Shin Gojira (2016), U.S. Release Reviewed
This evening in a packed theater in west Michigan, I watched an English sub-titled print of Shin Gojira (2016) distributed by Funimation. Before I get too far into my review I will comment that there are some minor spoilers. I won’t reveal the ending or major events, but I will comment on Godzilla going through metamorphoses (which is hardly a secret at this point). The film is unlike any other Godzilla film, and in tone most closely resembles Gojira (1954). Much like Honda’s seminal entry, this is also a political film, but in Shin Gojira at heart, being a Daikaiju film, with a strong political story carrying the weight of the big guy. And giant monster film it is. This Godzilla is the most destructive manifestation of power ever depicted in over 30 films. Viewers expecting raw visceral energy will not be disappointed.This creature might be the most destructive monster depicted in film ever.
This is the first Godzilla film for Toho since 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars. Gone are the kung-fu guys, aliens, comic-relief, myriad Daikaiju, and ray-gun weaponry. (We do see some crushed tanks though). Shin Gojira presents a politically active Japan, with several layers and branches of government. This results in a lot of dialogue, but it is done in an intelligent and non-expositionary manner and I seemed to pick up on what was going on. Only the introduction of a Japanese-American diplomat “Special Envoy” (actress Satomi Ishihara), aspiring to be a U.S. President failed to hold my interest. As usual, Americans are portrayed as militaristic ilk or clueless scientists who bring in the stealth bombers. The other leads are superb, including Hiroki Hasegawa as a cabinet secretary, and especially Yutaka Takenouchi as an aide to the Prime Minister.
The film is contemporary and we recognize this is sometime after the 2011 Tōhoku 9.0 earthquake and associated tsunami that resulted in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear event. Also featured prominently in the story is the revision to Article 9 of Japan’s Shinjitai, among them one that would create a new National Defense Force, establishing a legal basis for Japan’s forces. Revision to Article 9 also supports the establishment of a clause that would grant the prime minister emergency powers during national crises (such as Shin Gojira rising). The film portrays two different prime ministers: one is risk aversive and worried about making the wrong call and upsetting his legacy; his successor worries about his udon getting soggy. The film refers quite a bit patriotically to the Jieitai, the Self Defense Forces (SDF): the Air SDF, the Maritime SDF, and the Ground SDF.
Another branch, consisting of a mishmash of engineers and scientists (“heretics”) struggles desperately to solve the mystery of Shin Gojira. They are analogous to the “Pacific Tech” scientists lead by Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) in War of the Worlds (1953). In pacing, this film is similar in some ways to George Pal’s classic production, with the threat slowly being revealed in different stages of evolution and mankind trying varying levels of ballistics, bombs and bigger bombs to stop the alien menace.
I think the Daikaiju community is split on the much-publicized (at least on fanboy sites) design of the adult Shin Gojira. I think it is terrific and the claws pay homage to ’54. By comparison I hated GarethGoji, with those pachderm feet and dog snout.
This Goji goes through 3 or 4 stages (I only noticed three): (1) a fish-like eel-shaped aquatic form, (2) a destructive wandering axolotyl stage, with pharyngeal pouches rather than external gills, (3) a short-lived quasi-upright mutated turkey stage, and (4) the final Shin Gojira form we see here.
The film is composed of three acts. We see the adult form unleash a maelstorm of radiant energy at the end of the second act. After the goods are delivered —oh yes we hear that familiar theme score, I wondered where can this film go from here? The third act pulled me in and I bought into the ingenuity of these politicians, scientists, engineers, and fighters. This is superb film making. My hats off to Toho and director-writer Hideaki Anno. I rate this one top 5 Godzilla: A notch below Gojira (1954) and Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), but on par with GMK (2001). Shin Gojira is my vote for the best of the modern G-Films and far superior to that mess from 2014.