Film · POC Filmmakers · Review

Shin Godzilla Review – Franchise evolution

Is it Fox who have the monsters universe going on now? It’s not Universal because theirs in the Dark Universe, Warner got all that DC stuff and Disney owns every other brand under the sun. Gotta be Fox.

Oh wait, I checked, it’s Legendary. Weird pull for them. Seems like their recent plans have spurred Toho into action who’ve responded with their first ever full reboot of the franchise. Well, I say responded, that’s my own shitty west-centric viewpoint, Imma shut up about it because regardless of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla or Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla (weirdly one of the few movies I had on DVD as a child, watched it a lot) Shin Godzilla hold itself up regardless.

In fact the thing which immediately sticks out is how idiosyncratic it is. It’s not an action movie, sure Godzilla makes land on the coast of Japan and immediately starts wrecking shit, but we don’t stay close with any of the people on the ground. There’s some early clips you can see in the trailer there of the site of the attacks. They’re all very reminiscent of writer and co-director Hideaki Anno’s earlier experimental live action work, the early film dabbles heavily in this mixed media montage of news clips and cellphone footage and security feeds.

When it finally settles down enough for us to realise who our true lead is, it comes as a surprise that it’s a rather junior member of the government’s disaster response committee. Or maybe that’s just surprising to me given my history. It’s not even like they send him into the field and he’s the renegade who discovers its one weakness. Nah, for the most part the film coops him up in a series of offices and meeting rooms as everyone scrambles to come up with some appropriate response to the threat.

Look at how delicate the composition is

It’s like this grand political satire, one of the best threads running through it is that every time a new character is introduced the film flashes their name and full job title right across the screen. Even if they’re there for one scene, even if they’re useless and inconsequential. When it’s like the Prime Minister it’s useful info, then as time goes on it’s like this running joke as more and more people are assigned to the ‘unknown organic lifeform investigatory committee’. By the end its dedication to the bit is so hard it feels almost celebratory: ‘So ridiculous but look what at all these people can achieve working together!’

Not to say it loves the system, film can be pretty overt in its criticism. My dude in here talking about how it feel like nothing can be done without a meeting. Another dude whose ain’t even shaken out of the complacency and comfort in his position by the arrival of a literal giant monster. But then like Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) is a total babe who just puts his everything into his work because the structure of the system is one that actually serves to enable his work. An then there’s like the guy who’s thrust into leadership after the death of half the government, like everyone shitting on him but he rise to the occasion admirably.

Like you can read Anno’s, and his co-director Shinji Higuchi’s, remarks on the film. They say they were heavily influenced by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the ensuing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. With this lens on the film Godzilla himself becomes not a monster but merely just another natural disaster. Look at how it’s shot, the script reimagines the thing with the ability to mutate itself on the fly, sprout new limbs and evolve new abilities as are situationally advantageous.

Ooh so moody

Hell, the initial version that washes ashore is a pretty pathetic looking thing, they give it gills so it washes ashore struggling to breathe, it has these wide bug eyes and just sorta flops about a bit. They even consider for a while if it’s even worth killing, seems harmless enough to study. It’s a new Godzilla for a new age, there’s a whole bit here about the warmongering American president who just wants to drop a nuke on the thing (oh, and Tokyo too, but you’ll recover from that right guys?). Which woof, that’s a damn prescient call innit?

It such a goofy film too, Anno’s been in anime forever with only these exploratory steps into live-action. He and cinematographer Kosuke Yamada employ this real static camera most of the time, wide lenses, very static compositions, so when anybody moves it’s this huge disruptive thing. There’s a lot of laughs just got out of how someone makes their way across a room, or how in relative stillness someone’s just passing messages about.

It’s unhelpful but I got nothing on this movie, it’s like this cross between In the Loop and Contagion but with kaiju. How are you supposed to get around that? It’s cold and distant and impersonal, but also strangely idealistic and goofy and even when it’s being action it approaches it with precision and control. There’s really nothing like it. I wanna see more.

Shin Godzilla is releasing on home video in English speaking markets later this month.

Blue and beige
Images courtesy of Funimation

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