Godzilla is no stranger to reboots, there have been several of them since the original film hit theaters back in 1954, and the nature of Godzilla himself has gone through many incarnations over the years, but the interesting thing here is those past reboots just wiped the slate clean of sequels while still considering the 1954 Gojira as canon. Now with 2016’s Shin Godzilla, we have the first true fresh start from Toho Studios where Godzilla’s origin, and first arrival in Japan, is taken back to square. In this Kaijū outing Co-directors, Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi unleash the biggest and most dangerous version of Godzilla yet, and it will knock your socks off.
In the current American version of Godzilla, as well as dozens of Godzilla movies in the Toho series, we’ve seen everyone’s favorite atomic lizard battling with countless other giant beasties, but in Shin Godzilla, he is the only Kaijū (from the Japanese “strange beast”) terrorizing the populace of Japan. This harkens back to the original Gojira where that monster was reflection of the horror and destruction surrounding the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while in this version the filmmakers are taking inspiration from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, but in both cases the monster is not here to help mankind, not even accidentally as was often the case.
Any viewer unfamiliar with Godzilla films should be forewarned that the Big Guy is not going to have a whole lot of screen time, that’s never been the case in all thirty of Toho’s productions, but when he does make an appearance it’s usually well worth the wait. The bulk of the movie’s running time will be spent with a cast of various characters and how they deal with the current crisis. In the case of Shin Godzilla, we deal almost exclusively with Government officials and the experts they’ve called in to help defeat the menace, and when watching this film I couldn’t help but admire the writers in putting together a script where you can completely believe this is how a major Government would handle the situation.
The movie opens with a massive eruption in Tokyo Bay and the subsequent flooding and collapsing of the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line. The Prime Minister (Ren Oshugi) and his Cabinet scramble to figure out what exactly caused the disaster, but when Deputy Chief Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) suggests the cause could be from a living creature he is quickly shot down. The first act of the film is basically people stating what they believe to be the case and then to be proven wrong almost immediately. Here is my paraphrasing of this section of the movie:
Yaguchi: “It’s a living creature, there’s even footage of it online.”
Prime Minister: “Preposterous!”
*Massive tail rises out of Tokyo Bay*
Prime Minister: “Dammit!”
Scientist: “Nothing that big good walk on land.”
*The creature proceeds to stomp across Japan*
Scientist: “Crap on a cracker!”
When I first saw that monster waddle down the streets of Tokyo, tossing cars and buildings out of its way, I assumed this was some beastie that Godzilla would eventually show up and fight, but I was then quite shocked to discover that this thing was in fact Godzilla. This version of the monster rapidly grows and mutates through multiple stages; from sea creature to four-legged monster until finally becoming the gigantic bipedal beast we all know and love. This all leads to delightful scenes of scientists scrambling to figure out just what in the hell they are dealing with, and not all that eager to postulate a theory in case they’re wrong and thus harm their standing in the scientific community. Rando Yaguchi assembles a crack team of somewhat eclectic members to figure out a way to bring down Godzilla, “Lone wolves, nerds, troublemakers, outcasts, academic-heretics, and general pains-in-the-bureaucracy.” The film cuts between this group frantically trying to come up with a suitable weapon, while also trying to figure out just what kind of creature Godzilla is, with scenes of Government officials trying to deal with such things as evacuations, worrying about civilian casualties, and whether they can declare a “State of Emergency.”
Things get even more complicated when The United States step in to help, sending special envoy Kayoko Ann Patterson (Satomi Ishihara), who may have her own political agenda, to asses the situation. When everything the Japanese military throws at Godzilla proves to be next to useless; machine gun fire from attack helicopters and tank shells bouncing of Godzilla’s skin equally, while missiles from fighter jets do nothing more than slightly annoy the monster. When America B2 Stealth Bombers are deployed it at first looks as if they’ve finally got a chance at defeating Godzilla, blood flies from him in such amounts it looks like the Red Sea exploded, but unfortunately, this just makes him really, really mad.
Not only does this Godzilla have breath that engulfs the city in a firestorm but he can also fire highly destructive atomic rays from its mouth and dorsal fins. Beams slice through skyscrapers like a hot knife through butter, and the rays from his dorsal fins take out the bombers and any further ordinance they try and deploy. One American scientist concludes that Godzilla has some kind of “built-in phased-array-radar” which allows him to shoot out any target in the sky. Shin Godzilla not only gives us the largest Godzilla to date…
..but also easily the most powerful. The remainder of the film mostly deals with Rando Yaguchi and his team scrambling to put together a plan that could shut down Godzilla’s system, but they are under a time crunch as America and the United Nations Security Council of convinced the Japanese Prime Minister to allow them to deploy nukes, and a second Hiroshima is the last thing anybody wants. The concern is that Godzilla can reproduce asexually and once he finishes with Japan many more countries, and possibly the world, could fall.
This movie is as serious as a heart attack, there are no nods or winks at the camera implying “This is only a silly monster movie” but instead we get believable characters acting in very realistic fashions. When you see the Prime Minister waffling over the decision to use force, when it could result in civilian casualties, you completely sympathize with the guy. Much of the dialog would fit perfectly in an Aaron Sorkin production with its large cast of characters and quick moving events. There are also no villainous asshats giving the hero a hard time, nobody declares “We can’t close the beaches, it’s the Fourth of July.” Even the Americans aren’t demonized for wanting to deploy nukes as the threat of Godzilla wiping mankind off the globe is very real.
Shin Godzilla is a fantastic entry in Toho’s long-running series, and though it may be missing the joyous smackdowns we get when Godzilla is up against other Kaijū it will still get your blood pumping, and I can pretty much guarantee any fan of Godzilla will enjoy this film for not only do we get epic scenes of massive monster mayhem but we also get the classic Godzilla roar as well as the return of Akira Ifukube’s wonderful Godzilla March. What more could one want?
Shin Godzilla (2016)
Shin Godzilla has amazing visual effects, a solid cast, and some really interesting new ideas concerning Godzilla and his origins, and an overall it has a plot that is grounded in reality despite the fantastic nature of the threat.