Shin Godzilla

Shin Godzilla ★★★★½

If there was only one Godzilla film that I could recommend to people, including people not already fans of the series, it would be this one. It may sound blasphemous to say that anything in the series would be able to top the original 1954 film, yet after rewatching this again the other day I do feel confident in saying that this is the finest Godzilla film ever made. A nuanced, mature, hilarious, satirical, and scathing indictment on the Japanese government’s damaging bureaucracy. This is a film that takes the “Godzilla as political metaphor” belief and dials it up to 11. No longer simply a metaphor for the dangers of nuclear weapons, this Godzilla has been crafted as a full on political roast of the Japan’s pathetic real life disaster response. Some historical context is necessary to fully appreciating this film. In 2011 Japan suffered an absolutely horrific earthquake that resulted in an even more devastating tsunami. This earthquake/tsunami combination resulted in nearly 20,000 deaths as well as billions of dollars in damages. The earthquake also caused a nuclear meltdown to a power plant in Fukushima, resulting in the worst nuclear disaster in the world since Chernobyl. The Japanese government was heavily criticized and held to blame for the sheer level of destruction and fatalities. The general international consensus is that the Japanese government’s slow response to handling the crisis lead to further destruction and death. Flash forward 5 years and this new Japanese film “Shin Godzilla” is released, pulling absolutely no punches and directly referencing the 2011 tragedies at every turn. The film’s story hits the ground running and only continues to speed up from there. A giant monster has appeared in Tokyo Bay and is slowly making its way to the city central, leaving an unimaginable level destruction in its wake. The film is told from the point of view of the Japanese politicians in charge of handling the situation, including the Prime Minister himself. What unfolds is a never ending series of boardroom meetings that is simultaneously hilarious and infuriating. The depiction of the government, however, is not shown as apathetic. On the contrary every politician, especially the Prime Minister, is shown as an empathetic figure that only wants to do the right thing in saving the citizens of Japan while also stopping this threat. The problem that arises is that no one in the government can agree on a damn thing. Whenever one highly ranked official makes a suggestion there comes another official who disagrees, resulting in a Prime Minister well in over his head unable to have enough of a backbone to make any decision whatsoever. There are some legitimately funny moments to come out of these political debates, such as a running gag of these politicians moving from one board room to another for every single new topic that needs to be discussed. This results in some brilliantly comedic scenes poking fun at the sheer absurdity of ineffectual bureaucracy. If all of this political board room discussions sound boring I cannot assure you enough that it is absolutely riveting. The film is moving at a breakneck pace, with dialog and scenes flying so fast you fear you might get whiplash. There is an immediacy to the entire film, a true feeling of everything happening in real time and every second that passes means more people die. This is not simply an attack of Japanese politics, however, as a strong sense of nationalism is portrayed as well. Without spoiling the plot the only time real progress is made to saving the city is when the bureaucratic red tape is cut completely and actual Japanese citizens band together for a common cause. An overarching feeling that “Japan will prevail” hangs over the entire film. The political hold that the U.S. has over Japan is also a major theme running throughout the film. While the story never portrays the U.S. in a negative light it does convey a nationalistic desire for Japan to finally come out from under the shadow of America after their defeat in World War 2. These are some heavy political themes that linger with you long after the movie is over. Godzilla himself, more than in any other film, is not so much a character but just a walking force of nature featuring a brand new, striking and highly disturbing design. Godzilla’s body is sinewy and cracked, with gnarled teeth and beady lifeless eyes that result in the a legitimately creepy interpretation of the monster which only adds to the thematic metaphors. The only real problem I have with the film is the final act’s resolution. So much care and effort had been put in to make this the most authentic, realistic depiction to how a government would handle such an unprecedented situation, that the climax of the film does come across as underwhelming. The ending can’t help but feel perfunctory, as the filmmakers felt obligated to give an over the top resolution to how to get rid of Godzilla once and for all. While the ending still does convey the same themes as the rest of the story, the actual resolution feels more like an afterthought to the more interesting conflicts earlier in the film. Another small complaint is about the inconsistent visual effects. Bad special effects are pretty synonymous with the Godzilla franchise, however it is especially noticeable here based on the varying level of believability throughout the film. Some special effects shots look fantastic; for the first time in a Japanese Godzilla film the big guy himself is completely CGI and in many scenes of him slowly trudging through buildings looks shockingly real. Yet then there are times where the CGI looks so awful and glaringly fake that it can’t help but take you out of the film. These are minor complaints though, overall this is a rich, dense, immensely satisfying movie and (for my money) the most cerebral and best out of the entire series.

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