Shin Godzilla (Shin Gojira)
Japan (2016) Dirs. Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi
In 1998 Hollywood decided to resurrect Japan’s iconic movie monster Godzilla with disastrous results. The ever-polite Japanese creators publicly gave it their blessing but, like everyone else, hated it, responding with their own reboot a year later. Under British director Gareth Edwards Hollywood again revived Godzilla in 2014, forcing Japan to show everyone again how it should be done.
When a Japan Coast Guard boat is destroyed in Tokyo Bay by a mystery force that floods the local inline city, The Japanese government think it is just a natural phenomenon but low ranking minister Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) believes it may have been caused by marine life as seen in a viral video. This notion is ignored until footage of a tail in the water is broadcast.
A giant, lumbering reptilian creature then makes its way onto the land, wreaking havoc and sending the ministers into panic mode, immediately initiating military response. The creature then starts to regenerate, evolving into a different looking beast that can now stand on its hind legs. Yaguchi is tasked with heading up a research development team to study the creature and work out how to destroy it.
Given his track record with his own creations (the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion) and his adaptations of other properties, (Cutie Honey) Hideaki Anno might seem a bold choice to helm the return of Godzilla to the big screen. It is with some irony therefore, mirroring the underestimating that goes in the film, that Anno has revived the franchise with a relevant and modern take on the story that stays true to its origins.
There are many nods to the 1954 original in visual motifs, the musical score and direct references in the script, but Anno weaves them into the plot without them appearing incongruent. When US Special Envoy Kayoco Anne Patterson (Satomi Ishihara) sashays onto the scene she reveals the suppressed history of anti-nuclear biologist Goro Maki who predicted the existence of such a creature many years earlier.
A major theme of Anno’s script sees him caustically critique the blundering role of bureaucracy during a national crisis and the bellicose mindset of the UN when faced with an insurmountable crisis. Like the 1954 film, the central concern is radiation and nuclear fallouts, which was the prevalent idea behind the creation of Godzilla following on from Hiroshima.
For this generation, it is the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the disaster at Fukushima and the current global nuclear threat that provides the backbone and moral focus of the drama, positing the idea than Japan has had enough of being blown up and contaminated, and wants to find alternative solutions. Yaguchi and the Prime Minister’s aide Hideki Akasaka (Yutaka Takenouchi) spend much of their time debating this issue.
But, when the creature finally named Gojira evolves to its fourth state and proves to be practically indestructible to Japanese fire power, the Prime Minister is forced to seek help oversees and the UN coalition’s suggestion is dropping a thermo nuclear bomb on Gojira. Never mind Gojira feeds on nuclear energy, at least the other countries offered to help rebuild Tokyo afterwards.
One gets the impression Anno was using this political stance as a sneaky way to also express Japan’s dissatisfaction with the US treatment of Godzilla, taking any opportunity to criticise them. To that end, Japanese-American Kayoco acts as a symbolic middle ground – born of renowned stock in the States with ideas of becoming US President but ultimately recognises her Japanese roots from her late grandmother.
Admittedly there is a LOT of talking and scenes of meetings which again is part of Anno’s trenchant commentary, bemoaning the political reaction of holding meetings in the wake of a crisis, usually about how to save face in the public eye than address the issue at hand. Similarly the conceit of the ministers is exposed, making unfounded assumptions and ignoring the experts.
In one great scene, a minister holds a press conference to reassure the public Gojira can’t walk on land due to this body mass ratio; An aid jumps on stage and whispers in the minister’s ear. “It’s done what?” The minister explains as we cut to Gojira now rampaging through the city!
Don’t be put off by the heavy political discussion and morality play, it actually adds plenty of weight to the drama, for the first time considering the human cost of tackling Gojira. Anno may have laced his script with cynicism and openly provocative rhetoric but the sentiment is valid and long overdue for discussion in such a scenario.
This really is Godzilla for the new millennium and Anno’s idea to chart its evolution on screen along with startling upgrades is a boon in making Godzilla even more dangerous than before. For starters, his appearance has changed, with more spines on his back, more razor sharp teeth and tinier eyes. His tail is much longer than his entire body (which looks odd) while his arms are smaller.
Gojira has no tongue but can dislocate his jaw to increase his firepower, as well as simultaneously shoot from his tail! He also glows purple when in radiation mode otherwise his scaly skin is flecked with red. This is also the tallest Gojira yet and the first one rendered in CGI, based on a motion capture performance.
Prior to this blasphemous idea, much of the film’s budget was spent on an animatronic Gojira which the producers didn’t like it. However Gojira’s first form is done in the old man in a suit manner so all is not lost, while the motion caption work is an improvement on pure CGI. A veteran of Godzilla films and the recent Attack On Titan live action films, Shinji Higuchi’s SFX contributions are superb, and the action scenes are pure bombastic mayhem.
So, scrub the two US outings from your memory and replace them with Shin Godzilla, an intelligent reboot that is progressive and respectful to its origins. Godzilla is back!