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Shin Godzilla (2016)

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Shin Godzilla

Shin GodzillaStarring Rando Yaguchi, Hideki Akasaka, Satoshi Ishihara, Ren Ohsugi, Pierre Taki

Directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi


As Godzilla fans, we’ve seen a lot over the course of 60+ years and 30+ films. We’ve seen Godzilla portrayed as the nightmarish manifestation of mankind’s atomic meddling. We’ve seen Godzilla envisioned as an undersea monster god from the dawn of time. We’ve seen Godzilla reduced to nothing more than an easily defeated, radioactive, tuna-eating iguana. We’ve seen Godzilla as the super-sized, super-heroic savior of the earth, defending us all from dinosaurian goliaths, giant insects, colossal cyborgs of all sorts, shape-shifting sludge monsters, and a host of alien invaders, while still finding the time to be a good dad to a doe-eyed doughboy of an offspring. We’ve seen Godzilla do flying dropkicks, perform victory dances on alien planets, talk to other monster allies, work in conjunction with the military, befriend children, fed fruit hand-to-mouth by an island native, fly using his atomic breath as rocket power…

The point I’m making is if you’re a fan of Godzilla, you’ve seen it all, for better and worse.

Now comes Shin Godzilla from the creator of the landmark anime series “Neon Genesis Evangelion” that does something no Godzilla has successfully managed to do in a very long time: return the “King of the Monsters” to both his allegorical science fiction and, yes, his horror roots. This is not a reboot like we’ve come to expect from typical Hollywood reboots. This is an outright reinvention of Godzilla, a completely new beast for 21st century post-Fukushima Japan, yet one that still captures what it is we love about Godzilla. Unlike so many reboots that prey entirely upon your nostalgia, Shin Godzilla does it right by giving us a completely new take on Godzilla that still taps into what we love about Godzilla, from the uses of classic Akira Ifukube musical cues to a variety of recognizable Godzilla roars throughout the decades to good ol’ mass destruction.

While the movie has been a runaway smash hit in its home country, I suspect this Godzilla Resurgence will divide fans like almost no other film in the series before it. Not even the ’98 travesty, the 22 car pile-up that was Final Wars, or even Legendary Pictures’ big budget Hollywood relaunch from two years ago that got the awe-inspiring aspect right but kind of forgot to actually make a Godzilla movie about Godzilla.

I’m going to try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible because the less you know going into Shin Godzilla, the more surprising you’ll probably find it. Toho has definitely done a heck of a job keeping its mystery box closed on this one as the trailers we’ve seen thus far only reveal hints of what is to come.

While I strongly suspect a number of Godzilla fans, particularly younger ones, will complain Shin Godzilla doesn’t have nearly enough Godzilla action, unlike Gareth Edwards’ Cloverfield 2: Guest Starring Godzilla, Gojira still has plenty of screen time from almost the first scene on; and even when Big G isn’t on the screen, everything that happens, everything that’s discussed, everything that’s investigated, everything that’s researched, everything that’s planned, every bit of it revolves around Godzilla. What a novel concept.

Hideaki Anno’s reboot boasts some of the best Godzilla action ever put on screen. The sheer futility of man’s mightiest weapons against this natural disaster on the march has never been portrayed as vividly as it is here. Godzilla faintly glowing red as he stomps about the nighttime skyline of Tokyo with only the flames brought about by his path of destruction to help eerily illuminate the scene, all set to foreboding operatic music, makes for a scene of apocalyptic beauty. The cinematography is simply breathtaking from start to finish. Even the least convincing special effects shots appear more realistic than anything we’ve seen in any previous Toho installment. A Godzilla fan’s wet dream of epic annihilation occurs about mid-point that is arguably the single greatest sequence of kaiju city destruction ever put to film since the jaw-dropping Gamera/Gyaos city battle sequence in Gamera 3.

But there’s an awful lot of time in between Godzilla’s skulking rampages where the monster is more the focal point of discussion rather than the centerpiece of the action. This Godzilla is as much about the current state of Japan as it is the monster itself, and that may prove a turn-off to fans that just want epic non-stop destruction and rock ’em, sock ’em monster fights.

Anno has more or less crafted a remake of the 1954 masterpiece reimagined for today’s Japan as much a political thriller and satire about how the Japanese government, military, and scientists would react to the very real threat of a giant thermonuclear monster arriving on their shores and potentially threatening not just their country, but quite possibly all life on earth as we know it. I’m sure if I were Japanese or lived in Japan, some of the bureaucratic wrangling that encompasses the bulk of the film would be even more meaningful or humorous; yet, as a gaijin, I still found myself surprisingly engaged by the political machinations and bemused by the absurdities of red tape getting in the way of common sense.

