This is a very special month for a very special Giant Movie Monster. This month is the 65th anniversary of the worlds biggest movie star (literally) and King of the monsters, Godzilla.
At 65 years, his is the longest running movie franchise ever, with 35 movies (counting the American productions) under the titanic creature’s belt, spanning all the way back to 1954. And that number will only continue to grow in the coming years, with Godzilla vs Kong set to debut next year in March and Toho Studios, Godzillas owner, set to take its own steps into the cinematic universe ring with their own kaiju (the word for giant monster in Japanese).
In the (late) spirit of celebration, we could perhaps look back on his homeward bound endeavours and talk about one of the reasons why he’s so beloved. In particular, let’s talk about one of his movies. And what better than one where the titular monster is a symbol of ruin, death and destruction brought forth from atomic energy, where, as the song goes, “History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man.”
By that description, it would appear I’m talking about Godzilla’s first cinematic opus from 1954. In actuality, I’m referring to the more recent live action film that just so happens to take “The big G” back to his traditionally villainous roots from the first film. Lets talk about… Shin Godzilla.
Shin Godzilla is a 2016 Japanese giant monster movie that, as previously stated, goes back to it’s grim roots created by the 1954 original classic “Godzilla.” It elects to once again make the mutated prehistoric reptile of unknown origin an unstoppable force of destruction and terror.
The design of the creature even borrows the “keloid scars” from the original look with a more gruesome update. But thats not the only thing that has updated with this version of the king of the monsters. Not only is it an allegory for a particular disaster (the Tohoku tsunami, earthquake and nuclear meltdown in this case) but it is also a political satire!
The film wastes no time in starting, as a massive steam geyser erupts from Tokyo bay and a weird blood like liquid begins to flood the tunnels after a boat of a Japanese scientist is discovered without him on board. From there, the Japanese government holds various meetings on how to handle the situation while pandemonium continues to unfold. When one of the politicians, our protagonist Rando Yaguchi, played by Hiroki Hasegawa, states during a meeting that the eruption might be caused by a large creature, based on the videos posted by onlookers and survivors, he’s lambasted for the idea and told not make a mockery of the political system… before a news report reveals a massive creature in the bay that’s headed for the city.
This results in postponing the meeting for… another meeting, as they discuss what the creature is and its abilities, resulting in more havoc. As more details and abilities are revealed about the creature revealed and international interests for said creature, dubbed Godzilla by the missing scientists papers, the race is on for Yaguchi and his team of “misfits and weirdos” to come up with a breakthrough before Godzilla causes more chaos.
What is truly noteworthy about Shin Godzilla is just how bold and daring it is compared to other Godzilla movies, despite clearly taking notes from the original movie. This film was penned and co-directed by Hideki Anno, and if you know the name, you might be familiar with the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, of which Anno created, wrote and directed.
The series is known for its wildly gorgeous visuals, symbolism, allegorical messages, and just how bizarre the show and the concept actually is. Shin Godzilla is no different. Instead of appearing as his normal reptilian self when he shows up surprisingly early for one of his own movies, he is instead this bizarre cross of terrifying and adorable, looking more akin to an eel with dinosaur legs with massive unblinking eyes and bleeding gills.
Despite being barely able to walk, he still causes much destruction and death before seemingly and randomly stopping to reveal Anno’s next radical idea regarding Godzilla: he instantly “evolves” into something slightly closer to his traditional appearance to better walk on land. In other words, when Godzilla is faced with a difficult challenge, his body radically transforms to deal with it. It’s even brought up that, if need be, he can sprout wings and fly.
This leads to the point where he finally becomes something that looks like a “traditional” Godzilla design and later the scene where he finally uses his atomic breath for the first time. The scene itself is both beautiful and very haunting. It is probably Godzilla’s most frightening use of his atomic breath to date, and it is the first time on film that Godzilla breaths actual fire for a bit (That idea was a concept invented by the Americans while importing the movies, he actually breaths an “emission of radiation” or just a straight up laser).
This is the first time in a Japanese Godzilla movie that Godzilla would be fully portrayed by CGI for all scenes (a few films had a few shots where the monster was entirely computer generated). Harkening back to the original design, Godzilla’s 4th and final “look” (his first is unseen) brings back the ugly and horrific keloid radiation scarring that the first version of the monster evoked. Using some impressive CGI the monster is shown in incredible detail, exposed glowing red tissue and a horrific mangled jaw that has teeth protruding outside of his lips being just the tip of the dorsal plate.
To emphasize his presence is a beautiful score. Most of it composed by regular Hideki Anno collaborator Shiro Sagisu, the score he creates offers a unique mix of tracks, with some deliberately using a more action movie vibe when actual work and progress is being made on how to stop Godzilla. Some are more appropriately haunting, such as “Who Will Know,” a tragic and somber piece used for Godzilla’s first thermonuclear breath. The song itself can be seen from Godzilla’s perspective, as it elements about its survival.
The film has more the just the monster, surprisingly. As previously stated, Hideki Anno is known for his less than subtle allegorical messages and symbolism and Shin Godzilla has this in spades. Throughout the picture, the Japanese government goes to meeting after meeting after meeting before arriving at anything helpful to help people or try to halt Godzilla’s progress. Indeed when the film opens, adherence to protocol is strict, to the point where it actually hinders and slows the effort to stop Godzilla.
During a military effort to crush the creature, the prime minister is relaid information by his superiors about the attack. In order to get to him, it has to travel down the line of command before reaching a member of the cabinet who only can respond to his superior, despite the sitting at the same table as the prime minister, and then said superior, can talk to the prime minister. Now some of this is already natural for many governments with similar structures, but Anno directs the scene in such a way as to highlight how utterly absurd this process is.
No movie is perfect, including Shin Godzilla, which does have noticeable faults. Despite being a Japan centric picture, there are some scenes with english dialogue. When some Japanese characters speak english dialogue, it’s fine. They give it a good effort and it comes off convincingly. However, sometimes it comes off as awkward and stilted, as some actors struggle speak the language. Unusually, the ones who come off as the most awkward are the few english speaking actors. Some of the lines they perform are oddly worded, with the occasional awkward performance to back it up.
Thankfully, the fault is not entirely distracting, as the film knows where its main focus is, and it payed off. With high praise across the board in its home country and an estimated US$15 million budget, it made back US$77 million, making it the most financially successful Japanese Godzilla movie. At the Japanese academy awards, it was able to acquire many wins for itself, including best picture, a first for a Godzilla movie.
In the end, your taste in monster movies may vary, but if this spikes anyone’s interest, the film is available on dvd, Blu-ray and digital, though there are 2 versions of the digital version, one english dubbed and one in Japanese (The Japanese dub is superior). It may not be the goofy monster destroying action you may heard about, but it is still very enjoyable and serves as a reminder as to why Godzilla was made in the first place.
Hail to the king.