Critical Review Of The Film Shin Godzilla

Released in 2016, Shin Godzilla (or Godzilla Resurgence for international audiences) is the 29th Japanese Godzilla film, the first Toho Pictures produced film since 2004 and the beginning of the 4th era of Godzilla films. The previous series ended prematurely due to concerns of consistently declining ticket sales, which ultimately forced Toho to put the franchise into a hiatus, but not before celebrating the characters 50th anniversary with Godzilla: Final Wars. With a full 12 years separating Final Wars and Shin Godzilla, it was the longest break the franchise has ever taken. Following the incredible success of the 2014 American film Godzilla, Toho decided to make a film that harkens back to the franchises roots by making a standalone remake of the 1954 original Godzilla, where Godzilla is an unstoppable force, threatening both Japan and humanity’s presence on Earth. Toho made the inspired choice of hiring Hideaki Anno, well known for his role in the creation of the popular anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, to both write and direct the new film. His hiring drew much intrigue and hype from the international fanbase, who were eager to see what he would do with Godzilla. Directing alongside Anno was Shinji Higuchi, the director of the two Attack on Titans live action films. Together their intention was to make the scariest, largest and most imposing Godzilla ever put on screen.

Now to anyone who are only passingly familiar with the Godzilla franchise in the context of the cheesy ‘b-movies’ that make up the majority of the films, the character of Godzilla may come off as incredibly silly and nonsensical. For instance, “how can a 100 ft lizard monster leap into a drop kick from hundreds of metres away to kick an equally massive King Kong?” and “these are just silly and harmless monster movies, they’re not meant to be taken seriously, right?” Not exactly. While Shin Godzilla isn’t a perfect film, when you take into consideration all of its working parts along with the history of Godzilla and Japans relationship with what he represents, its easy to see how Shin Godzilla is loved not just in its home country, but is also loved by many fans internationally.

One of the aspects this film nails is the design of Godzilla. Both Anno and Higuchi’s previous work in horror and creature design merge into this interpretation of the character, with nightmarish effects. Whilst the Godzilla from the American Monsterverse franchise is intimidating, he isn’t concerned with humanity and ultimately doesn’t seem to acknowledge our existence. This presents the American version as a neutral hero who wants to restore balance to the earth. Anno and Higuchi’s Godzilla, on the other hand, is far more sinister and cold-blooded. Like the 1954 original, the film presents Godzilla as a devastating behemoth who destroys everything in his path. Anno and Higuchi’s creativity shines in this interpretation, as Godzilla takes multiple horrific forms before turning into the monster we know. His first form is revolting to look at, slithering across the streets of Tokyo, oozing blood and pus from his gills. Watching Godzilla’s slow transformation is equally terrifying and fascinating, breathing new life into the monster whilst illustrating just how unique this Godzilla is. Once he turns into his final form, Godzilla just looks formidable, his red colouration evoking a sense of rage as he tears through Tokyo. Long time fans of the monster will appreciate the reuse of Godzilla’s theme from the original film as well as some new music which really heighten the sense of dread in some chilling sequences. This Godzilla is both an ode to the original monster as well as the harkening of a new era for Godzilla in Japan. Anno and Higuchi have revitalised the character, reinstalling an aspect of the character that has been missing in recent films: fear.

Shin Godzilla is one of the most unique and interesting entries to come out of the franchise in a very long time and I think this comes from the way in which the film tries to be radically different as well as it is faithfully traditional. In both concept and structure, Shin Godzilla is very much a remake of the original. Just like the original, it is about the emergence of an immortal, radioactive monster that wreaks havoc on Japan and the attempts by the human characters to try and stop him. But Shin Godzilla modifies this idea by planting it within a modern-day context and just like how the original explored and reflected the tensions of its time regarding war and nuclear power, Shin Godzilla explores and reflects the current fears and anxieties Japan has regarding nuclear and natural disasters, government incompetency and its place in global politics. Specifically, it scrutinises the nations submissive relationship with the United States. And just like how the original was influenced by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Shin Godzilla draws direct inspiration from the 2011 Tohoku Earthquakes, the subsequent Tsunami and the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster which is one of the most crippling and deadly natural disasters to have hit Japan. Just as the original had images of destruction eerily similar to those of the bombings, Shin Godzilla very deliberately recalls the images seen during the earthquake in 2011 in its scenes of destruction. When the first form of Godzilla crawls ashore and begins to slowly trudge through the city, wiping away everything in its path, it blatantly mirrors images of the earthquake and the subsequent flooding. Additionally, when Godzilla unleashes the full power of his atomic breath later in the film, the area is heavily contaminated with radiation, similar to that of the Fukushima power plant meltdown.

But the film dives much deeper into this issue from the human side of the event through framing the story from the point of view of the government and its politicians, using this point of view to both critique and parody the Japanese government, whom many believed weren’t adequately prepared and failed to effectively respond to the environmental disasters. A new twist into the human aspect of the film is the implications of Godzilla on an international level. The story doesn’t take place in a vacuum, the Japanese characters have to juggle both Godzilla as well as their relationship with other countries, most notably the United States. This allows the story to play on the long-established power dynamics between the two nations, allowing the film to tackle important issues and go beyond its genre.

However, the hundreds of characters in this film negatively affects the story of the film. Next to none of these characters have any character development or anything interesting about them. These characters come across as just a talking head, presenting exposition into how they can defeat Godzilla. The only character given any real characterisation was Satomi Ishihara’s character Kayoko Ann Patterson, who wants to be the President eventually. This doesn’t detract from the fact that this makes Shin Godzilla the most political film in the series. Every human character is a political figure and everyone, both big and small, has a logistical role to play in the story. Which the film never makes you forget by obnoxiously planting the names of every character and location on screen. While I understand the purpose of these character introductory texts, to purposely overwhelm the audience with an abundance of characters and information to represent how the characters feel trying to resolve this situation while being constantly fed with new information, it is a headache to watch for international audiences. For Japanese audiences, this isn’t as massive an issue, as they only get one, white burnt-in text in Japanese characters. However, for international audiences, not only do we get the burnt-in text, we also get English text translating what those Japanese characters mean, on top of subtitles for what the actual characters are saying. And as the film constantly introduces new characters and locations, forcing the audience to catch up with the number of characters introduced, the majority of these scenes become frustrating to watch and honestly hurts the globalisation of this interpretation of Godzilla, as Anno and Higuchi didn’t really seem interested to correct this for international audiences.

In conclusion, I think Shin Godzilla is one of the most powerful and wonderful additions to the franchise. It both respects the central idea behind Godzilla and the history of the franchise. Anno and Higuchi are both clearly fans of the monster and understand how to faithfully adapt the original whilst applying a modern view to the story. At the same time, they are not afraid to take personal liberties with the character throughout the film, culminating in the final haunting shot of the film, leaving the viewer with a lot of questions without a lot of answers. Ultimately, this is a film that the Japanese people should and are proud of as it is targeted towards them. It is entertainment that encourages discussion for the people of Japan in order to come to terms with one of greatest natural tragedies of the modern era. The kinds of tragedies that the nation is all to familiar with. 

16 December 2021
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