I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Shin Godzilla

SHIN GODZILLA – or NEW GODZILLA, or TRUE GODZILLA, or GOD GOZILLA – is the new Japanese Godzilla movie, a regular rubber suit one even though it’s from acclaimed anime director Hideaki Anno (Neon Genesis Evangelion) (co-director Shinji Higuchi has worked on anime and live action and live action anime and did effects for the GAMERA trilogy). They’d stopped making Godzilla movies in Japan, I guess, but the recent American one by Gareth Edwards got them itching to start over again. So this is yet another do-over where they discover the King of the Monsters for the first time and he doesn’t have another monster to fight. He just has Tokyo.

There is plenty of computer animation, but also alot of the old rubber suit, animatronics and miniature models, sometimes deliberately, nostalgically old school. When Godzilla first emerges he’s in a comically fucked up form with crazy googly eyes, little nubs instead of arms and a chest that expands and contracts like an accordion. He evolves through several stages throughout the movie, so by the end he’s absorbing power and firing energy beams out of his spines like a laser show. And according to my research he is the tallest Godzilla ever, and the one with the longest, weirdest and most fucked up tail. But his eyes never quite stop looking like a turkey’s.

The monster attacks are great, but they’re actually a small percentage of the running time. That’s the reason I gotta assume some people will be horribly disappointed by SHIN GODZILLA, but it’s also the genius of it. This doesn’t seem like Toho Studios attempting to revive their franchise. It seems like them being laidback enough to let an artist riff on their movies. In a normal kaiju picture the monster attacks and then some bombers and tanks show up and some guys watch from a command center and some guys are in a lab or watching from a nearby field or hill. SHIN GODZILLA is about the processes and the bureaucracy that go into that response. The emergency meetings, committees, task forces, votes, press conferences, meetings about press conferences. Who hires those scientists? How do they get authorization to use the Self Defense Force against a creature? How do they get civilians out of the way? What do they tell the public?

They have to address the legality of mobilizing the military against Godzilla. Even when they get them there civilians are spotted and they have to go through a long chain of people before they call it off. They have to deal with evacuation, and gridlock from evacuating, with finding shelters and food for refugees, with running out of medical supplies. They can’t get American help because of the way the treaties work, then they end up having to navigate things for their interests when the U.S. and the U.N. take over command.

It’s a monster attack procedural. The level of detail gets absurd and humorous. Most people seem to take it as a satire of bureaucracy, which is fair enough. For Japanese audiences, the movie brings up memories of the 2011 disasters of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, and many reviewers interpret it as an attack on the Japanese government’s response to those catastrophes. They may be right. But I took it more like THE POSTMAN: a reminder of the importance of serious, professional people organizing and working together to accomplish things for society. Pooling expertise and ingenuity to help people. Mistakes are made and arguments are had, but the people at the center of the story are heroes. You think some anarchists would handle it better than this bureaucracy?

They say Godzilla means “god incarnate.” He is giant, he is evolving, he is powerful and seemingly unkillable. We are small and vulnerable. But all these tiny people join together like cells, they become a system, a network that combines its ideas, its man power, its resources, to become something bigger, more powerful, something that also evolves as it faces new challenges. It gets its head cut off and it grows a new one, just like Godzilla probly would if he ever got his head cut off, which he wouldn’t, because he refuses to.

(ENDING SPOILERS EN ROUTE)

The original GOJIRA (1954) is a pretty depressing movie, famously symbolizing the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. SHIN GODZILLA brings back that topic when America and the U.N. decide to drop an atom bomb on Godzilla. Which is in poor taste. No one in Japan is happy about this. But they have a window of time to achieve their plan of freezing Godzilla to stop the bombing.

It’s a counterintuitive but pragmatic movie ending, like THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS. Ultimately they determine that they have to coexist with Godzilla. And I suppose it’s the same with nuclear weapons, unfortunately. The cat is out of the bag, the Godzilla is out of the ocean, we don’t seem to have the power to get rid of them. But that doesn’t mean we have to go to war.

SHIN GODZILLA got a very limited event type release in the U.S., only playing a few shows on specific nights last October. I saw it then, but held off on my review until there was a possibility of others seeing it again – which is now, because it finally came out on disc last week. Watching it, it was one of those movies where I was loving it but also assuming that many people would hate it for being more about government than monsters. But I think I underestimated “many people,” because the crowd seemed to respond very favorably and I’ve talked to quite a few people with varying levels of Godzilla fandom who’ve seen it, and so far I haven’t found one that didn’t think it was great.

