It’s a new era for the Big G in Japan. There’s a new Emperor, and with that usually comes a changing of the continuity and a changing the tone of the series. This week the latest Godzilla film, Shin Godzilla, has gotten a limited release in the US. I saw today, and it’s time to give my thoughts.
Title: Shin Godzilla (Shin Gojira)
Written & Directed by Hideaki Anno
Co-Directed by Shinji Higuchi
Music by Shiro Sagisu
Hiroki Hasegawa as Rando Yaguchi
Yutaka Takenouchi as Hideki Akasaka
Satomi Ishihara as Kayoko Ann Patterson
Ren Ohsugi as Prime Minister Seiji Okochi
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 as Reiko Hanamori, Defense Minister
Takumi Saitô as Ikeda, Tank Captain
Takashi Fujiki as Tokyo Lieutenant Governor
Yû Kamio as Ministry of Foreign Affairs
A massive explosion of steam closes the Tokyo Bay underground tunnel around the time that the Japanese Coast Guard investigates an abandoned pleasure boat in Tokyo Bay. These events seem to be unrelated, until a large monster comes assure and starts laying waste to Tokyo. The Japanese government scrambles to respond to this catastrophe, but is stumbles as it contends with its own bureaucratic inertia. By the time they’re able to assemble a response, what was once a barely ambulatory lizard creature has become a massive reptilian monstrosity, which withstands bullets and artillery fire. A monster whose coming an obscure, mocked scientist had foretold several years ago when he was studying an illegal radioactive waste dump with the US Department of Energy. A monster who the scientist dubbed… Godzilla.
The Big G has been many things over the years – an ally to humanity, a threat to the world, a primal force of nature. Godzilla has been terrifying to behold by those in the world of the films. It’s never been horrifying… until now. This Godzilla comes to shore in a more nascent form, covered in horrifying burns, bleeding from its gill-lungs, and slowly, as it builds strength, becoming more terrifying, while still looking burned and scarred. It’s final form in the film is less scaly, and more charred. It’s a really effective design.
Additionally, while the original Godzilla was certainly a political film, it was also a film which mostly directed its accusatory gaze outward. While it commented on Japanese bureaucratic inefficiencies at their failure to act against Godzilla early on, the focus was on the horror of the Nuclear bomb, on those who would use it, and on the power it holds. Here, the accusatory gaze is directed inwards, pointed at the Japanese government’s response to Fukushima Daiichi, along with the environmental callousness of Japanese corporations during the bubble economy, as it’s implied somewhat that the radioactive waste dump was done by a Japanese company who didn’t want to bother to dispose of the materials properly.
The film uses its dialog scenes (which, in lesser Godzilla films, have been focused on poorly executed invading aliens or super-spies or whatever), to focus on the sheer bureaucratic issues that come up when trying to contend with something like Godzilla, combined with the inertia of Japanese government, along with the rigidity of “rankings” in the government, along with everyone trying to out-do everyone else, even in the middle of a disaster. In the latter case there are bureaucrats who refuse to acknowledge that the monster is in fact a monster when it’s cruising through the outskirts of Tokyo until the monster ends up on live TV. In the former case, we have helicopter pilots requesting clearance to fire, and having to go through 5 levels of people before they get the OK, at which point they no longer have the shot.
Hideaki Anno is a director who likes to flash a lot of text on screen in his works, as people who have seen Neon Genesis Evangelion will attest. This film is no exception. The problem is that the presentation of the text in this film is with subtitles over the text, which clutters the screen, as opposed to (for example) digitally editing the text so it was replaced with English characters, which would have made it easier to read.
On an unoriginal standpoint, the score is somewhat repetitive. Shiro Sagisu, who scored the film, also worked with Anno on Evangelion. In tribute to Eva, in addition to bringing back and re-arranging various cues from earlier Godzilla films, he also re-arranges “Decisive Action”, one of the cues from Evangelion (the one that sounds like “007” by John Barry). The problem is that he brings it back over, and over, and over, and over again. While he changes things up here and there (at one point bringing in electric guitars), it’s still recognizable as the same piece of music, which is unfortunate.
Originality: Musical issues aside, this take on Godzilla is very unique. I’m pretty sure no Godzilla film has focused on the bureaucratic and logistical issues with fighting a Kaiju to such a degree. 5/6
Effects: Great mix of practical effects and CGI, particularly with the various shifts in Godzilla as it makes its way through the film. 5/6
Acting: The Japanese performance are great, though there are some real Engrish problems, and the native English speakers aren’t really directed well – less like they hired American actors, and more like a casting director sent out an open call for gaijin. 4/6
Story: This is a film that, narratively, works like the classic Godzilla formula was combined with a West Wing-esque focus on the inner functions (and malfunctions) of Japanese government. The second part sounds like it could be boring, but it really isn’t. 6/6
Emotional Response: This is a film that pulls of a legitimately intense and dramatic sequence involving concrete cranes and tanker trucks. 6/6
Overall: This is one of my favorite Godzilla films, if not my absolute favorite. The film is still playing in some areas until Tuesday the 18th, so if you have a chance, go and see it. 6/6
In total, Shin Godzilla gets 38 out of 42.
October 1: Blair Witch (2016)
Ghost Slayer Ayashi (2006)
Shin Godzilla (2016)
October 22: Dracula vs Frankenstein “marathon” (1971, 1971, and 1969!)
October 29: Requiem for Darkness (2003)
October 31: Trick ‘r Treat (2009)