I’ve heard the most dangerous creature is man,
And I suppose that must be true.
We love coming up with formidable monsters
That threaten our whole point of view,
And somehow we manage to conquer the foe
And add to the others we slew.
So if such a creature did rampage and roar
We’ll have all this fiction to clue
Our panicking, delicate, desperate species
On what we should probably do.
MPA rating: PG-13
Giant monsters and mech suits have long fascinated Japan and many a young boy, but I honestly have never been a big fan of the genre. In the past, I could attribute this to the poor quality of the old Godzilla movies with their laughable acting and near-visible zippers. Yet I also am not much enamored of modern effects extravaganzas like Transformers or the 2014 American version of Godzilla. There’s a fine line between spectacle and noise, and a human element worth caring about is an oft-overlooked necessity. So why did I add 2016’s Shin Godzilla to my Blindspot list? Well, not only did it win Japan’s equivalent of Best Picture but I’ve heard plenty of people sing its praises, calling it a more realistic take on the classic Godzilla story. And while I agree with that to a point, Godzilla is still Godzilla.
Directed by Hideaki Anno of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame, the film doesn’t waste much time before an underwater disturbance strikes Tokyo Bay, sending the Japanese government into a tizzy. One young cabinet member named Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) is the first to suggest that a giant creature is the cause, and the way he is scoffed at before being proven correct makes it clear who the main character is amid all the cabinet meetings. Indeed, cabinet meetings are a notable fixture of the film as their bureaucratic hesitance contrasts sharply with the rampant destruction of a radioactive lizard. In this way, it certainly is more realistic, suggesting that a disaster of this scale and suddenness will already have wreaked its havoc by the time the government figures out what to do about it. Hope seems lost but for Yaguchi’s bold efforts leading a brain trust to develop an innovative way of stopping the monster once and for all, aided by an attractive envoy from the U.S. (Satomi Ishihara).
Shin Godzilla is effective in its satire of government inefficiencies, though its cabinet meetings grow tedious with repetition, but what of the creature itself? Unlike many Godzilla films where the monster pops out of the ocean fully formed, this version actually goes through several stages of rapid evolution, all of which leave destruction in their wake. I realize it’s unfair to compare Japan’s special effects with Hollywood’s, and the scenes of toppled buildings and flying rubble are top notch, but the Japanese effects do fall short in depicting the creature. Its snake-like first form especially is almost laughable with its googly-eyed stare, and while the later versions are more menacing and massive, I feel like Godzilla’s unblinking eyes still make it feel somewhat fake. That being said, the final battle to take out the giant is appropriately awe-inspiring in its scale, giving the humans a chance at heroism rather than just panicking and reacting.
Shin Godzilla (or Shin Gojira to use the famed monster’s Japanese name) can be translated as “New Godzilla,” and it indeed tries to start from scratch, doing away with any past films or the reinvention of the creature as some kind of protector fighting other monsters, which is the direction Hollywood took with the recent American films. While the film has its merits, I must admit I fail to see why it would warrant major awards attention, outside the technical categories. I suppose Godzilla just looms larger in the Japanese consciousness, especially since the film incorporates scenes that echo real-life Japanese tragedies like the 2011 earthquake and tsunami just as the original Godzilla films derived from concerns over nuclear fallout. Shin Godzilla may not reinvent the giant monster movie, but its satirical take on the genre makes it a worthwhile member that is far better than the days of men in rubber suits.
Best line: (one of the bureau directors) “Man is more frightening than Gojira.”
Rank: Honorable Mention
© 2021 S.G. Liput
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