If there was an American remake I’d want it to be written by Aaron Sorkin. A sequel would be tougher. From what I’ve read, they’re not allowed to make more until 2020 because of their deal with Legend, but I suspect this was intended as more of a one-off “this respected director wants to make a Godzilla movie, why not let him?” kind of situation. If there’s a sequel, the ending is a cliffhanger. If there’s not, it’s more ominous – leaving mankind in a perpetual limbo, potential horror on standby right under (or I guess over) our noses. But that’s life. Let’s just make sure the task force is ready.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, August 7th, 2017 at 10:06 am and is filed under Monster, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

25 Responses to “Shin Godzilla”

  1. I’ll see this this weekend. The absolute most positive comment I’ve got about it from the big time Godzilla fans I know though is “don’t get your hopes up”. From there it goes down to “not very good” to “boring” to “this isn’t fucking Godzilla at all” which has me a little wary.

  2. This was hands-down my favorite movie last year. I’d chalk this one right next to MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and CREED on the whole: ‘Well if we refuse to tell new stories, I hope they’re all as good and challenging as this’

    When I heard Anno was tapped to direct it I’d assume he’s such a traditionalist that we’d get a very nostalgic-for-the-’60s venture so I was so pleased and excited that he took major risks with both the story and character. Shows how much of a smarter fan he is by knowing that if he’s going to even attempt to be in the same regard as the original ’54 movie he had to figure out a way to make Godzilla shocking and scary again (something Ridley Scott failed to do with the Alien earlier this summer).

    I too I assumed that this one was going to be savaged by fans and was pleasantly surprised that seemingly almost all of them with along with it.

    One caveat though vern: Anno and Higuchi insist that even though huge animatronics were built and filmed, that the Godzilla in the movie is 100% digital. If that is true and not marketing/patriotic-pride spiel, then they did a very impressive job (note that like the Blu-ray releases for Anno’s last three movies, SHIN GODZILLA had some CG redone/fixed).

    Picked a sad day to post though as OG suit actor for Godzilla and almost every other original-run Toho monster (not to mention several ULTRAMAN opponents) died today:

    Iconic Godzilla Suit Actor Haruo Nakajima Passes Away - The Tokusatsu Network

    Haruo Nakajima, known as the first Godzilla suit actor, passed away today at age 88. Born on January 1, 1929, Nakajima worked closely with Eiji Tsuburaya and acted in various tokusatsu productions. He was most famously known as the first Godzilla suit in the 1954 Gojira film. He continued to suit act as Godzilla and several …

  3. I’ve watched it yesterday without any expectations and loved it. They boldly took the franchise in a very unique direction but obviously loved all the Godzilla classics that came before. It’s not ironic or meta – it’s just a fun, clever, humanist and hugely entertaining movie, proud to feature one of the greatest monsters of all time. Like Vern said, it’s a perfectly paced »monster attack procedural« that centers on human beings working together while being confronted with an seemingly unstoppable, god-like creature. But it also manages to be awe-inspring, with a great classic buildup to a truly spectacular monster fight.

  4. It was great to watch this in a packed theatre. I guess I underestimated the drawing power of Japanese Godzilla. I loved how it got to the point in the movie where a character’s revised job title took up about half the screen. Anno’s presence could definitely be felt; that nighttime action sequence seemed like something ripped out of Evangelion and translated to live-action form, with impressive results. I think the only thing that really bugged me at times was the Japanese-American character. They should’ve scrapped her English dialogue.

    And those are some awesome credits for Mr. Nakajima.

  5. I wonder what Vern would make of Neon Genesis Evangelion?

    Anyway, I’m kinda surprised this took so long to come out on disc here, but thanks for the heads up.

  6. “He is giant, he is evolving, he is powerful and seemingly unkillable. We are small and vulnerable. But all these tiny people join together like cells, they become a system, a network that combines its ideas, its man power, its resources, to become something bigger, more powerful, something that also evolves as it faces new challenges. It gets its head cut off and it grows a new one, just like Godzilla probly would if he ever got his head cut off, which he wouldn’t, because he refuses to.”

    My favorite passage in a great review. Love your counter-perspective on what this film says about bureaucracy, Vern. It’s resonant, insightful, and uplifting. In times like these, I’ll take it.

  7. I thought it was dope as fuck. Please TOHO keep making them as long as you keep experimenting like this every now and then. Completely made up for the last 2 they made years ago in like a single bound.

  8. I watched this on a flight to China, which is a shitty way to watch a Godzilla movie. The screen was small. I was cramped and tired.

