By Andrew Haas
History has a funny way of repeating itself. Godzilla, or Gojira, has been a staple of Japanese cinema for decades and remains an international icon, yet it seems every time someone else tries to recreate that success, Japan is ready to reawaken the sleeping giant. In 1998, TriStar brought us the disaster that was Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla. In response, Toho brought the franchise out of a five year retirement with Godzilla 2000. Then 2014 came along and Hollywood tried again with Gareth Edward’s reboot. While it did better and is even kicking off a new franchise, fans clamored for something more authentic. Two years later and twelve years since the last official film, Toho once again brought the big lizard back in the form of Shin Godzilla (known in some areas as Godzilla Resurgence).
This reboot goes right back to the roots of the allegorical 1954 film that started it all. An enormous, radioactive creature erupts from the waters of Japan. It continues to evolve and wreaks havoc throughout Tokyo. In response, the local government struggles to collaborate with the nations of the world in finding a way to stop it.
The plot is typical Godzilla fare, which means that there isn’t that much originality added to it. However, it’s the execution that makes the plot stand out. The film sometimes goes into tongue-in-cheek territory, but it knows when it needs to be serious. Similar to the original film, Shin Godzilla serves as an allegory for national disasters, namely the 2011 earthquakes in Japan. There’s also a lot of commentary on how the world nations have different ways of handling these situations. This comes through in how the Japanese and American governments are struggling to come to an agreeable solution.
The look of the film is also pretty good. The writer and co-director is Hideaki Anno, who is known in the anime community for creating Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s interesting seeing someone make the leap from animation to a big budget live action flick, and Anno gives the film a unique style. In addition to the cuts to realistic news coverages, the cinematography and effects are pretty solid for a Japanese film. There are some impressive aerial shots that showcase the city and monster action, which add a chilling atmosphere. There’s a lot of CGI in the film and, while sometimes it’s presence is obvious, a lot of the time I was actually stunned by how good it looked.
However, all that means nothing without the big title monster himself: Godzilla. This version is actually goes through evolution stages, starting with an admittedly silly looking lizard. But when he gets to his main form, he looks awesome. He has a menacing design with jagged teeth and orange glowing cracks in his skin. He’s almost like a radioactive zombie version of the character. The best scenes are when he’s causing destruction; I really felt a sense of dread and terror watching how he lays waste to Tokyo. People in the film keep comparing him to God, making his overwhelming amount of power even scarier. I felt they nailed the more chilling concept of the character.
While Godzilla himself is the highlight, I can’t really say the same for the humans. I walked out of the movie trying to remember at least one of them. Outside of a bilingual woman who says she wants to be president someday, I couldn’t think of a single one. They’re just scientist and government archetypes that never really get the chance to stand out. So when one or more of them die by Godzilla’s actions, I don’t feel as bad as I’m supposed to because I barely knew them in the first place.
Another one of my biggest issues has little to do with the film itself and more how it translates to the states. Funimation is the American distributor of the flick and released with English subtitles. In Japan, every single location and person gets a title in big white Japanese writing hardcoded into the film. Now it may not be that big of an issue in its home nation, but here they get their own translated subs in addition to the dialogue. Because of how often people talk and titles appear, a lot of the screen is covered in words and it’s hard to pay attention to what’s visually happening when I’m trying to read everything.
In the end, Toho’s newest Godzilla reboot is a highly enjoyable addition to the series. While most of the humans are forgettable, the commentary and Godzilla himself are more than worth it. Some aspects may not work for general American audiences, especially with all the subtitles, but this is a must see for long time fans of the popular kaiju.