Shin Godzilla

Shin Godzilla ★★★★

The dark and bitterly realistic tone of a majority of Hideaki Anno's work tends to obscure the fact that he is a lifelong fan of tokusatsu and kaiju films/shows, having stated his admiration for the practical effects, stunt work, and costumes that go into the many classic special effects bonanzas Japan is in no shortage of. This has bleed through his entire career, one of his student films was an episode-long homage/sequel to Ultraman and his prior live-action film, the fun-as-hell Cutie Honey, took completely unabashed influence from contemporary tokusatsu's manic energy, so it should probably come to no surprise that when he was asked by Toho, protective owners of the biggest kaiju property of all time Godzilla, to direct a film that would rejuvenate interest in the character now that a decade passed from the last Japanese film, Anno's response....was to turn them down completely and presume he wasn't up for the job.

Anno's difficulties in coping with depression re-emerged during the production of Evangelion 3.0, having to wrestle the original IP out of his former studio Gainax's hands and constantly seeing the script re-written and re-written, sometimes even after animation sequences had been completed. Returning to his most cherished property was a demoralizing experience for Anno, and for his own mental health he opted to indefinitely push back the fourth and final Evangelion film just to recover. Toho's request was simply bad timing, and two months later Anno decided to reconsider their offer, especially with the agreement that Shinji Higuchi, special effects designer and close friend, would also be involved as a co-director. Shin Godzilla would prove to be the antidote to Anno's creative burnout, becoming hailed as one the best Japanese movies of 2016 and doing so with its nail-biting criticism of bureaucracy and returning to the themes of total dread in the midst of a monster's senseless rampage.

With a giant monster destroying and evolving at a rapid pace, the labyrinthine government policies and strident democracy proves to be a biggest threat the people of Japan have in a crisis like this. Anno deftly explores in excruciating ways the rules and formalities the bureaucratic system of Japan's politics are tied up in, wasting time in meetings intended to discuss the possibilities of meetings and doing nothing thanks to the long chains of command that require each link to be consulted. Insufficiency lies in the obstructive need to "save face", to delay tackling the problem head-on, to try and find the opinions of scientific experts that obviously would have no practical answers on how to stop a rampaging monster, and as result adhering to procedures and structured debates becomes the timid response Japan's high-ranking officials are forced to accept as millions die at the hands of a rampaging horror. Generational divide becomes a major theme in the film, as a younger collective of doctors, artists, idealists, and various outsiders to the bureaucratic system become the best chance Japan has in surviving, none of them entangled in political red-tape and reflecting the everyday Japanese citizens' abilities in the absence of appropriate government response. The greatness of a country such as Japan lies not in the symbolic leadership those bumbling to talk about a conflict in their vicinity are burdened with, but rather the purposeful cooperation among its people in the wake of disaster.

Anno and Higuchi end up citing and recalling the haunting terrors those in Japan faced with the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, an influential event for the similar too-delayed actions of the government and the hopelessness once irritated radiation suggests the annihilation of humanity. This is reflected by Godzilla's design here, oozing and pulsating with an abundance of scars resembling that of a burn victim's, and the outright horrifying reality of a creature like Godzilla's existence, reminding us that he's no more than a lost creature in constant torment from his highly-radiated body, defying the goofy/cool pop-culture/MonsterVerse interpretations of the character through bleak realism on what an inherently destructive creature can demolish in a country. This is further driven by the numerous reminders that people are dying because of Godzilla, a moral quandary often acceptably handwaved in other Godzilla films that's harrowingly deconstructed here, showing civilians or JSDF combatants moments before their demise within collapsing buildings or the stirring awe of Godzilla's abilities, usually with the real-life consequences of improper evacuation measures looming from bureaucracy's shadow. A god incarnate does not care if humanity lives if he is merely stumbling his way in confusion and fear, and the film takes great measures to harken back to the serious themes of the original 1954 film with the recontextualization of Japan's then-recent tragedies holding some relevancy to it.

Shin Godzilla remains one of the smartest and impactful monster movies out there, even going so far as to dedicate a lot of its time on a human story and not on Godzilla (a deadly sign in any other scenario) that works for how thematically rich and poignant its satirical intents are regarding Japan's government system. Benefiting greatly from Anno's presence, a surplus of honorifics flying by to signal the impersonal nature of bureaucracy (and pay homage to Kihachi Okamoto's Battle of Okinawa), city views in both beauty and ruin, and long, suspenseful scenes of an enemy's attack have all been a part of Anno's wheelhouse that end up being used sublimely to convey the scope and terror within the dark interpretation of a country witnessing a creature like this for the first time, and the usage of cues from Akira Ifukube's many Godzilla scores shows the strength those pieces still have in the way they evoke anticipation and suspense (it was also nice to hear six different re-arrangements of Evangelion's "Decisive Battle", yeah I completely forgot they used that melody so often here). A stand-out Godzilla film that stands triumphantly as among the best from Toho and another great film from Anno the master.

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