Off the coast of Japan, a massive “anomalous” underwater volcano causes damage to the underground tunnel system and arouses the attention of the Prime Minister and his cabinet. But is it really a volcano…
Of course, it is really the most famous of all kaiju: Godzilla. Shin Godzilla (or Godzilla Resurgence as it is being dubbed in the West) is the first Toho-released Godzilla film in 12 years (in the meantime, we were given the 2014 American-made reboot of the monster from Gareth Edwards). After selling over five million tickets in Japan, the film has received a limited engagement release in the United States.
The short form of this review takes a single sentence to convey: If 2014’s Godzilla did not itch that kaiju scratch that you have been suffering from, then a) that is a very strange ailment you are dealing with and b) Shin Godzilla is your antidote…if you can handle heavy dialogue interludes.
Shin Godzilla gets off to a fast start: cutting quick between different footage, conversations unfolding with haste, a press conference abbreviated by a title card. This pacing initially presents itself as a comic expediency for exposition, but it becomes clear that it is merely the stylistic construction of the film itself.
From the onset, the film sets itself up as a political satire, the sheer number of people involved in the film’s conversation enough to evoke a cynical laugh. At one point, a lowly aide even makes comment on the need for so many meetings, to which another worker replies that such is the way of democracy.
For what it is worth, this flurry of white collar banter is entertaining. It takes focus away from Godzilla himself, but that is perhaps the point, showing an ill-equipped bureaucracy that does not know how to handle such a situation.
These characters do eventually learn what they are dealing with in an exposition dump MacGuffin involving a disgraced scientist. Sure, it is a lazy way to introduce the Godzilla name into a room full of people who otherwise have no knowledge of such a cultural icon, but, then again, is anyone going to worry about realism in a monster movie?
Godzilla himself holds an intriguing metamorphose aesthetic. The evolving creature begins as a scaly whale creature who slithers across city streets as he bleeds from his flapping gills and stares out of his buggy, soulless lizard eyes, eyes that are comical in their immobility. Only later will he become the standing T-Rex lizard that we recognize, his now beady eyes equally dead as before.
The monster is most properly captured in all of its glory midway through the film, with the rippling red radiation of his body illuminated against the night sky. Compared to the rather dull, monochromatic dinosaur of the 2014 version, this monster is awesome to behold.
Shin Godzilla is intensified continuity style at its highest. Closeups in wide angle presented in series is a repeated visual tactic. Some scenes rhythmically cut at 2-second (sometimes even 1-second) intervals. There isn’t a ton of mobile camera, but when there is it is handheld and very evident. This all adds to the breakneck pacing of the film—arguably its strongest asset, aside from the visual spectacle of Godzilla himself. The rhythmic editing and diverse shot choices make office banter utterly fascinating to watch, despite the fact that very little is happening visually in these scenes.
Early in the film, Godzilla’s name is discussed, particularly the fittingness of “God” as a prefix. This feels an adequate comparison, so much so that when the monster first “bleeds” it is a legitimate surprise. Of course, even then his God-like power remains present. The camera throughout seems to agree with this analysis, capturing the beast as a statuesque figure over Tokyo.
In this sense, the interplay between man and monster is entertaining. More entertaining, though, is the subtextual interplay between East and West. U.S. interventionism works right into the political themes the film presents, but it also works on a jibing metatextual level. The U.S. government coldly and corruptly steps their foot into the Godzilla disaster, just as some believe that Hollywood coldly corrupted (twice) the image of Godzilla.
Shin Godzilla is certainly what it claims to be: a resurgence. Executed with verbal fury and passion, the film delights as a quirky political piece that just so happens to feature a 100-story monster at the center of it. The action set pieces, too, are spectacles, although to a lesser degree than one might expect. But it is really the idea of Godzilla, not the monster itself, that fuels this effective narrative. Perhaps this lack of action is what will make audiences gawk, but it also provides an interesting take on a genre with a long history.
Shin Godzilla: B+
There are some interesting shot choices in this film that I am still thinking about as I write this review. Certain shots will use the subjectivity of a piece of technology in a POV shot: once early on in a (very) quick shot coming from under a phone as it is placed back on the receiver, and one more notable shot later when a room full of scientists view the screen of a computer. There is also one notable shot (one of the longer takes in the movie, which makes it even more notable) that cranes out as two characters talk, but these characters remain in the corner of the frame as the camera pulls out.
And that’s all I have to say about that. I enjoyed this film, more so than Gareth Edwards’ film, which was in turn better than the 1998 Roland Emmerich iteration. It feels like an upward trajectory to me, which makes me wonder what the future of Godzilla will be, both in Hollywood and Toho.
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)