Friday, October 14, 2016
SHIN GODZILLA, the latest Toho Godzilla movie, is essentially a re-boot. The film has no connection whatsoever with any earlier Godzilla feature, except for the fact that some of Akira Ifukube's original music for the classic series is used. It is very different from any other Godzilla entry--in fact it may be the most realistically-based one of them all.
In SHIN GODZILLA the monster's appearance and actions are examined through the eyes of various Japanese bureaucrats and government functionaries. The main human character in the story is a young Deputy Cabinet Minister named Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), who leads the effort to find a way to stop the giant beast. Having a politician as the lead "hero" is a bold concept, especially with what's going on in the real world these days, but Hasegawa gives a fine performance as the driven government official (Yaguchi is the type of politician even I could actually get to like).
Much of SHIN GODZILLA is made up of numerous meetings and discussions among the Japanese ministers about what to do with the King of the Monsters. Thankfully, co-directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi keep up a rapid pace--as in most 21st Century films, the shots here don't last very long--and there is a sense of a real-time disaster unfolding before our very eyes. (Unfortunately, because of all the horrid events happening in the world lately, the scenes of crisis response and management seem very familiar.)
There's not a lot of Godzilla in SHIN GODZILLA, but the Big G gets far more of a showcase here than he did in the lukewarm 2014 American GODZILLA. This "new" kaiju evolves during the story into the biggest, baddest, ugliest Godzilla of them all. This Big G also has an ability that makes him far more powerful than any of his earlier incarnations. (I'm not going to reveal it here, because the surprise revelation of it is one of the movie's biggest highlights.)
I have to point out that SHIN GODZILLA does not feature a man in a suit--this time around Godzilla is a fully computer-generated creature. For some this might be an improvement, but for me one of the main reasons I love classic kaiju films so much is because of the monster suits and the wonderful models and miniatures. For the most part the CGI works well, but some of the effects shots are a bit dodgy.
Something else I must point out...this is definitely not the goofy type of monster rally that defined the Godzilla franchise in the 1960s and 70s. There's almost no real humor in the film, there's no annoying little kid wearing a baseball cap, and the requisite hot female Japanese character isn't a spunky reporter or the leading man's girlfriend or sister...here she's an ambitious American special envoy (impressively played by Satomi Ishihara). The reason she's an American is that the USA plays a major part in the story by demanding that Japan agree to have Tokyo nuked in order to destroy Godzilla. (The implications of the US dropping a nuclear device on Japan a third time are of course brought up.)
If you do try to see SHIN GODZILLA in the theater while it's still playing in the US, be aware that it is subtitled--and because there's a lot of dialogue scenes, there are a lot of subtitles. (Not only that, but every government official is identified by a title, and every tank, aircraft, and bomb used against Godzilla gets a title on-screen as well!) I know that there are some who feel subtitles are annoying and distracting--it didn't bother me, since I've watched tons of subtitled films. But I have to say that a dubbed version might have made watching the film easier. (I wonder if the home video release of SHIN GODZILLA will feature a dubbed cut.)
This is the third time that Toho has rebooted the Godzilla film series--the first time was in 1984, after the classic Godzilla series ended in 1975. After the 1984-1995 Godzilla series came the horrid 1998 American GODZILLA, and Toho revived the series in 2000. The last Toho Godzilla entry was GODZILLA: FINAL WARS in 2004. It seems that SHIN GODZILLA is Toho's attempt at re-establishing their Godzilla brand after a mediocre American adaptation, much like the company's GODZILLA 2000 was an answer to the '98 US Godzilla. SHIN GODZILLA is doing very well financially in Japan, and its story does leave room for a sequel, so one assumes that there will be a new continuing Godzilla series. But considering how different SHIN GODZILLA is from any other Toho Godzilla picture, what will that series wind up being like? If any future entries have the same tone as SHIN GODZILLA, it's hard to see other kaiju like Mothra and Ghidrah popping up, or aliens from outer space trying to use Godzilla to take over the earth. If Toho does continue the series, I'd love to see the characters played by Hiroki Hasegawa and Satomi Ishihara return.
SHIN GODZILLA may not be as "fun" as the classic films everyone thinks of when they reference Godzilla, but it is an effective giant monster science-fiction film. It's far more interesting than the 2014 American GODZILLA, which I have to admit I barely remember now.