The one where Godzilla returns to his roots as an unstoppable force of nature set against scathing sociopolitical commentary
The Good: naturalistic cinematography, explores sociopolitical themes, well written satire, top notch acting, decent special effects for its budget
The Bad: some questionable camerawork and framing, inconsistent effects in scenes of destruction, jerky movements of CGI creature
Japan is back in the game with their very own new Godzilla movie SHIN GOJIRA. Where Hollywood revived Godzilla as a tribute to his more heroic role in the late-showa era “versus” movies and the Heisei era, Toho Japan has gone back to the roots of the 1954 original Gojira and crafted a modern thriller about the horrors of mankind’s misdeeds, the inaction of a government embroiled in bureaucracy and the impotence of a military in the face of this fiercer, meaner, force of nature Godzilla. .
SHIN GODZILLA is likely the first Godzilla movie to focus squarely on the political scene within the government when a giant monster attacks. Past movies have always involved Scientists, soldiers, or civilians focusing on the chaos on the ground. This movies looks into the chaos at the top as we follow young civil servant Yaguchi, deputy chief cabinet secretary (the first in a long list of designations to come).
A regular day in the government is interrupted by the collapse of the Tokyo bay aqua line tunnel and mysterious attacks off the coast of Japan. While the aged officials hold fruitless meeting after meeting in an obvious parody of real life bureaucratic process, Yaguchi theorists that the disasters are caused by a living creature.
No sooner is his theory shot down than an enormous tail rises out of the water. As the government scrambles but always falling a step behind the escalating disaster, Yaguchi forms a task force of unorthodox civilian experts to figure out how to stop this creature.
As the government's tried and tested efforts become increasingly futile, USA sends a special envoy Kayako Ann Patterson with the promise of military aid and insider knowledge to this mysterious creature dubbed "Godzilla".
The creature is growing, mutating, and taking on increasingly dangerous characteristics. Yaguchi's team is forced to think outside the box for a new way to halt its rampage before the UN deploys nuclear weapons on Japanese soil.
Contrary to the trailers, this is not the dark depressing disaster movie that was promised. Instead we are treated to one of the smartest and most biting social and political satires in modern cinema. Right in the crosshairs is the inefficient bureaucratic processes of the government and their obsession with trivial minutia which results in a complete mishandling of the crisis posed by the constantly evolving Godzilla.
The satire comes in the fact that the film does not overly dramatize anything; what you see is as close to reality as one can get in an old fashion parliamentary government like Japan's. Each ministry out for itself, passing the buck wherever possible, defending only their own interests. Standard procedures take precedence over unconventional methods.
Scenes of the prime minister making an announcement of Godzilla not being able to come ashore, intercut with the revelation that not only has the creature made landfall but has started trashing the town, hearkened back to the perceived mishandling of past real life disasters in Japan.
Yet the message underlying this movie is not a strict criticism of the government but an affirming call to action aimed at a new generation of leaders to unite a nation. Where the traditional methods fail, innovation and initiative will be the true weapons of the future. Yaguchi and his team represent this perfectly; outcasts from their respective fields because of their unconventional ideas.
Their tenacity in the face of hopeless defeat soon inspires fellow citizens from all walks of life, engineers, mechanics, construction workers and other blue collar roles typically overlooked by a status obsessed people, to come together and stand against a God incarnate.
The titular monster is unlike any incarnation ever seen. It's keloid looking skin, seemingly torn in places, gives the impression of pure suffering. Yet his inhuman all staring eyes betray a being devoid of soul. It is as it was back in 1954; a soulless unstoppable force birthed from mankind's sins. The military is powerless, though not for a lack of trying.
Where previous Godzilla movies have shown the military in a less than flattering light (cowardly, incompetent, or unable to hit such a massive creature), SHIN GODZILLA shows a military force truly giving their all, only hampered by slow indecision from the top.
The special effects used to bring this colossus to life is arguably good. No where near Hollywood blockbusters but amazing once you consider the comparatively tiny budget Toho had to work with. The naturalistic direction an camerawork courtesy of Evangelion creator Hideki Anno and his crew give the movie an almost "documentary" type feel.
It is devoid of filters, using very natural looking lighting wherever possible, which enhances the realism of the events taking place. Though the cuts can be a bit distracting at times, alternating between rapid fire jump cuts to scenes that look as if Anno left his camera running and forgot about it. Equally distracting is some of CGI compositing on Godzilla and some of his movements which end up more jerky than a puppet's. These are just minor faults though and only an issue to the more OCD of viewers.
Perhaps the only thing it does lack is the element of human drama. It is unafraid to show the horrible consequences of a monster’s rampage through a macro view of a country's key decision makers but in doing so it does not leave opportunity to get the audience invested in any particular character.
More than just a monster movie, SHIN GODZILLA is a smart political thriller that satirizes an inflexible system. Those expecting a brainless action blockbuster will no doubt be disappointed. But as long as one is willing to turn in the brain and appreciate this movie for the deeper more complex themes it tries to tackle, you will find a refreshingly novel giant monster movie which the industry definitely needs.
Replay value: B+