***Spoilers

Alternatively titled Godzilla: Resurgence, Shin Godzilla (2016) is a kaiju-political thriller/action film directed by animator Hideaki Anno and storyboard artist Shinji Higuchi and produced by Toho and Cine Bazar. The plot of the film centers around Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) who deduces that a turmoil occurring in Tokyo bay could only have resulted from the movements of a giant aquatic creature.

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Perpetually serious, idealistic and sincere, Rando Yaguchi.

He is laughed at by his peers for proffering this outlandish theory and yet, shortly thereafter, is validated when an enormous reptilian tail emerges from the water. The Japanese government is shocked and fall into beauracratic debate, unable to determine what they should do about the titanic beast. The prime minister goes live to assure the public they are safe because the creature is seafaring and cannot broach the land which turns out to be false as that is just what the monster does, rampaging through the city incurring numerous casualties and mutating rapidly as it goes.

 

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A underdeveloped Gojira rampages through the streets after its first appearance from the sea.

Yaguchi is placed at the head of a taskforce whose sole purpose is to research Gojira to better determine how to stop it and is considerably aided by the brilliant, icy and eccentric scientist Hiromi Ogashira (Mikako Ichikawa).

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Hiromi Ogashira.

The US shortly send in a specialist, Kayoko Patterson who tells the taskforce that a political activist and zoologist named Goro Maki had warned about the coming of the creature as his wife had perished from radiation sickness, causing her bereft husband to obsessively research radiation treatment methods which lead him to believe that such a creature as had recently appeared could exist. Maki’s theory, however, was blocked from public circulation by the US. Patterson inquires about the whereabouts of Maki and is told by the taskforce that he had vanished leaving behind his research material, which was indecipherable, a paper crane and a note urging them to do as they pleased. Upon looking through Maki’s research the team discover he had named the creature, ‘Gojira’ meaning “God Incarnate” (‘Godzilla’ in English).

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Adult Gojira, who looms almost 400 feet tall.

Gojira shortly thereafter reappears roughly twice its original size and begins making inroads to Tokyo. The Japanese military attacks but Gojira seems impervious to damage. US stealth bombers appear and drop bunker busters upon the beast, this time, injuring it, however, this infuriates Gojira who then unleashes its stored thermonuclear energy into a concentrated beam, decimating the Japanese military, all the US bombers and destroying an enormous swath of the city. Then the beast, having spent its energy, falls into a deep slumber; the US, now witness to the monster’s destructive capabilities announce that a nuclear strike will commence upon Gojira after a short evacuation period, forcing a hastily reconstructed Japanese government, Kayoko and Yaguchi’s team to scramble to find a alternative way to stop Gojira and thus halt the impending devastation which would be brought to bare upon them by a US-led thermonuclear strike.

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Composite shot of adult Gojira making landfall.

The film, in both its tone, plot, pacing and effects distinguishes itself markedly from previous films based off of the monster which originated in the 1954 film Gojira. Its dry tone and serious treatment of its subject matter is the inverse of something like Del Toro’s slapstick Pacific Rim. Though it is billed as a monster movie, and it certainly is, it could equally be described as a political thriller, as backroom politicking make up the majority of the film’s considerable running time and, surprisingly, that isn’t a bad thing. Due to the massive amount of information needed to convey the story (who all the principal characters are, what is Gojira and how it came to be and what is to be done by the government and how the government operates and who was Goro Maki anyways? etc.) the pacing is incredibly fast, at times, too fast as characters are introduced with their names and designations at the top of the screen whilst the subtitles for their dialogue appear at the bottom, which made it very difficult to keep track of both what a character was saying and who precisely was saying it (a problem that native Japanese speakers, doubtless, did not have). Other than the scattershot, slapdash firing-off of perpetual streams of names and information (which becomes easier to keep up with once Gojira slaughters half the cast) and the fairly outlandish origin for Gojira (giant aquatic dinosaur remnant which adapted to feeding on nuclear waste??? why did no one ever see the predecessors to such creatures?!), there are few things that standout as problems (the constant overflow of bureaucratic positions, persons and protocols is an obvious satire on governmental red-tape policies – meetings to have more meetings to decide only when to have the next meeting).

The acting is perpetually solid, the story is gripping and the monster’s composite model is absolutely beautiful and terrifying. The meticulous attention to detail that the animator’s paid to the Gojira creature was truly impressive (for instance, when the monster first uses its atomic breath, small shiny platelettes click over its eyes, a adaptation to prevent orbital damage due to the intense heat – a thoughtful design choice). The soundtrack is also gorgeous and features the original Godzilla theme as composed by Akira Ifukube as well as his expansions upon it.

As pertains to the themes in the film, there are many. The original Gojira (1954) was a embodiment of post-war Japan’s fears of nuclear annihilation, a blatant metaphor for the A-bomb and its lingering effects on the collective consciousness of the citizenry of the island empire. Whilst the present Gojira certainly embodies a similar fear of thermonuclear devastation (such as the Fukushima Daiichi incident) it also represents other more recent disasters like the earthquakes which have in the interrum, devastated the island nation. There is also a rather humorous dig at environmentalists; when Gojira emerges from the water, a certain eco-contingent demands to the cabinet that the government capture the creature unharmed and later, they assemble in the streets chanting “Gojira is god!” Of all the things to pick as your subject of worship, a giant thermonuclear death lizard is probably not the best. Then there is the aforementioned lampooning of governmental bureaucracies and redtape typified by the fact that, though a giant death lizard is upon them, the Japanese government struggle to come to any conclusion about what to do and debate endlessly about whether they should just evacuate and allow the creature to tear through town until it goes away or whether they should strike or whether they should call upon another government and by the time they finally decide on a course of action, a quarter of the city is gone and countless lay dead in the rubble. It wasn’t the Japanese government’s fault that Gojira showed up but it does raise the fact that swifter action would have saved more lives (a point to which Yaguchi passionately raises later in the film). Another facet of the film which was interesting was its lack of villains. Though the US government is positioned as central threat (given that they deign to nuke Gojira if the Japanese don’t deal with him) they are never really set up as villains, for various US officials are shown talking about the window they have given the Japanese to evacuate before the nuclear strike and one of them states that he doesn’t think it is enough time (thus, showing concern over the potential for civilian casualties). Gojira himself is not a villain either, nor a hero; unlike many of the previous incarnations of the character where Godzilla is portrayed as having emotions and goals, whether to punish humans or protect them from other monsters, Gojira in the film is just another animal, a very dangerous one, but another animal all the same. Gojira is a powerful engine of destruction but the creature isn’t out to “get” anyone and only attacks once he is struck (Because why wouldn’t it? You’d probably fight back too if someone dropped a load of bunker busters on your back and blew your dorsal fins off) and yet, once imperiled the creature lashes out with wild abandon, killing innocent and aggressor alike without prejudice. It is this placement of Gojira as really no different from a wild terrified bear rampaging through central park, that lends the film a great power of unpredictability, for divine protectors and punishments are predictable, wild animals aren’t. At the end of it all, the denizens of Japan are not saved because of providence or because of the goodwill of the monster, but rather through the ingenuity and perseverance of their best and brightest which makes the ominous conclusion of the film all the more intriguing.

Its not Godzilla (2014), nor Godzilla (1998), which both espouse (to varying degrees) a naive neo-hippie philosophy to natural catastrophe; Shin Godzilla instead declares that nature has made no safe nest for us to lie in, that we must, instead, make our own (just as Gojira was trying to do) or perish.

That’s refreshing.

Highly recommended.


Note: I have not yet watched the English dubbed version of the film, though I intend to and will update this post once I do so.

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