In the battle between Japan’s “King of the Monsters” and his American cousin, Shin Godzilla wins by a knockout.
Shin Godzilla (2016)
Directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi
Screenplay by Hideaki Anno Starring Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi and Satomi Ishihara
The 29th film in the popular series finds a rebooted monster raining terror down on Tokyo. A crack team of misfit scientists confront in-surmountable political and bureaucratic red tape, and an imminent US nuclear strike, to save Japan and its people.
“This is a true Godzilla film: funny, self-aware, devilishly clever and delightfully cornball.”
Over the past six decades Godzilla has faced many fearsome foes—King Ghidorah, Mothra, Rodan, even King Kong—but none more threatening than his American cousin, the star of Gareth Edwards’s celebrated 2014 American remake. The world asked: “has the throne of Japan’s beloved ‘King of the Monsters’ been usurped by this foreign pretender?” With that, the battle was on, and Japan’s Toho Studios decided it was time to bring their A game, teaming directors Hideaki Anno (Evangelion) and Shinji Higuchi (Attack on Titan) to create Shin Godzilla— the 29th Godzilla film and a significant reboot of the 62-year-old movie monster.
There is strange activity in Tokyo Bay. What officials initially suspect is only volcanic activity turns out to be a massive, gilled eel that begins tearing a swath of destruction through the city. Official-dom is paralyzed until low-level cabinet official Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) forms an E-team of misfit scientists to circumvent red tape and save Japan. The creature evolves into a truly terrifying iteration of Godzilla—an indestructible, 300-foot combination of computer-generated and model animation that can unhinge its jaws to unleash firestorms or cut skyscrapers in half with an intense heat beam. When the American military orders a nuclear attack on Tokyo to contain the beast, the countdown is on for Yaguchi and his team to save the day.
The film provides an engaging snapshot of Japan’s current political and social preoccupations. Where the 1954 original presented a metaphor for the atomic destruction during World War II, Shin Godzilla reflects national anxiety around the 3.11 Tohoku disaster through playfully dark satire and terrifyingly familiar images: cars are tossed in the air by surging waters during the larval monster’s first landfall, bureaucrats dither in endless meetings and politicians foist vague untruths on a panicked public. Japan’s ambivalent relationship with the US is explored with a comical lack of subtlety as the countdown to the American nuclear strike becomes as much a threat as the creature itself. In another subplot, the brash, young Japanese-American envoy Kiyoko Anne Paterson (Satomi Ishihara) drops her presidential ambitions as she connects with Yaguchi and her own pure Japanese DNA. Shin Godzilla is rooted in a soft liberal nationalism that condemns Japan’s institutions while celebrating those qualities that the Japanese admire most: industriousness, cooperation, sincerity and sacrifice.
The film has been a runaway hit in Japan with some theatres hosting special screenings that allow usually staid Japanese audiences to cheer. The film will definitely play better for domestic audiences. Still, there is much to cheer about. The cast is great and are clearly enjoying themselves; major actors pop up at regular intervals in the tiniest of cameos—everyone, it seems, wants their chance to get stomped. First and foremost, this is a true Godzilla movie. Edwards’s Godzilla was strong, but one felt the monster had shown up in the wrong film: a much slicker, mega-budget Ameri- can popcorn extravaganza. Shin Godzilla retains the clunky charms of the original series but gives us something more; it is funny, self-aware, devilishly clever and delightfully cornball when it wants to be. Sorry American Godzilla, Shin Godzilla wins this bout by a knockout.
The film is enjoying an extended run of the atrical screenings in select cities across North America. Watch for an upcoming screening in your area.
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