How much patience do you have for long debates between Parliament members and the Prime Minister? It’s certainly unique among giant monster films for that reason but the action with Godzilla is excellent. Despite being a CGI creation he still has a weight and sense of realness to the destruction he creates. Not being tied to having to shoot a lot of scenes of guys in suits smash a model city allows a more seamless transition between the monster and showing the destruction on the ground level. The procedural interludes are certainly something different for a Kaiju movie but hopefully long-time Godzilla fans appreciate seeing a refreshing approach to this very familiar formula.