Region: 2 - UK
Length: 119 minutes
Subtitles: English, German
English 2.0 Stereo
German 2.0 Stereo
Japan is plunged into chaos upon the appearance of a giant monster.
From the mind behind Evangelion comes a hit larger than life. When a massive monster emerges from the deep and tears through the city, the government scrambles to save its citizens. A rag-tag team of volunteers cuts through a web of red tape to uncover the monster s weakness and its mysterious ties to a foreign superpower. But time is not on their side - the greatest catastrophe to ever befall the work is about the evolve right before their very eyes.
67 years after the release of the original Godzilla film in 1954, there have been approximately 30 movie titles staring the titular kaiju. Until this point however, I have seen approximately zero of the Japanese Godzilla films.
Despite being fresh to the series, I’m familiar with many themes and characteristics which are typically present, as such I had an idea of what to expect. Godzilla at this point, has become an institution - a pop culture icon, prevalent in film and comics.
Shin Godzilla is a good place to jump on board. It marks the 29th Toho produced Godzilla film, but is also a complete reboot of the series. Whilst no previous knowledge is required to enjoy the film, there are little nods and references to established characters. There are some familiar soundbites too. It also received critical acclaim when it was released in Japanese cinemas back in 2016.
Most people will be more familiar with directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi from their work with Gainax. Anyone familiar with the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise will be in for a treat, as references to the series are more a sharp elbow to the ribs than a subtle nod. But would you believe Anno has actually been animating giant monsters since 1984’s “God Warrior” in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind? He’s had a lot of practice leading up to this point, and it shows!
The film opens with a series of quick cuts using mixed footage, including some handheld camera work. There’s a bit of a documentary feeling to it. Right from the start though, the pacing in this film feels more immediate than Godzilla (2014). Shortly after the period and location are established, we are given glimpses of the monster itself - in broad daylight no less.
Soon after, we follow events as they unfold within the offices of government. Ministers try desperately to react, despite naturally being unprepared for a disaster of this magnitude. This in itself allows for comical juxtaposition, including a declaration that the monster couldn’t leave the sea, followed immediately by a scene of the beast walking on land. It battles with the obligation of government to the people and their responsibility to the nation, whilst being very concerned with public perception.
Bureaucracy aside, the film paints the government in a positive light overall: through their compassion for civilian life, and the Japan Self Defence Forces prioritising evacuation of civilians following an unsuccessful attack on the beast. The illustrated behaviour seems bordering on propaganda at points, but whether this is the result of Anno’s national pride, or the ignorance of a poorly informed gaijin, I couldn’t say. What I do know, is the resolve and pragmatism of the Japanese government as portrayed in Shin Godzilla, gives pause to the actions of western governments as represented in real life, and on screen.
There is also a clear difference in motivation and attitudes between the first and second half of the film. The divide illustrates a resourceful younger generation assuming control of government from their elders, who are unprepared despite their humanistic approach. It’s likely that this echos the sentiments of the audience, whom I’d imagine to be younger for the most part, and who might find it difficult to engage with politics in its current state. It shows the possibility of a refreshed government, with new focus and younger perspective.
The theme of nuclear deterrence is raised also, which clearly states the anxiety Japan still suffers from, following the second world war. Whilst there are western films which almost glorify the use of nuclear weapons as a means of assured victory, even in the situation where they are deployed on home soil.
The film is ultimately a story about humanity, confronted by its greatest fears. Something unbeatable and seemingly indestructible, but something which people must come together to overcome.
I watched Shin Godzilla in both native Japanese with subs, and with English dubbing, and whilst I don’t have a particular preference for either, I did notice that some of the spoken English parts by its Japanese actors were a little difficult to follow. One actress in particular, who plays an American born Japanese character, spoke English with an accent which might have been enough to fool Japanese audiences, but was a little difficult for me to take seriously.
Overall, a well produced Japanese monster film and an entertaining experience.