Traditionally in Godzilla flicks the moment a monster appears in a major metropolitan area, the military is already engaging it with tanks, fighter jets, rocket launchers, laser tanks, Super X’s, etc. In Shin Godzilla, as Godzilla first crushes civilians and topples buildings, the Japanese cabinet sits in conference trying to figure out what they are even legally permitted to do militarily to protect their own populace from such an unprecedented event.

You’ve never seen anything like this in a Godzilla movie, or, frankly, any daikaiju movie. The impotency of elected officials and military might makes for surprisingly effective drama and biting political commentary early on.

That is, until about two thirds of the way through, when even I found myself losing track of and my interest waning in the endless stream of politicians, scientists, military officials, conference meetings, foreign diplomats, research teams, and so forth so numerous they require constant on-screen graphics in order to help viewers keep up with who’s who and what’s what. At two hours in length, I’d argue there’s about ten minutes of excess chatter that could have been shaved off, preferably anything involving one character in particular: the very lovely but laughably miscast Satoshi Ishihara as American envoy Kayoco Ann Patterson. She’s supposed to be Japanese-American (more American than Japanese) and even talks of having aspirations to one day become President of the United States. Positively laughable given she speaks English in a tone about as natural sounding as Borat. It’s instantly apparent English is not her first language (both the actress and the character)m making her every moment speaking her obviously non-native tongue utterly unconvincing.

I’ve seen some stories in the American media already playing up that this movie has an anti-American edge to it. That not entirely untrue but nowhere near as dubious as when Godzillasaurus aided Japanese soldiers fighting Americans in the Pacific during World War II in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. No mistaking that Shin Godzilla is a pro-Japanese nationalistic film brimming with a certain degree of annoyance over their lack of sovereignty; outside forces, primarily American interventionism, play a big role in compounding Japan’s Godzilla problem. Since helpful US cooperation plays such a big part in the climax, calling this anti-American is suspect. Besides, no governing body gets skewered worse here than the Japanese government itself.

I also have to be honest and admit the climactic showdown with Godzilla boasts a plan that is almost too logistically wacky to believe might actually work, especially in a movie that strives to be the most realistic Godzilla movie ever made. On the other hand, “train bombs” are now one of the coolest new editions to the pantheon of Godzilla-fighting techniques. Still, the climactic battle feels dramatically abrupt compared to much of the action preceding it.

Getting back to the King himself, Godzilla’s new origin, new powers and abilities, and very physiology will assuredly be the source of much debate amongst hardcore fans. Much has been made of Godzilla’s design seen in early previews, most of all his nearly skeletal arms. That’s because (minor spoiler here) this Godzilla has been envisioned as a constantly evolving organism transforming throughout the film, each time becoming larger and more classically Godzilla in appearance.

If you’re one of those people that complain about how slow-moving Godzilla has been in recent films, then you’re really going to hate this take. This is the slowest moving Godzilla ever; he’s a living monolith that cannot be stopped, at times appearing as if he’s not even moving. At times he actually doesn’t move at all; he just stands there and lets the military do their thing to no effect and no reaction to the assault. Godzilla’s internal nuclear fission causes him to come to a screeching stop when he’s expended all of his energy and needs to recharge, which could lead to him just standing in place like a statue for hours, days, and even weeks. It’s odd. It’s unique. And much like his evolving appearance, it works within the context of the story.

As a somewhat cynical Godzilla fan, I’ve been ready for something new for some time now. Even with a few reservations, I came away pleased with this new incarnation of the King of the Monsters and look forward to seeing how I feel upon repeat viewings. Given what a monster hit Shin Godzilla has been in Japan (highest grossing live-action movie of the year), it seems a no-brainer Toho will want to make another sooner rather than later. For the life of me I cannot envision where they go from here. Will it be a direct sequel to this, of a similar ominous tone, with other monsters for total threat to mankind Godzilla to fight? In many regards Shin Godzilla feels meant to be a one-off because it’s hard to imagine following this up with something looser, more traditionally Godzilla beat-em up in nature.

Then again, the first sequel to the 1954 original had Godzilla grappling with a giant spikey dinosaur, and the next one after that was a camp classic in which he wrestled King Kong. It’s Godzilla. Anything’s possible.

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User Rating 3.43 (14 votes)

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