Shin Godzilla: Review by Marley Hannan
While I cannot claim to have seen every Godzilla film (having seen half of the original film, both of the dreadful American adaptations, and read synopsises of many of the original films to save time), my impression from the films I have seen is that the emphasis has generally been on how awesome it would be to see a giant lizard crush Tokyo, fight a moth, or get blown up by the military (usually with the use of some bizarre weapon like a gamma laser or something). While I can understand why lovers of disaster films might find it entertaining, the adaptations have always seemed to be lacklustre and doesn’t ask the most important questions in all of speculative fiction— “What if this happened to our world? How would we all react?”—leading to somewhat disappointing speculative fiction.
Not that it limits the amount of enjoyment I get from the idea of a giant lizard who came out of the sea to attack. I find it fascinating to speculate on untold stories from the history of Godzilla: Since Godzilla is said to be a dinosaur remnant of the Jurassic era in some adaptations, I want to know what it was like for any feudal era or perhaps Palaeolithic Japanese people to encounter a giant Dragon God walking out from the sea to destroy their flimsy wooden homes. I also want to know what it is like for evacuated Tokyo inhabitants to return to their destroyed family home and start over, knowing that their lives have been shattered, and that the giant lizard might return at any time, to destroy all they have. And this has been going on since 1954. Where do they find the resilience? The strength to keep going?
The idea of Godzilla somehow transcends however bad the latest film is, and so, while I was greatly attracted to Shin Godzilla by the sheer quality of the trailer, I would have been happy with a disappointing story about a giant lizard destroying Tokyo with none of the amazing speculative stuff I would have liked to see.
Shin Godzilla is not like that. It is speculative fiction at its very best. This is the Godzilla film I’ve always had in my head. It is completely faithful to Japanese political, military, and economic policy, but taken to a bizarre level that I would not have ever expected seeing. For the first time I could see how surreal Godzilla is through his strange and somewhat magical powers (Nuclear powered metabolism? Radiation breath? Its sheer size?) having very real consequences on real-world Tokyo.
To a large extent, we have writer and co-director Hideaki Anno to thank for this. He is already well-known for his surreal anime, including Neon Genesis Evangelion, which also features Kaiju (giant monsters) who are deemed gods by human beings, and, according to what I’ve read, spends the entire final episode in the mind of the comatose protagonist to fulfil Anno’s vision.
Godzilla in this film, becomes fully realized. It is not just a man in a Kaiju suit—more accurately, it is a Japanese clown (Mansai Nomura) with weights attached to him in a motion capture suit—it is an example of the best Japanese horror creatures you’d find in the most terrifying manga, like the expressionless giants of Attack on Titan, the Shinigami of Death Note, or Tomie at her most mutilated. Godzilla’s too-large mouth, downturned at the edges, with spiked teeth coming out of its mouth in all angles (regardless of the fact the creature does not eat to survive) and its blank, fish-like eyes makes the creature looks at the same time ridiculous and dangerous. It is a creature of the most horrifying of Japanese tales, and believe me, they have a lot of horrifying tales and horror like you wouldn’t believe.
This film, by the way, focuses on members of the government reacting as Godzilla appears for the first time in Tokyo of 2016. As Godzilla tears up large swaths of Tokyo easily and entirely unstopped, the Japanese government tries desperately to figure out how to handle the creature, how to reassure the public, and what they can do to minimise damage. They are ultimately unsuccessful in most of these. And then Godzilla, against all expectations…
… No, I don’t think I’ll spoil it. The film’s too good a film. The twists are far too surprising. If it’s the same to you, I’ll skip the outline and let you watch it.
I will say it’s a bizarrely hilarious film, and that will surprise you. The constant movement of important Japanese politicians, going from one meeting room to another as a new calamity is caused by the then unnamed menace. The crack team biological experts brought in mere minutes after the appearance of Godzilla, and reveal that they know as little of the creature as the government ministers. When the radically unqualified minister of agriculture assumes a very important and unexpected position, he notes, upon seeing that his noodles have become soggy after a long meeting, that his job couldn’t get any worse. In such a fast paced horror/drama/sci-fi, with barely a moment for you to catch your breath, the moments get you by surprise and get a laugh out of you.
It is interesting how deliberately fast-paced it is, the director having cited David Fincher’s The Social Network as an inspiration, according to the film’s IMDb page, and cycles through something like 320 speaking characters in the film, all occupying different positions in the Japanese and later, American, government. As the film is currently only available in Japanese with English subtitles, keeping track of everyone is somewhat disorientating experience in the first few moments. I found my eyes trying to quickly scan over what people are saying at the top of the screen, while trying to read and remember their names/titles/location at the bottom. This is perhaps one of the only criticisms I have of the film.
On the plus side, however, the reaction of the military is more cleverly subdued than previous adaptations:
In the recent American adaption from Legendary Pictures, Godzilla is, oddly, a hero, battling two giant moth creatures as they destroy San Francisco. As this is America, the use of nuclear weaponry is a given, as the military prefers to destroy a major American city than wait for the creatures to wander off. While this fits in with Shin Godzilla’s take on American conflict resolution, the cautious discussion of the cost of military is sorely lacking.
In Shin Godzilla, Godzilla’s initial arrival in Tokyo causes significant damage, first damaging a underwater traffic tunnel, then causing some damage in Tokyo Harbour, along with countless boats in a small river, and a number of residences and businesses.
Following this, the Japanese bureaucrats argue whether or not it would be cost effective to try to kill it, having already accrued a lot of damaged infrastructure, and they should merely wait until the creature goes away to avoid military expenditure. Furthermore, owing to Japanese post-war agreements with America, they struggle to find legal justification for defending themselves against Godzilla, being only able to use their Self-Defence Forces (the only military body the Japanese possess according to the agreement) against a “military force” rather than a giant lizard creature. It is a silly, tense, and interesting moment of legality in a film about a giant lizard.
Shin Godzilla deals with realistic and smart people dealing, as best they can, with a complicated and unprecedented situation. The American adaptation is sadly filled with bad writing and stupid characters who decide to ignore rational logic because the script deems it necessary. Having seen the film in its entirety, I can confirm that the problems that arose did so because of people making the best decisions they could, given the information available to them, and they didn’t do anything I wouldn’t have thought was a good idea.
Overall, Shin Godzilla is an utterly amazing film. I would love to state that it is easily the best film of the series, perhaps even better than the original, however, as I’ve said before, I have not seen all the films. I know that the film is original, fascinating, horrifying, and gets you lost in the drama, watching wide-eyed, hand over your open mouth, as Godzilla begins to evolve or destroy Tokyo in an entirely new way.
The film will only have a limited release in Australia, so it is likely that by the time this review is published, it will no longer be in the cinema. Having said that, I strongly recommend that you buy the DVD when it is released in all good stores, and maybe, if you’re lucky, there’ll be an English dub to help you follow the captions while listening to the dialogue, and thus, I won’t have a single criticism of this tremendous film left.
*photo credit to Madman Entertainment*
Author Bio: Marley Hannan is a writer of entertainment journalism and speculative fiction. It’s a strange combination, but it allows him to learn as much as he can about anything he finds fascinating. He lives in Townsville with a cat named Teddy, a dog named Bear, and a mackintosh computer with no name at all.