Shin Godzilla (2016)

*. There’s a moment near the beginning of Shin Godzilla where my eyes grew wide with amazement. It comes when the science team is trying to figure out what kind of a creature Godzilla is, how he processes energy, for example, and how he is evolving on the fly. I couldn’t really follow everything that was being said, but I remember thinking “Wait. They want me to take this seriously?”
*. This may be the newest thing about Shin Godzilla, where “Shin” has a host of meanings, being a word interpretable only in context. It could mean “new,” “true” or “real,” or even “God.” It has all those connotations here, with the idea that this Godzilla is something real being perhaps the biggest break with tradition.
*. Whatever else you want to say about the campy charm of Toho’s monster, you were never meant to think of him, or Mothra, or Ghidorah, or princesses from Mars, as being real. But right from the start of Shin Godzilla we’re dropped into a documentary-style epic, cutting quickly between locations and a small army of government officials, and it all seems very earnest and naturalistic (though the excessive labeling of places and minor characters is also consistent with the Millennium series Godzilla movies).
*. How will Japan respond to this threat? In addition to the science talk there are matters of international diplomacy to be considered, and the tanking stock market (will Godzilla send Japan into default?).

*. This turn (or evolution, or rebirth) into realism is, however, shockingly undercut by the monster’s first appearance. I think everyone’s first response on seeing this version, which I think is Godzilla 3.0 and is likened by one scientist to a lungfish, is laughter. It looks utterly ridiculous, with googly unblinking eyes, tiny undeveloped arms and baby legs that don’t allow it to walk upright so it has to wiggle along like the Mothra larvae. Is this a joke?
*. I’m not sure how it was intended. Perhaps as a way of surprising us all the more when the next version of Godzilla bursts forth. He is a threatening sight indeed, though he moves so slowly that I found him a bit dull when he wasn’t breathing fire or shooting lasers (or what are called photon beams) out of his dorsal fins and tail. This almost, but not quite, makes up for his initial appearance. I really wish they’d left that earlier part out. Because why does Godzilla have to be evolving in real time anyway?

*. I mentioned one of the other meanings of Shin being God. This is made explicit a couple of times in the film when people describe Godzilla as “a perfect organism surpassing man” (in what respects, exactly?) and “truly a God incarnate.”
*. Many reviewers found it talky. Boy is it ever. I think the script must have been nearly 300 pages, which is astounding for a kaiju movie, where you expect a good chunk of the screen time to be spent watching a monster flattening a city. Shin Godzilla doesn’t stint on the city-stomping but goes overboard in trying to provide too much of the political response. Even by the end I would have been unable to keep any of the characters straight aside from the two female leads.
*. Does the approach work? Well, it really is a new direction. Not at all like the early Toho Godzilla movies, or the 1998 Hollywood version, or Legendary’s reboot that had come out a couple of years earlier. I give Shin Godzilla credit for this. And I think the directing team of Shinji Higuchi and Hideaki Anno do a good job sticking to an independent vision. Also, despite my caveats about his movement, I liked the design of the new Godzilla. The way his lower jaw unhinges was maybe a bit too much, but when he starts going nuclear he looks great. Also the CGI work was first rate, which is pretty much the one deal-breaker in a movie like this.
*. That said, I also found the film strangely static and uncompelling. Maybe it was the way Godzilla kept falling asleep, prefiguring his transformation at the end into a giant hood ornament. And though I like the way human ingenuity triumphs over the big guy (usually it requires another giant monster to take him down), the actual method employed struck me as sort of dirty trick. It also looked a bit silly, like Godzilla was having dental work done after being anaesthetized.
*. So: not a bad Godzilla movie, and one that even non-fans might find enjoyable. Given its unique style of storytelling — at least unique for this genre — I’m interested in what will follow.

4 thoughts on “Shin Godzilla (2016)

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