This far I’ve only ever experienced Godzilla from a Western standpoint. From a terrible 1978 Hannah Barbarea Cartoon to the 2014 film where Godzilla was always slightly off-camera to the 1998 Matthew Broderick vehicle which was so poorly handled that the original company bought the rights to the character, renamed him ‘Zilla and promptly had the proper Godzilla wipe the floor with him.
So the chance to watch the king of the monsters in his natural habitat of Japan being made by the company Toho which had produced 28 previous installments a well as two previous reboots. Which worked for me on another level.
Because, this is the first Japanese Godzilla movie to be a full reboot, meaning that it shows what would happen if Godzilla attacked for the first time in modern day, and there had been no previous records of him. Although Toho has “rebooted” Godzilla a few times each previous film acknowledged the original 1954 movie as canon and just ignored all previous sequels.
So, with my popcorn and coke in hand I settled back in my chair and….
Well, let me put it this way. Japanese films don’t have the same budget as Hollywood films. the 2014 version had a budget of roughly 160 million dollars, this… has a budget of 15. Now to put that in comparison, The Guardians had a budget of 5 million, the closest American production I can find is 10 Cloverfield Lane which was mostly set in a basement.
This is also, the only Japanese Godzilla movie in which the monster was realized completely through CGI, abandoning the traditional suitmation effects. However, according to effects supervisor Atsuki Sato, Godzilla’s skin was deliberately made to look like rubber as opposed to realistic animal skin, and his movements were performed via motion capture, adding a live performance element to the animation.
Well, that’s what they studio claims anyway, to my mind he started off as a sock puppet, then went through his Harryhausen faze before winding up looking like the sort of threat that a 1980’s disaster movie would have been proud to claim.
Seriously, at times I half expected one of the creatures googly eyes to fall off. But, as I’m always saying, a higher budget does not make for a better film. And besides, there was a lot that should have worked. As a straight reboot, the film was free to instead of tying Godzilla to nuclear weapons but to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and many critics and journalists have noted similarities to those events. As Mark Schilling from The Japan Times stated, “The original Godzilla was conceived as a metaphor for nuclear devastation, most notably the then-recent Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Anno’s beast, however, is also clearly inspired by the March 11, 2011, triple disaster, with Godzilla serving as an ambulatory tsunami, earthquake and nuclear reactor, leaving radioactive contamination in his wake”.
Which is a good idea, and it sort of works with shots of blue-jumpsuited government spokesmen convening emergency press conferences and shots of a stunned man quietly regarding mountains of debris, something that could have been lifted straight out of television footage of the hardest-hit regions in the north of Japan.
The film also attempts to show the, the old guard with their overly complex and corpulent bureaucratic ways were simply unable to deal with a crisis in any kind of efficient or fluid way. This is shown repeatedly in Shin Godzilla, as the high-ranking members of the cabinet, comfortable in their positions of power, use the hierarchical nature of the system they reside within to protect their own positions, at the expense of the lives of their citizens. In the end, it’s left to your standard group of geeks and nerds to save the day before the USA starts dropping nuclear bombs.
And there are lots of human characters, this is a film has 328 credited actors with maybe enough personality for 32.8 of them. Of which maybe 30 would be some variation of ‘stuffy, panicking bureaucrat.’ Even the ‘committee of heroes’ didn’t do that much to distinguish themselves beyond one of them wearing a nice pink scarf which I was pretty sure doubled up as a tea towel whenever the washing up needed doing.
Unfortunately, the tonal shift from 80’s disaster movie to what I think is supposed to be political intrigue handles about as well as channel hopping between Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and an episode of Yes Minister. There you are, happily watching Godzilla smash up what I think are supposed to be buildings, with the orchestra going full blast and then BLAM! Office scene, no music, no natural pause in the action, just a mid-scene cut to a bunch of random middle-aged people discussing what we’ve just seen and what Godzilla is up to now instead of showing us.
And the music is weird as well. It constantly sounded like it was about to break into the Thunderbirds theme. Not that I was complaining but I was then half daydreaming about Thunderbirds 2 and 4 turning up to help whilst Thunderbird 1 blasted the living daylights out of Godzilla, in a kind of puppets vs. man in suit battle royal.
Oh, what could have been.
As is, Shin Godzilla has some good ideas- tying Godzilla to more modern threats and bringing back the political themes that used to be prevalent in the series can only be applauded as opposed to the empty western versions I’ve sat through and I’m sure someone’s enjoying it – At the 40th Japan Academy Prize, the film won seven awards out of its 11 nominations, including Picture of the Year and Director of the Year. But I was left cold and pining for a vs battle that will never be.
Trim the run-time down from 119 minutes to about 90, put a man back in the rubber monster costume, merge your story-lines together with slightly more skill and give your characters actual personalities.
As for me?
I’m just going to sit here waiting for Pacific Rim 2: Rim Harder.
My Score: Skip It