    That said, I was absolutely stoked for this movie, but was disappointed with the end result. I loved the weird looking Godzilla and each iteration of him. I just couldn’t get invested in the characters or the storyline. I loved the IDEA of the storyline, and that they did something different with it, but I did ultimately end up more bored than entertained by the end of it.

    Which completely surprised me. I thought I was absolutely the target audience for this film.

    Guess I should give it another chance, on a television.

  9. I really liked this one. Godzilla’s breath was downright harrowing, even watching it on my TV at home it was like you could feel the heat. I even sat back a bit further and audibly gasped, it was crazy.

    And the climax, where they beat him down with infrastructure and yell out attacks like an anime (TRAIN BOMBS!) was fantastic. Monster fights are great but that was pretty new and unexpected.

  10. I got to see this one in theaters (an empty theater, but still) and it remains one of my favorites of 2016. Great monster action (especially Godzilla’s unexpected rave laser freakout! The crowd [me] went fucking nuts!) but the dry humor is almost equally great. Swear to God, the comparison that kept coming to my mind is the Coen brothers. Never expected that in a GODZILLA movie

  11. I’m a longtime Godzilla fan, and am happy to count myself as one of the people who absolutely -loved- this latest version of Godzilla. The thing that got me on board the most is that it really does a lot to evoke feelings of fear and dread about him. You don’t get to see what this creature is off the bat, but between the ominous soundtrack beats and the way that it gradually clues you in about the nature of the beast, you know it’s going to be something terrible. Granted, Godzilla’s first form is somewhat goofy-looking, but it’s also unstoppable, smashing its way up rivers and streets as crowds flee ahead of it. By the time it takes on its third form, Godzilla’s menace takes on a more urgent tone since now there’s a clock on how much time you have to deal with it. Some might say its overly reminiscent of the original 1954 Godzilla, but I’d say that it’s that movie’s most worthy successor thus far.

  12. “…serious, professional people organizing and working together to accomplish things for society. Pooling expertise and ingenuity to help people. Mistakes are made and arguments are had, but the people at the center of the story are heroes. You think some anarchists would handle it better than this bureaucracy?”

    Spoken like someone who has never attended an anarchist meeting. Interestingly, the “tiny people join together” passage Skani quoted above is actually a really great description of a functioning anarchist society/organization.

  13. You have my attention, Mike. How do you think anarchists would handle Shin Godzilla?

  14. Crushinator Jones

    August 17th, 2017 at 8:59 am

    The question is not how an anarchist would handle Godzilla – that question was answered by Cloverfield – but how everyone who doesn’t subscribe to anarchist ideology would handle Godzilla.

    The answer is widespread looting, panic, etc. Anarchy.

    One of the reasons that capitalism is the world’s dominant ideology is that it has an answer for people who don’t believe in it. That answer is “you’ll be poor and miserable until you come around.”

  15. This is a good meeting so far but if I can make a suggestion we still need a plan for stopping Godzilla.

  16. Can I request an extension? I’ll try to write a reply soon. Hopefully before we all get squashed like Bambi.

  17. Vern asked how I think anarchists would handle Shin Godzilla, which is a great question. One thing that makes it difficult to answer is that I haven’t actually seen Shin Godzilla yet. Another is semantics, as indicated by Crushinator Jones. I’ll address the second issue first.

    In his review, Vern asked “You think some anarchists would handle it better than this bureaucracy?” A funny line, but indicative that he’s using the common definition of anarchism as chaotic, disorderly, everyone-for-themselves-ism. This misconception stems from what amounts to a century-long smear campaign by capitalists and the state.

    [Pushes up glasses.] Actually, anarchism is a social movement that seeks to abolish oppressive systems. Anarchists are against coercive hierarchy and advocate a self-managed, classless, stateless society where everyone takes collective responsibility for the health and prosperity of their community. Anarchists recognize that power corrupts, and that everyone should be treated equally. The misrepresentation of anarchism to be about violence, nihilism, or disorder is completely false. In fact, the “circle-A” symbol (Ⓐ) stands for “anarchy is order.” (This section adapted from anarchy101.reddit.com/wiki/nutshell.)

    So where does Godzilla come in? (Anywhere he wants!) My original point was that “serious, professional people organizing and working together to accomplish things for society, pooling expertise and ingenuity to help people” is actually a great way to describe an anarchist society. From what I can tell, anarchists would handle Shin Godzilla very similarly to how Vern says the characters in the movie do (broadly speaking, since I haven’t seen the movie). The meetings might proceed a little differently, there’d likely be fewer levels of bureaucracy to deal with, and maybe there’d be a debate about the ethics of killing a creature like Godzilla.

