Shin Godzilla

Shin Godzilla ★★★★½

An expertly-crafted, briskly-paced, deeply engaging, and near-perfect rendition of the world's most famous giant monster, Shin Godzilla is a challenging yet entertaining piece of genre filmmaking that, dare I say, surpasses even the original 1954 version in terms of its brilliantly-conceived and executed marriage of theme and spectacle, supported by (almost) uniformly excellent performances from its huge ensemble cast.

The first Godzilla film to receive a North American release in nearly two decades, I completely missed this when hit theaters in the United States for a limited run, and wasn't even aware of its existence until I began my Godzilla-thon. I'm sad I didn't get to see it in the theater but was happy to learn that Amazon Prime offers the original Japanese language cut with English subtitles to rent for only $0.99!

I was absolutely mesmerized by this film from the opening frames until the closing credits. As is explained elsewhere, this film trades the theme of Godzilla as metaphor for nuclear power for the theme of Godzilla as revealer of the inefficiencies and slow-footedness of bureaucratic agencies in the face of disasters. It's an interesting pivot, but a timely one given the Fukushima disaster (which is the stated inspiration) and the various disasters we've all witnessed in our home countries like Hurricane Katrina, in which tribalism quickly emerged in the wake of that unmitigated and languidly-ameliorated emergency.

The creature design is unlike anything we've ever seen in the series, the Godzilla incarnation in the film being an ever-evolving, tortured being that wears its horror and almost alien-like detachment from what we know of as the natural world on its distorted, gnarled, and fanged face, dotted with wildly feverish eyes that reveal the monster's sense of utter displacement and "unbelonging" in our world.

For some, the pace of the film might be overwhelming, as much of the "action" concerns various government officials discussing what to do in conference room after conference room. In one great sequence, a massive meeting adjourns, only to march right into an adjacent conference room and start a whole other meeting.

While this film courageously addresses the red-tape that can often slow and stymy a governmental response to an existential threat, that occasionally is even a bit comedic, like the bit I described above, never is there an entirely jaded or sarcastic tone that indicates that the assembled bureaucrats don't want to help or have sinister ulterior motives. They are just slow to act on account of the systems they've established that results in the loss of lives and property, but they aren't portrayed as villains for their ineffectiveness.

And of course later, they finally get their act together and coalesce around a solution to their Godzilla problem, which really is a hopeful message about unity in the face of calamity. I feel that this same situation as presented in an Americanized version of the film would paint some of these government people as actual criminals and there would be corruption and overt criminality getting in the way of solving the problem as opposed to just pure red tape. Perhaps the absence of this dynamic is why this film didn't play particularly well in the United States.

There is a lot of talking, therefore, and it moves quickly, with the various players' titles flashed on screen as we move from one meeting to the next. Perhaps this is a turn off as well, but I loved witnessing the logic at play in addressing this insane problem and observing these people try to solve a problem that humanity has never before faced.

I also loved the sequence when the JSDF had to stage an attack against the beast. In all the previous films I've seen, the JSDF typically attacks Godzilla rather cavalierly, throwing millions of pounds of ordnance against the creature, even in cities, almost always entirely ineffectively, to try to stop or slow its destruction of Tokyo or whatever city the kaiju has invaded. Here, we get to witness the military engaging in the necessary approvals and constitutional protocols that have been in place since WWII, and even after the authorization of military force is granted by the beleaguered Prime Minister, we get to peer in to the strategy at play. It's not just fire a million missiles and machine guns at Godzilla. There's an actual plan, and sequence of events that is followed that feels very authentic and methodical.

Really the only really complaint I have about this movie and what holds it back from being a modern masterpiece in my opinion is the TERRIBLE decision to cast an actor who can barely speak English as American Kayoco Anne Patterson (Satomi Ishihara), a special envoy of the United States who is sent to Japan to negotiate with them regarding their response. Predictably, the United States wishes to use excessive force to neutralize the monster and another theme at play is a question regarding the nation of Japan's actual sovereignty and ability to make decisions about its welfare and defense. This American character is ENTIRELY unbelievable in every way and it's really puzzling as to why she was casted in this role, given the number of actual Americans who are of Japanese heritage who could have played this part quite well.

Bottom line, this is a hugely satisfying film that literally gets everything right about Godzilla and is a true homage to, and also a fantastic reboot of, the original film. I hate to say that it's a better film than the original because obviously it wouldn't even exist without the original, but I believe it outshines that film in terms of its technical aspects, characters, and thematic relevance in a new era. Also, the music is stellar through and through and even nods to Akira Ifukube's iconic original cues. This is thoroughly engaging movie that I can't wait to watch again. A MUST WATCH for Godzilla fans and fans of international cinema, and those who can appreciate logic and conversation to go along with their disaster movie spectacle. A total homerun!

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