Some of my fondest childhood memories are watching Godzilla Movies with my old man. Two we loved, Godzilla vs. Hedorah (Smog Monster) a cult classic that featured a strong ecological preservation message backed by AWESOME 70’s single “Save the Earth“. The other was Godzilla vs. Megalon. We debated who should have won that fight well into my adulthood. My Dad argued Godzilla, being the headliner naturally had to win, but got whooped by Megalon and only prevailed with an assist from robot tag-team partner Jet Jaguar (who’s theme I know by heart).
Sadly, he’s no longer with us, his birthday was coincidentally yesterday and the tradition of watching Godzilla movies continues with me and his grandson. We’re fresh from a VIP showing of Shin Godzilla. This film took me back to fun I had with my dad and why I loved these films. Shin Godzilla is a throwback, from the original music score to the awe inspiring menace that’s totally fresh in the hands of master storytellers Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuch. Both worked on anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion and it shows thematically, still Shin Godzilla it’s most definitely got Toho Gojira DNA (pun intended).
Godzilla movies have “evolved” over decades. From the 1954 classic that holds up as an allegory for nuclear disarmament to the “monster week” Kaiju epics we remember where Godzilla became an anti-hero defending earth from alien threats (looking at you KIng Ghidorah) to the awesomely hokey psychedelic Space Godzilla DVD’s to Mathew Broderick’s “Jurassic Parkour” Godzilla to the more recent 2014 Gareth Edwards wooden action flick. Shin Godzilla is the 29th Godzilla film from Toho Pictures and it comfortably kicks it old school. It’s a Kaiju film that is just as confident wading through a Cabinet Minister’s meeting like a Japanese “West Wing” to the balls out action of the SDF unleashing holy hell in downtown Tokyo to a Think Tank tasked to find a way to stop the monster overflowing with the oddest bunch of scientists, geeky shut ins and savants you could imagine. As a matter of fact, my boy was enraptured even when the monster was off screen, busily reading subtitles and shooting me questions on Marine Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Japanese Post War History and Civil Defense Planing that he chatted about all the way home.
This is a straight up STEM TED talk movie in Kaiju clothing!
The sum of the different moving parts of Post-War Japanese society is reflected in this more “realistic” take on Godzilla’s origin story. An ancient creature, forced to adapt to massive amounts of radioactivity, develops a bizarrely frightening mutation of rapid evolution. The best and brightest Japanese scientists are stumped. Self Defense Forces (SDF) impotently throw everything they can at it, while the Japanese DIET argues over spin, countless authorizations and what “F” to do next. Only to see Godzilla evolve through increasingly deadlier forms.
Imagine a thousand foot tall Doomsday and you’ll understand what they’re up against.
The risky genius of the film is it spends a lot of screen time portraying the Sorkin-like struggles between paper pushers as the government wrestles with how to handle Godzilla. The filmmakers clearly touching upon Fukashima Reactor Meltdown analysis paralysis with a good helping of WWII Hiroshima & Nagasaki open wounds. The power vaccum left by a particularly well shot, awesomely devastating retaliatory attack by Godzilla in the heart of the capital means junior ministers have to step up and make the tough calls and being career politicians, carve out advantageous post-crisis positions, if they survive, which is by no means guaranteed. Half the characters are gone by the end of the film. The bravery of the Self Defense Forces and trials of the displaced populace who must seek shelter as refugees, a reminder of the hard scrabble years in Japan after surrender, scenes of camp life echoing modern day Syria. But also this is a reminder of the tenacity of the Japanese spirt against all odds. Weary of being hamstrung by the international community, our motley heroes have to depend on what remains of their misfit toy think tank to come up with a solution to avoid an imminent UN sanctioned nuclear strike on Tokyo. The collective rage, pride & sadness of Japan crystal in a character declaring “I won’t see a third bomb dropped on my homeland…” This sentiment gets the geek tank firing on all cylinders, postulating theories like a room full of Wesley Crushers. One plain Jane savant scientist stole my heart. Speaking deadpan exposition the entire film, she’s finally cracks a warm smile with the breakthrough her desperate team needs. All sectors of Japanese Society are marshaled to combat Godzilla in a endrun refreshingly in defiance of the U.S., seen here as a bit of a Helicopter Parent. (The puns keep coming)
The brilliant multi faceted final attack resonated big time with my boy, a huge fan of the Percy Jackson series, “That’s how you fight a Titan Daddy, you have to all work together!.” Godzilla was indeed a Titan but his foes weren’t demigods, they were everyday people- Burocrats, Truck Drivers, Factory Workers, Salarymen, Soldiers & Scientists.
Bottom line we LOVED Shin Godzilla! If you’re a fan of Kaiju films and Godzilla in particular it’s a no brainer. This is a thinking persons Godzilla, one where the square-jawed pilot, affected biologist, blue collar crane operator and mid level burocrat all get to shine. Shin Godzilla, the name chosen by Executive Producer Akihiro Yamaguchi means “true” or “God”. Gojira, is once again a God incarnate, an enigmatic force of nature and metaphor for mans folly. Only this time the people of Tokyo aren’t just desperately fleeing, they have agency, taking a stand working together and “scienceing” the crap out of it!
The “tail” literary ends with a grotesque puzzle I won’t give away but suffice to say as much as I enjoyed Shin Godzilla I’m eagerly awaiting the 30th installment of Toho’s classic series! Do yourself a favor and go see Shin Godzilla October 11th -18th on the biggest screen you can find!
Dad, Happy Birthday! You’d have loved it, and yeah, you were right, Gigan was useless, Megalon kicked Gozilla’s butt.
2016-Science Fiction / Drama
Japanese / English subtitled
all art Toho / funimation