    I hope this answer isn’t too boring and/or disappointing. I wish I’d seen the movie; if I had, maybe my observations could be more insightful. It’s just that I’ve run into the anarchy = chaos claim too often recently (including from people who should know better), and I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut this time.

    Sorry, Vern, and thank you for letting me blather on about this. I will be happy to answer any questions after the kaijumergency has been adequately resolved.

    When Godzilla’s on the rampage and the workers all must run,
    There can be no power greater in the land of rising sun;
    Than the force of our bureaucracies united into one,
    Fighting kaiju makes us strong!

  18. Thanks for the answer Mike. I didn’t necessarily mean anarchist in the sense of somebody throwing a molotov cocktail through a shop window. I just mean that for all our well-intentioned instincts to reject institutions and authority, a well-functioning government can be a good thing in our lives. Has there ever been a “self-managed, classless, stateless society” with the resources to deal with a Godzilla, a hurricane or an outbreak or something? If so I’m very interested to learn more about it.

  19. For those of you who liked this movie, I’m telling ya, EVANGELION is no joke, it’s a seriously great thing, not just by anime nerd standards but in general.

    The closest approximation I can think of is it’s like an anime version of WATCHMEN in that it subverts a pulpy genre (superheroes in WATCHMEN, Giant robots, monsters and cute anime girls in EVANGELION) by tackling it in an adult, postmodern way, in fact EVANGELION tackles dark emotions that few things, even movies or books, quite get into in such an honest way.

    Fundamentally, the whole thing is about depression, but wrapped up in a package of giant robots fighting giant monsters, how is that not awesome?

    My point is, EVANGELION is worth watching even if you’re not normally into anime.

  20. Vern, the nearest we come the classless society you describe is Cuba. It’s a poor country that still manages to help out with health care and “military advisors” in a large nummer of even poorer countries. I think Cuba could have handled an invasion of a giant lizard.

  21. Griff: I really like EVANGELION but like the WATCHMEN comic I’m not sure it’s good for people with no prior knowledge of what it is satirizing/parodying. I mean yeah, new audience members may be able to get sucked in via the characters but both are kinda-sorta Quentin Tarantino pop-culture mash-ups, but unlike Tarantino’s joints, EVA and WATCHMEN are making very commentary on the what they are a mash-up of (EVA on the anime fanbase by using and undoing very common tropes, WATCHMEN on the notion of heroes and comic book superheroes in general).

    In that light, Anno’s SHIN GODZILLA is just making a comment on Japanese bureaucracy and even though he wasn’t trying to make it universal, governments that can’t seem to get their shit together kinda is.

    Also recommending anime to non-indoctrinated people I’ve learned is both silly and annoying. So unless anyone straight up asks me on such things, I try not to bring it up unless it is really pertinent to whatever is being discussed.

  22. It’s pertinent to what is being discussed because the director of EVA also directed this movie.

    I think EVA can work for newcomers because while it’s subverting those genres, it also works as a great example of said genres, the show is entertaining to watch, things don’t get really crazy until near the end and by that point you’ve been eased into it by a show that works just as well as a sci fi action series.

  23. I wasn’t accusing of bringing it up out-of-the-blue, I’m sorry if it came off that way. Re-reading what I wrote, let me rephrase: I think a newbie can watch it and still find enjoyment but, like WATCHMEN, without ‘being there’ when it came out and not being a gigantic-nerd, not sure they’ll see what the big fuss is about. I agree it is a superior, even great, version of the giant-robot cartoon genre.

    I also would want to give a shout-out to his three prior-live action movies since I don’t think they get enough love” LOVE & POP, RITUAL DAY, and CUTIE DAY. All three are pretty different and unlike SHIN GODZILLA it’s a bit difficult to tell that it is from the same guy who made EVANGELION. Then again, it’s hard to tell the same guy who made EVA also made NADIA and GUNBUSTER before-hand.

  24. Forgot to add, if the newbie is into comics, I typically steer them towards reading the excellent comic book adaptation/version by the show’s character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. I find the comic a bit easier to get into than the cartoon, also you don’t have the fun of explaining the two different endings and then explaining how there’s a new movie remake series going on, etc.

    Also, If they are interested in getting into giant robot stuff I also recommend the very excellent comic book MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: THE ORIGIN by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. I think between those two comics they’ll know if they’re gonna be into giant robot stuff.

    To everyone else, sorry for the nerdy back and forth with Griff. He started it…

  25. Unfortunately, I’ve never touched the Eva manga, I keep forgetting about it for some reason.

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