Why “Shin Godzilla” Deserves a Second Look

Why “Shin Godzilla” Deserves a Second Look

Toho returned with another Godzilla movie and it seemed nobody noticed. Here is my argument for why it’s more than well worth the two hours it demands of you and why it may be better than the ones we’ve been seeing from Hollywood.

This film did not do well at the box office. It certainly came nowhere near the heights of the Hollywood produced films Godzilla (2014) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). But Shin Godzilla (2016), directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, is a better Godzilla movie than either. Part of why that has to do with Toho, the Japanese production company behind the original 1954 version and all subsequent non-American live action Godzilla movies. Between 1954 and 2004 they had been making nearly five a decade. Between 2004 and 2016 was the biggest gap between their Godzilla films. Toho has an appreciation for Godzilla and puts a certain care into how to portray that creature. The Hollywood films spent too much time with the human characters, yet never really made them interesting enough to care about. They tried to make up for that with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but the fight scenes with the kaiju were obfuscated by low light and rain and you could never get a really good look at what should be your main attractions. When Shin Godzilla came along, it should have been more of a hit. Maybe there’s some over-saturation due to the American made films and how they weren’t received critically by audiences. But even a smaller overall audience doesn’t mean people didn’t go out to see it. But Toho’s film portrayed Godzilla in a big bad way that harks back and pays homage to the source material.

The movie makes the appearance of a creature like Godzilla feel real in modern society. It intertwines government response, both in Japan and the United States, with civilian response through social media posts and videos. The film is a commentary on how governments respond to disasters, attackers, and terror; and on the slow process of actually getting anything done.

We start with the Japanese response. When an explosion creates a hole in an underwater tunnel, Parliament meets to discuss matters. The film satirizes the bureaucratic procedures of government when showing them literally having to move from conference room to conference room in order to follow conduct while discussing the issues. There are murmurs of the possibility of a sea creature, but they dismiss this argument until switching on the television to find clear footage of a very large tail coming out of the water. Throughout all the constant deliberation, Godzilla is already destroying a portion of the harbor. 

So far, we’ve gotten glimpses of Godzilla in a different form than we’ve seen in other films. It left the water as more of a sea creature than the giant dinosaur-like creature we all know. Even before really meeting the monster I’m already finding the film to be an unexpectedly good comedy. The bureaucracy of dealing with a giant monster turns out to be hilarious.

I love the forms Godzilla takes throughout the film. It begins as a very goofy looking giant lizard with neck gills that spills a mysterious red liquid, and it has giant googly eyes that bulge from its head. Its mouth makes what could be a demented grin, if it could smile. One might be taken aback by Godzilla’s design in the beginning of the film, but it evolves into the iconic kaiju we know. In an early form Godzilla is only as big as the buildings themselves, but by the end it becomes far superior.

The United States enters the picture after missile attacks from helicopters, tanks, and jet planes prove useless on Godzilla. The Japanese government requests the US’s aid since they have a treaty that allows the US to come in and destroy the monster. This clears a path for the Japanese government to take less responsibility if its own people are killed in the attack. This adds to the satire, showing what contradictory lengths a nation will go to achieve something while avoiding getting their hands too dirty. The more they talk about what to do, the more destructive Godzilla gets in the meantime. When the US does arrive, it’s too late yet again. Godzilla unleashes its full power: its explosive breath turns to a concentrated laser that radiates and destroys a large portion of the city. All the waiting, paperwork, and meetings have taken so long that Godzilla has already done more damage than it would have done if the processes of government weren’t so caught in its own net.

Shin Godzilla is a brilliant satire about nations and a love letter to the original Godzilla film. The original score and sound effects from 1954, used when the kaiju burrows through the city, do sound a bit dated and anachronistic, but they also add a charm and personality to the film, lending to the comedy that surrounds all the action and deliberation. It’s a movie well worth viewing. The special effects may not be as good as in giant Hollywood films, but there’s an engaging story, fast and fun editing, and epic depictions of Godzilla’s powers. It is available to rent on Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes.

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