Mark Reviews Movies

Shin Godzilla


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Hideaki Anno

Cast: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara, Ren Ohsugi, Akira Emoto, Kengo Kôra, Mikako Ichikawa, Jun Kunimura, Pierre Taki, Kyűsaku Shimada, Ken Mitsuishi, Shingo Tsurumi, Kimiko Yo

MPAA Rating: Not rated

Running Time: 2:00

Release Date: 10/11/16 (limited)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 11, 2016

"That's for the President to decide," says a special envoy from the United States, on the subject of what her country's intentions with Godzilla are. She continues, "Who decides in your country?" The question is the central thesis of Shin Godzilla, and the answer is a cynical question of the rhetorical variety: Who the hell knows.

Godzilla—or, as it's known in Japan, Gojira (There's even an amusing debate over which name should be used for the monster)—isn't the villain of these movies, and that includes the ones in which the beast isn't fighting a different biological, mechanical, or extraterrestrial monster. The creature we have come to know—over the course of now 29 movies (if one doesn't count the 1998 and 2014 American ones)—is simply a force of nature, awakened or directly created by humanity in its reckless activities with nuclear power. Here, Godzilla is an evolutionary anomaly, a sea creature that has mutated as the result of nuclear waste being improperly disposed of in the oceans.

Godzilla began as a metaphor for nuclear power gone awry, coming from the collective agony of the only country that has, until this point (and hopefully for the rest of history), suffered a nuclear attack—twice within a matter of three days. That remains true in this incarnation, a reboot of the monster's mythology that has the big guy appearing for the first time. The notion that Godzilla represents the potential destructive force of nuclear energy, though, is simply a matter of tradition here. First and foremost, this Godzilla is a walking, fire-breathing, and energy beam-emitting disaster.

The monster is also the secondary focus of writer/director Hideaki Anno's screenplay, much in the same way that the earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, meteors, etc. of disaster movies are just a narrative rationale for drama. Anno's primary concern is the human element, and his chief point in that regard is human failure in the face of such a disaster.

If the 1954 original was a response to the testing of nuclear weapons, this one is almost certainly responding to the 2011 earthquake off the coast of Japan and the resulting tsunami. Its response is that the government response in the face of that disaster was not only poor but also a further detriment to the population.

The villain of this movie is not Godzilla. It's government bureaucracy.

Anno spends the majority of the movie's running time dissecting the labyrinth of agencies, politicians, meetings, press conferences, legislative debates, and matters of decorum that prevent any actual action from occurring. There are meetings about meetings (At one point, even the movie has had enough and informs us that most of the meeting has been edited), political debates about the politics of the situation, and rows of experts who only seem to agree that they are experts.

Meanwhile, Godzilla, in its first and least imposing form, is swimming upstream in a river outside of metropolitan Tokyo, pushing a heap of boats in front of him and causing flooding in the streets. By the time everyone agrees that something has to be done about the "Giant Unidentified Lifeform," Godzilla has disappeared. After the government decides that the response will be a military one, Godzilla has become twice as large and exponentially more destructive. By then, the United States government, with its decisive leader, seems more prepared and willing to act, even if it means again dropping a nuclear bomb on a Japanese city to stop the monster.

There is a cast of hundreds here, and that's not even counting the swarms of extras who run from Godzilla's path. The movie's subtitles can barely keep up with these characters—a group of names followed by repetitive titles and agencies. There isn't so much a human component to this story. Instead, there's a collective of faces forming poor deductions, exhibiting bad decisions, and making ill-informed declarations. Only two characters seem to know what's happening: Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), a deputy administrator within the Cabinet Secretariat, and Kayoko Ann Patterson (Satomi Ishihara), the American envoy. The former's opinion is often dismissed and proven correct as many times, while the latter is skeptical about her government's Godzilla-response policy.

The whole process itself, ironically, becomes repetitive, since Anno's satirical aims are as broad and simplistic as pointing out the bloated, roundabout ways of government bureaucracy. There are no specific heroes, save for the few people who happen to make the right choices, or villains, because everyone (except the U.S. government, perhaps) at least has good intentions. It's difficult to provide a useful criticism of a system without clear examples of how that system comes up short. In Anno's view, though, the system of government doesn't work until, for reasons that almost seem like luck, it does.

The movie's version of Godzilla, which abandons the rubber suits of old for computer visual effects, is impressive and, at times, genuinely awe-inspiring, especially during a terrifying scene in which the monster uses his fire-breath for the first time. Again, Godzilla is secondary, though. The wishy-washy, ultimately contradictory critique of government is the core of Shin Godzilla, and it repeatedly makes one wonder when the movie is going to get back the big guy, already.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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