Ever wondered what happens when you mix Godzilla and the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion into a blender? Well, you get this movie.
Shin Godzilla is a Japanese Kaiju film directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi. Starring Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, and Satomi Ishihara, politicians struggle with bureaucrat red tape to deal with the sudden appearance of a giant monster that evolves whenever it is attacked.
As an installment in a series known for mainly being B-movies, Shin Godzilla harkens back to the original 1954 film regarding its tone and themes. This is a grounded, dark interpretation of the license that looks at the titular character and its upbringing through a much more tragic lens. This time, this story is mixed in with a more modern flavor and a boatload of political commentary.
While Shin Godzilla callbacks to the original film’s themes on nuclear war in crucial events, the overall picture is more inspired by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Much like the real-life events themselves, the film explores just how unprepared the Japanese government is for such a destructive event. Instead of carrying out an action, spend far more time trying to decide on what that policy should be in the face place while the citizens have to deal with the brunt end of the conflict.
The film wisely avoids painting the politicians as a malicious caricature, but instead good nature people who were simply overwhelmed by the scope of the situation and limited by the very system that work in. There’s a great little scene that puts the viewer in the prime minister’s perspective as he’s being bombarded by questions from his staff constantly. The reasoning why his choices prove to be ineffective is not because he doesn’t care about the people (In fact, it’s quite the opposite), but that he’s simply doesn’t know the best option to take and has to work with the confines of the situation.
While all of this is going on, the Japanese Government also has to deal with the interventions of other nations (Because the appearance of a big destructive dinosaur in a well-known country is bound to quickly attract attention from the rest of the world)with the United States of America in particular. This is where the film brings back the 1954’s film narrative of a post-World War II Japan in full swing and shows just how passive Japan acts towards the USA. While Shin Godzilla does take a jab at the role that the nation played in the overall conflict, I didn’t find that it was handled in a black and white manner. At a certain point, a grave decision is made by the United States to be carried out in Japan. While the results are nothing less than catastrophic, it’s made rather clear that it’s a decision made by desperation rather than malice towards Japan despite the shared history those two countries share.
Speaking of a catastrophe, let’s talk about the titular character itself. Much in line with the rest of the film, this is a much darker take on the monster that echoes the old days while providing a new test. While the original was created through nuclear destruction, this incarnation was merely a sea creature that unfortunately was exposed to radioactive contamination and thus ends up mutating into the monster that this conflict is centered around. While not stated outright, for the most part, it’s made rather clear that this creature isn’t causing mayhem out of a desire to destroy, but rather a poor animal in pain of its contentious evolution and the violence that the human themselves bring upon it. Much like the humans themselves, Godzilla fights in desperation to survive, even if it results in the destruction of humanity.
For as tragic as Godzilla is, the film does a wonderful job of turning him into pure nightmare fuel. While other films in the series would show Godzilla powers as something to marvel at, Shin Godzilla uses them instead to create a sense of dread. Godzilla’s evolution provides some real palpable tension to great effect. As Godzilla gets stronger, humanity feels like it’s riding up to the edge of a full-on apocalypse. Director Hideaki Anno does an excellent job of making this Godzilla feel massive to us mear humans with plenty of wide and perspective shots to make Godzilla out as a rather imposing figure.
What is remarkable about this film is its excellent production values in regards to its budget. For a film that costs only $15 million to make compared to your standard blockbuster, the film looks top-notch for the most part. Godzilla itself may just look like a guy walking around in a suit as usual, but it actually entirely a motion-capture performance. It’s a CGI creation that really doesn’t look like it for the most part. A few shots could make this fact pretty obvious, but those are few and far between. And anytime where Godzilla uses its powers is nothing short of a visual spectacle as one would hope.
Kosuke Yamada’s fantastic cinematography does a great job of getting the audience in both the humans’ mindset and showing the pure scale when Godzilla walks into the frame. Despite most of the film essentially being boardroom meetings, they are well-paced enough to keep the flow moving (Though alluded to, it’s help that they are well-written). The music by Shirō Sagisu is haunting, for lack of a better word. Who Will Know? is the obvious highlight, but everything else he does for the film is just as outstanding. Though this does lead to my issues with the film, though it’s really not much.
While the use of music and sound effects (Godzilla’s roar among them) from the Showa era is nostalgic, it also somewhat works in conflict against the film’s more modern approach. Classic Akira Ifukube is always great, but I would have loved to hear more of the film’s original material instead. This didn’t bother me too much, admittedly because the actual execution of everything on the whole in my mind is so strong, but this does cause a little of an identity issue to pop up here and then though with how other Godzilla butcher more important aspects of their storytelling, a little bit of reused material doesn’t hurt too much when all is said and done.
What really cements this film for me, though, is despite illustrating how much damage humans can cause to themselves through their ignorance, Shin Godzilla also shows how strong we can truly be in the face of crisis. Nowhere is this better shown than in the film’s exciting climax, where the humans used everyone and everything they have to prevent immentiment destruction. It’s cathartic in the best of ways and helps end the film on a high note. Though not without a little bit of chilling ambiguity.
Shin Godzilla is a must-see for all Godzilla fans. Compelling drama, fantastic production values, and a nice mix of old and new ideas make this installment in this long-running franchise a roaring success. For me personally, with its concepts and execution, Shin Godzilla might just be the quintessential kaiju film to all kaiju films. While I’m kinda sad that this film will likely never see a sequel, the film works well enough on its own merits as a remarkable stand-alone feature.
God incarnate indeed.