By Dustin Cabeal
Take a journey with me. Back in 1998, the American film industry launched its first attempt at Godzilla. The producers of such blockbusters as Independence Day were behind the production and a soundtrack that remains as one of the best, was produced to support the film. The film was going to be huge, and I’m sure they meant every pun they said when promoting it. The film released, and it was terrible. Godzilla looked like a dickhead, he couldn’t catch a cab, and everyone overlooked the fact that the French were A) running secret operation in New York City and that B) the French were the ones to be following Godzilla’s birth? It was just a piss poor way to explain Jean Reno’s thick French accent and “military” training.
Japan answered this film twice, but most successfully with Godzilla: Final Wars. Which remains one of the best Godzilla films, period. It was a love letter to the type of Godzilla films that made the character famous, rubber suits, aliens and battles and destruction. Hell, even the American Godzilla, now called “Zilla” made an appearance. Of course, there was the human element, the yelling at the giant lizard and so on. It was also Toho saying goodbye to this style of movie. The carefully crafted sets, the rubber suits. They were essentially retiring this style of Godzilla, and it was handled with respect and care.
In the absence of Godzilla, we saw an influx of movies that destroyed cities and even one film attempt to outdo Godzilla with giant robots fighting monsters. What Pacific Rim didn’t understand was that a story was still necessary. The consequences of a giant fucking monster destroying everything, need to be felt.
Enter Godzilla 2014, which would also fail to understand what Godzilla could be and instead opted to do an updated version of the films that Toho had retired with Final Wars. Godzilla became the anti-hero that fucked shit up in order to restore order to the planet… like Mothra. The human elements was sledgehammered in because the producers and writers didn’t understand how to make three giants monsters fighting and slowly moving for two hours interesting. Here’s an idea… shorter run time. Godzilla 2014 was a bad movie and failed to do anything with the character.
That brings us to Shin Godzilla. If the original 1954 Godzilla film was a commentary on the bombing of Japan during World War II and the nuclear age, then Shin Godzilla is a statement of Japan and the world’s politics when dealing with war. And it is fucking great because of it.
As I watched the opening ten minutes of the film, I couldn’t help but feel annoyed with the audience that seemed to laugh at every scene. To find the bureaucracy that was on display humorous and granted there is some humor there, but that was not the point being made. This entire film looks at the very real way that Japan would have to face a threat like Godzilla in the modern era. Writer and director Hideaki Anno found an entirely new way to incorporate the human element of the story and not only is it believable, but it’s riveting. For the first time since Final Wars, I wasn’t annoyed with the people in the film. I didn’t question why I was being forced to follow some crazy crackpot as he tracked Godzilla or watch an old man fish by himself on a dock in the world’s busiest city. Instead, I wanted more. I wanted more of this political game. I wanted more red tape, and the movie continued to deliver. It never once cut through the red tape. It embraced it from beginning to end.
That’s not the only statement it makes, but I will tread lightly as I continue to avoid any spoilers. Anno also makes a statement of the political climate that has followed since WWII in which we’re everyday living on the edge of nuclear war. Every day we’re fighting an unseen countdown. Comic book fans should be familiar with this idea as it was a large part of the story in Alan Moore’s Watchmen. It’s an interesting statement that leaves the film franchise open in ways that have never been attempted before.
All of this and we still haven’t talked about Godzilla. And I won’t. The new Godzilla is ugly and amazing. It’s a new take on the design, the powers, and evolution of the character. I won’t spoil it because it is great and Anno genuinely reimagined the monster. He also made him the bad guy and his creator (in a way) the one you should pity, rather than the monster.
The graphics aren’t amazing. They’re really, really good, but compared to the Hollywood standard there’s a lot of separation. I would be lying if I didn’t say there was once scene in particular that reminded me of the dinosaur commercial from Robocop. Even still, it was better than Godzilla 2014, because the graphics and size of Godzilla were consistent. He didn’t change size depending on location which was something that was terribly annoying in the 2014 film.
You may not think that this is an answer back to the American Godzilla 2014 film, but it is. Remember when everyone involved in the film said that he needed bigger legs or he’d be crushed under his own weight? Yeah, Anno address that in the film and it’s great. If it wasn’t a middle finger to the American film, it should have been.
The reason Shin Godzilla succeeds where both American films and most of the later Toho films failed, is because it had a message other than “monster destroys city.” We can get that from any summer blockbuster now so the need for Godzilla to do it, just isn’t enough to make a film interesting. Anno reinvents the monster, it’s origin, it’s powers, and most important of all, what can be done with a Godzilla film.
I can only hope that there will be a follow-up to Shin Godzilla that once again invents a new way to do a Godzilla movie because I’m looking forward to that far more than I am the American follow-up that will just reuse old monsters and destroy new cities while following characters no one cares about.
Directors: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi
Writer: Hideaki Anno
Studio: Toho Films
Run Time: 2 hrs