'Shin Godzilla' isn't Toho's vainglorious attempt at re-capturing the
success of recent Hollywood adaptations of its iconic Japanese monster.
Quite the contrary, co-directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi know
better than try to outdo their Western counterparts in terms of
spectacle, and instead have made the astute decision to make a
distinctly Japanese 'Godzilla' that will most certainly resonate with
their home audience, even at the expense of alienating some
non-Japanese viewers without the same cultural or historical context.
In fact, we dare say that their film has the unique distinction of
being both political allegory as well as real-world horror, and is
surprisingly effective on either count.
No other recent event has been so seared in the Japanese consciousness
as that of the 2011 Tohoko earthquake and tsunami as well as the
consequent Fukushima nuclear disaster, not just because of the hundreds
of thousands of people affected but also because it exposed how
terribly unprepared the Japanese government was with handling a crisis
of such proportions. The parallels here are unmistakable from an
indecisive Prime Minister (Ren Ôsugi) to the frustratingly bureaucratic
attitude of his Cabinet ministers to the embarrassing revelation of his
poor judgment (such as during a live press conference where Godzilla
makes landfall right after he specifically tells the people that the
creature will not) and indeed meant no less than a searing indictment
of just how inept the Naoto Kan's administration was during 3/11.
Yet it isn't hard to imagine how a movie based solely on such criticism
would quickly turn monotonous, not least because the lead characters
here are all political/ Government figures among them, Hiroki
Hasegawa's outspoken and gutsy Deputy Chief of Cabinet Secretary Rando
Yaguchi, Yutaka Takenouchi's opportunistic Aide to the Prime Minister
Hideki Akasaka, and Satomi Ishihara's Special Envoy for the United
States Kayoko Ann Patterson and each is defined only in terms of his
or her role and ambition in relation to the ongoing calamity. None too
subtle is the point, emphatically and unequivocally made, that while
politicians wield the ingenuity and authority it takes to manage an
unprecedented catastrophe, each is also simultaneously weighting the
cost or opportunity of every decision or maneuver to his or her
Just as illuminating, especially to the Japanese, is the strengths or
limits of its military might post-WWII, seeing as how it has never yet
seen the need to invoke the use of its Self-Defense Forces (SDF) or
call in the help of the US military under the US-Japan Security Treaty.
Under the pretense of exterminating Godzilla, Anno's screenplay
imagines what it would take not just for the SDF to be activated but
also how US intervention would likely come with some strings attached.
How and if at all it is meant to play into the current Shinzo Abe's
push for an expansion of the SDF role is quite perceptively left up to
the audience's interpretation, but there is no doubting that the
introduction of the United Nations late into the film is meant to
demonstrate how powerless nations not on its Security Council may be to
resolutions passed by its five members on non-member countries.
Yes, if it isn't yet clear, there is no intent here to highlight the
human dimension of such an event; rather, it is domestic politics as
well as the global world order that forms the basis of this re-
incarnation of Godzilla. As a reboot, 'Shin Godzilla' starts on a clean
slate, beginning with an underwater disturbance that briefly makes its
way onto shore before going back out to sea, then returning as a much
more highly evolved organism that grows and grows ever more fearsome.
Fans though will not be disappointed as with past iterations of
Godzilla, this latest version not only has the ability to radiate
highly destructive atomic rays from its dorsal fins, it also can set
streets of buildings ablaze by spewing fire out of its mouth. It does
take time to get used to the new 'ShinGoji' design, but rest assured
that this beast is every bit as terrifying as it should be.
In fact, that palpable sense of fear is twofold first, in tying the
origins of Godzilla to Japan's ignominious nuclear history; and second,
in showing with utmost realism the wanton destruction of notable
landmarks in Tokyo by the monster. The former has to do as much with
the United States' alleged dumping of radioactive waste in Tokyo Bay in
the 1950s and 1960s as accusations of Japan's own disposal of toxic ash
from the burning of Fukushima's nuclear waste into the same waters. The
latter, on the other hand, sees entire districts in Tokyo ripped or
flattened by Godzilla's rampage, impressively staged by co-director cum
VFX supervisor Anno (also known for last summer's 'Attack of Titan')
using a mix of old- fashioned puppetry and modern CGI. In particular,
the combined US- Japan military assault on Godzilla along the banks of
the Kano River and the finale in downtown Shinjuku is stunning,
especially in imagining the magnitude of destruction that Godzilla
could inflict on modern-day Japan.
Yet if the promotional materials have given the impression that 'Shin
Godzilla' is an action-packed blockbuster like its most recent
Hollywood predecessors, you'll do best to temper those expectations.
Sure, there are beautiful sequences of Godzilla wreaking havoc, but
because the focus is on displaying different types of political
personalities and their responses towards such a crisis of proportions,
there is a lot of talking (as well as 'talking heads') throughout the
film and especially in the beginning. By tapping into the paranoia,
fear and frustration of their fellow Japanese following their own
recent real-life crises, Anno and Higuchi have made a contemporary
'Godzilla' that is sure to roar loud with their home crowd and by
that count, this is as its Japanese title suggests, a new and true
incarnation as relevant as it is frightening.