Toho’s 29th entry in its long-running GODZILLA franchise, Shin Godzilla (also known as Godzilla Resurgence), is perhaps the most intellectually mature film in the series, easily matching the depth and power of the original Gojira from 1954. Already a colossal hit in Japan, here in the states it opened to special previews on October 3rd in Los Angeles and October 5th in New York. The film will open wide for a limited engagement running from October 11th to October 18th.
Make no mistake — in methodology and manufacture, this is a distinctly un-American movie (though not necessarily anti-American): there are no heroic movie-star protagonists, no cliched plot derivations, no adherence to formula, not even another monstrous foe for the titular character to fight.
What the filmmakers have explored cinematically, and magisterially so, is a hyper-realistic depiction of what the bureaucratic response would be to Godzilla. In that regard it owes more to Sidney Lumet’s Fail Safe and John Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May (where discussions about, or reactions to, the central conflict or problem carry just as much, if not more, weight than the main issue itself), than it does to any other kaiju film, whether produced by Toho or another Japanese studio. Whereas 1954’s Gojira used Godzilla as a metaphor for the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Godzilla of Shin Godzilla represents an unknown quantity that modern, fossilized, stifled bureaucracy is simply unequipped to deal with. In that regard, the tragic, operatic tone of the original Gojira has been replaced with an intellectual cynicism, piercing the respectable facade of politics and exposing its petty underbelly.
The film opens, as they always do, with a “disturbance.” But what follows is the most exquisitely scripted and coordinated ballet consisting of political maneuvering, bureaucratic machinations, and “cover your ass” plotting as multitudes of career politicians in obeisance to the Japanese Prime Minister attempt to suggest solutions to the Godzilla problem that have more to do with protecting their political legacy rather than affecting an efficacious solution. This continues throughout the film as the wheels-within-wheels plotting feels like something out of Frank Herbert’s DUNE series.
It should be clear that although Godzilla is the prime mover of the plot, he is secondary to it. This should not concern Kaiju fans as the filmmakers have wisely chosen to retain Akira Ifukube’s iconic score to accompany Godzilla’s appearances and rampages. The presence of the late Japanese maestro’s score should remind contemporary Hollywood producers that there is a great deal of merit in using a musical score that has an identifiable melody rather than a score that is nothing more than glorified sound design. Indeed, the power of that continuity and recognizability can’t be underestimated.
Godzilla in Shin Godzilla is presented as a malevolent, destructive force of nature. It’s physical design is that of a nightmare from Hell instead of merely a large saurian. This is a Godzilla that emerged from a Clive Barker nightmare, with broken, sinister flesh exposing tormented, angry muscle. Shin Godzilla’s atomic death ray is staggering to behold, starting out as thermonuclear fire but soon morphing into a scintillating blue laser. The latter presentation shoots from his dorsal fins, too, in a spectacular light-show evoking the first stages of Kubrick’s Beyond the Infinite from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Due to the film’s unconventional, non-Hollywood delivery, Shin Godzilla may not appeal to those who are expecting typical Hollywood product. However, Shin Godzilla is a Godzilla film that could have been appreciated by the likes of Orson Welles and John Cassavetes — and that is no small feat.
(To learn more, and to find out what theaters are showing the movie, go to Funimation’s Shin Godzilla website.)
— review by David Mele, 10/06/2016