With the first cinematic appearance in 1954, the most popular (dai)kaiju celebrated its 31st film in 2016, with only two non-Japanese (all in TOHO production) instalments: one by Roland Emmerich (1998), the other by Gareth Edwards (2014). Hold your eye-roll. Shin Godzilla might be re-telling the same old story, but it does so with knowledge of its contexts, being it the nuclear (in)security – intensified by the Fukushima, national and international politics, fight between the military and scientific (check your country budget allocations), or the need of a crack team of lone wolves, nerds, troublemakers, outcasts, academic heretics and general pains-in-the-bureaucracy, as well as of own history as a pop cultural phenomenon.
Brought to life by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, Shin Godzilla already managed to become both, a box office sensation, and a face palm galore motivator. While the first might be quite obvious – it’s Godzilla, it’s been some 12 year since the previous Japan movie, and 2016 is a year of popular genres reboots in Japanese cinema. The main reason of the latter lies in the fact, that the film has more in common with Monty Python’s Life of Brian than the notorious destruction movie we’ve gotten used to in the previous years. I mean, when shortly into the movie it was pointed out, that the crucial question to resolve was what department is responsible, so the government doesn’t make fools of themselves, there popped up that dialogue of Brian being caught up and his friends deciding to call a discussion just after having decided on no more briefing, and action only.
Not in that different humour, Shin Godzilla is a self-aware movie, that takes itself seriously in all its campiness with colours flying in markedly muted tones than Anno’s Cutie Honey (2004), brushing its tongue on various aspects of national and international politics, with the United States being first to come with an ultimate solution – bombing that might cause more destruction than the creature -, or debate about sharing sensitive data and granting access to the national scientific databases.
The self-awareness is demonstrated not only in re-taking and commenting on the well-known storytelling tropes, fictional cameos (Goro Maki – same name as the journalist in the 1967 Son of Godzilla), but mainly in the creature itself. With Higuchi being responsible for Godzilla’s looks, the kaiju evolves through mainly its Shōwa (1954 – 1975) and Heisei (1984 – 1995) bodies and capabilities, accommodating to the environment’s challenges, evolving from a kind of monstrous sea snake and becoming a ferociously cool rebooted species for Post-Millenium era. We pretty much see the creature become Godzilla in all its promised and delivered monstrosity. And when it starts to ravage Tokyo, it’s ravage overload. You get it all: fire and laser beams, and of course the old-fashioned stomping and tail wagging.
Accordingly, the overall acting is directed toward the utmost ceremonial solemnity overload, that together with the editing and soundtrack flawlessly steers between absurd, nerve-wrenching, and emotional. Letting you smirk and laugh, wiping that smile off your face, and repeat all of it or just blast you with all at once. All that without diminishing the message that has been with Godzilla from its beginnings: be careful with the powers you cannot control, namely the nuclear power. For Japan this is, for obvious reasons, a very sensitive issue. Not only because of being the first and only country hit by an A-bomb, suffering a very harsh reminder with Fukushima incident, but, which is not unrelated, as a country that officially vouches for nuclear power plants, arguing with what is a fact – that most of the country’s natural energy resources are gone or almost gone. Even with such a grim reminder, Shin Godzilla is that movie you enjoy because it managed to modernized nostalgic, and mix campiness, action and destruction by an animatronics creature, and kept straight face to deliver an always up-to-date social commentary without mocking.
Personal note: I might be falling for Hiroki Hasegawa.