Regular readers here at Biff Bam Pop! know what a hardcore kaiju eiga fan I am, and especially of Godzilla, so you know as soon the newest Big G flick was available over here I would be seeing it, and reviewing it as part of 31 Days of Horror. Meet me after the jump for my thoughts on Shin Godzilla.
The Return of Godzilla
Several years have passed since the last Toho Godzilla film. Godzilla: Final Wars was an homage to teen martial arts superheroes a la Power Rangers as much as it was a manic modern remake of the monster lollapalooza Destroy All Monsters. Set to the beats of Keith Emerson’s frenetic score, Godzilla did battle with almost a dozen of Toho’s daikaiju for his fiftieth anniversary. Since then, America’s Legendary Pictures had phenomenal success with their reboot two summers ago, so Toho thought it was time for their own reboot of Godzilla.
Shin Gojira, alternately known as Shin Godzilla and Godzilla Resurgence, was released in Japan this summer, and this week enjoyed a limited run in some American theaters. The Shin in the title translates roughly to new or true, and this certainly does represent a new perspective on the monster. Subtitled in English, this film details Godzilla’s battle against perhaps his most perplexing foe – government bureaucracy.
Passing the Buck
The core of this film comes from the conceit of the majority of kaiju eiga that when the monster shows up, you send the military, and whether it works or not, they fire away. Usually, if they’re lucky, the populace is evacuated. Writer-director Hideaki Anno (Neon Genesis Evangelion) has added a wedge of reality to the equation, as in how government really works.
Everything is done by committee, in the first ten minutes alone. Before we even see Godzilla his presence is known, and we see five different government meetings in five different meeting rooms. No one wants to take full credit, or blame. A decision to fire is funneled through a chain of command eight people long. Things only get done when the majority of the government has been killed or destroyed.
At its core, Godzilla has always been about the atomic bomb, and specifically America’s use of it against Japan. The United States has served as the villain several times over 30-odd films either directly or indirectly, and Shin Godzilla is no exception. We are shadowy tyrants here, once again threatening an atomic strike, proof that Japanese culture can neither forget nor forgive that long ago action.
There is also a more local parallel to the nuclear menace as well: the 3-11 earthquake and tsunami that caused the Fukushima atomic reactor accident. I wonder how much of the bureaucratic chaos depicted in this film relates to the handling of that disaster. Anno stresses the chaos by having most of the characters talk directly to the camera as they plead their cases to their superiors. This technique has power.
The New Godzilla
This Godzilla is a new monster, a new construct, something very different from what we’ve seen before, but not deviating from the form we know, as the Devlin/Emmerich version did. This Godzilla, the biggest featured on film so far at nearly 400 feet tall, has stages of evolution, like many of his opponents in the Heisei era. One of his early forms, the bleeding big-eyed fish-like creature reminded me a bit of a Studio Ghibli monster.
His final form, black with crimson beneath, tiny Tyrannosaurus Rex arms, and a tail twice his length, is brought to life using motion capture rather than suitmation for the first time in a Toho film. His crazy crooked teeth and beady eyes are minor compared to Godzilla’s new powers. He has not only fire breath, but also a nuclear ray, which can also come from his spines and tail. Yes, shades of a Space Giants monster, a laser tail. Still, it’s cool.
This is the sixth Godzilla movie that I’ve gotten to see on the big screen, and it’s bringing the good percentage up. I’ve seen the two American versions, both disappointments for different reasons; 1984 and 2000, which had weak opponents like a high tech plane and the UFO monster Orga; and the amazing and frightening original 1954 classic Gojira.
I would place Shin Gojira in a positive light along with that last entry. We got something different: a very new and challenging Godzilla with a new slant on presentation, a message film that entertains as well as teaches, and unlike the most recent American foray, one that is not lacking in monster action. I look forward to what Toho does next, reputedly an animated feature with the Big G in 2017. Bring it on!