Being a fan of Japanese media such as Ultraman or Kamen Rider, I jumped at the chance to see my first film starring The King of Monsters: Godzilla. Shin Godzilla is the latest entry into Japan’s long running and legendary Godzilla franchise, and with Hideaki Anno (Neon Genesis Evangelion) and Shinji Higuchi (Attack on Titan) heading the project, I knew I was in for a treat. The movie stars Hiroki Hasegawa as cabinet member Rando Yaguchi, who leads a team whose main objective is to stop the monstrous Godzilla from destroying Tokyo. I went into this movie hoping that this would be a great jumping in point for a newcomer to the franchise, and I was not disappointed. I wasn’t sure if I was walking into a reboot or just simply a continuation of the 62 year old franchise, and I’m glad to say that it’s a modern reboot, and a really good one at that, although the ending leaves a bit to be desired, which I’ll go into towards the of the review.
The acting for the most part was believable, though there were a few over-the-top characters, but even then, they didn’t detract from the experience. The movie was actually surprisingly light. I’m not sure if other Godzilla films were like this, but I wasn’t expecting the amount of subtle humor that the movie had, and it didn’t detract from the movie. Although Godzilla is laying waste to Japan, there’s no instance where the movie feels dark or gritty. That being said, the one thing that did take away from my experience was the mass amounts of subtitles. I can at least forgive the movie for the dialogue subtitles, because, hey, I don’t speak Japanese, but other than that the entire top of the screen was dedicated to introducing each and every character, no matter how minor, or even if the character being introduced doesn’t ever appear in the movie. The way the subtitles were done with kanji first, but then the bright yellow English translations. I’m sure there was an intention on adding at least the kanji subtitles, but I can’t really put my finger on it. The mass amount of subtitles almost obscured the entire screen, which ultimately detracted from the viewing experience.
The cinematography of Shin Godzilla was great. By far my favorite shot of the movie was when the Japanese Self Defense Forces deploy rows and rows of tanks. One particular moment of the shot the camera is essentially attached to the side of the tank’s turret section, and as the turret rotates, Godzilla enters the frame. The exact shot was in the trailer, but nothing compares to seeing it on the big screen. Each shot made Godzilla feel massive and powerful, as he should, and the score, though borrowing heavily from Evangelion punctuates that point. Fans of the franchise will be excited by the incorporation of the original Godzilla score, though I found it to feel a little out of place in this reboot. Another interesting way the movie was filmed was by what essentially amounted to a found footage montage towards the beginning of the film when Godzilla breaks the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line, a large underwater tunnel. Another example of unique cinematography was when Rando Yaguchi’s team finally receives data on how to beat the monster, you’re suddenly taken to the point of view of the computer.
This is where things get interesting. I was just expecting another giant monster movie. Turns out, Shin Godzilla has a pretty explicit meaning behind it. Something I noticed was the amount of red tape that had to be passed before the Japanese Government could do anything to counter Godzilla. As the meetings went on in vain, I became aware of the film’s first theme, which was basically the director voicing his opinion on the real world Japanese Government, and how they look strictly to protocol, even in a disaster such as a giant living engine of destruction making landfall. There’s a lot of back and forth between the Prime Minister and his cabinet. It actually takes about a half of the movie’s run time before they decide to mobilize the Japanese Self Defense Force, which has very little to no impact on Godzilla himself anyway. Hideaki Anno finally emphasizes his point in a big way; the entrance of the United States and their plan to simply nuke Godzilla with the promise that if Japan lets them do it, they would call on the United Nations to help rebuild Tokyo, to which the Japanese Government agrees to, giving Rando and his team seven days to figure out an alternative. The thing that struck me though was Japan’s willingness to allow America drop a third nuclear bomb on their country.
Speaking of the introduction of America to the movie, the director also voices his opinion on the US in a fairly simple way; America essentially appears without being asked to help although their first non-nuclear bombing of Godzilla is actually effective. Here’s the interesting part though. Godzilla himself was a walking symbol, representing the triple disaster of March 11th, 2011, where Japan was hit with an earthquake, tsunami, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In the film, Godzilla himself is a walking nuclear reactor, leaving radioactive contamination wherever he goes.
Now the obvious comparison with our most recent Godzilla film, Legendary Studio’s 2014 Godzilla film. In my opinion, Legendary’s Godzilla was more style over substance, focusing more on the CGI presentation of Godzilla and the MUTOs and the general area where each scene took place. That iteration cut between Godzilla and the MUTOs and bland characters that honestly weren’t interesting. However, one similarity I found in both movies were that the characters were flat. No one between the two movies underwent any substantial change, and just to be clear, there is no relation between Shin Godzilla an Legendary’s Godzilla, which tends to be a common misconception. Although I do love Legendary’s Godzilla, I have to say that Shin Godzilla is the better of the two films. The CGI of the film was pretty average, but it just had more substance, more meaning behind it than the American adaptation.
So I said the biggest fault, but even then it’s pretty minor. The ending, at least to me left a bit to be desired. Rando Yaguchi’s team manages to put their pretty farfetched plan into play, which is to simply freeze Godzilla from the inside out. Although it works and Tokyo for the most part has been saved from nuclear annihilation, the film ends with Rando looking at the frozen monster and saying something along the lines of “I guess we’ll have to learn how to live with you.” To be honest, I didn’t even know what to expect from the ending, but it wasn’t that.
Taking everything I’ve said and pulling it all together, I would recommend this film to both experienced monster movie-goers, and newbies to the genre or franchise. The movie’s substance is something you can sink your teeth into, the theme is fun to observe, and Godzilla looks just like he should; truly monstrous, truly deserving the title of King of Monsters. Though the characters are relatively flat, along with the anti-climactic ending and subtitles taking up most of the screen, directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi did a enough good job that all of those problems seem fairly small. Overall it’s a solid movie, and I’ll give it 4.5 out 5 stars. If you have the chance, go see and give your support to Shin Godzilla.