The first ever Japanese production to completely reboot the venerable monster’s movie series, “Shin Godzilla” is so called because it’s deliberately ambiguous (written in katakana instead of kanji) and can be interpreted as ‘new’, ‘god’ or ‘evolved’ and not, disappointingly, because the makers made the gutsy decision to stick with the ordinary Japanese citizen’s perspective and only ever show the creature from below its knees.
When a monstrous sea creature emerges from Tokyo Bay and starts shambling through the city, the Japanese Government struggles to coordinate its response to this unprecedented event. Although the creature eventually withdraws, it’s only a matter of time before it returns and the race is on to find a way to destroy the creature.
There’s an odd, quasi-documentary feel to “Shin Godzilla” as it sets out to retell Japan’s most therapeutic and cathartic cultural myth as it would happen in the present day. Originally Gojira was born out of the need to allegorically examine the nation’s traumatic nuclear history but this Kaiju disaster movie has a different catastrophic touchstone in its sights: the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami which in turn caused the Fukushima Nuclear disaster.
There’s a surprisingly cutting satirical edge to the many, many, many scenes of meetings, darkly lampooning the Japanese Government’s inaction in the face of the 2011 disasters and the labyrinthine complexities of bureaucracy which must be navigated in order to take any action.
There’s also an undercurrent of generational resentment as the characters of the film chafe under the self-imposed legal and regulatory constraints placed on the Japanese Defence Forces and speculate as to just how long the ‘post-war’ period of contrition and acquiescence to the United States of America lasts.
Domestic and international political satire aside, “Shin Godzilla” is, eventually, still a monster mash and the initial landfall, preceded by some superbly effective but all too brief ‘warning signs’ of damage to undersea tunnels and bridges etc., deliberately evokes the imagery of the tsunami aftermath. Although the creature’s initial appearance is somewhat awkward and goofy, it still manages to thanks to a tendency to belch gouts of blood from its gills. This new ‘Zilla has the ability to spontaneously mutate and once it does so, it assumes a much more familiar shape.
Although entirely CGI, the creature design celebrates the long history of Godzilla. The skin texture is deliberately evocative of the rubber-suited Gojira of old while the creature’s movements were drawn from motion capture performance, retaining that man-in-suit vibe. When Godzilla finally strikes back against the encroaching armed forces in a night time battle on the streets of Tokyo, it’s absolutely spectacular, especially when he unleashes his fire breath.
Quintessentially Japanese in its sensibilities and execution, “Shin Godzilla” is an edgy and modern retelling of the story, with a deliciously satirical and occasionally surprisingly intimate feel, thanks to the use of the camera to place us face to face when the characters are talking, even with screeds of subtitles in both English and Japanese. There’s plenty of humour, both deliberate and accidental (my favourite being a tracking shot which follows a conversation however when the characters stop to continue their discussion the camera merrily trundles on oblivious) and the action is tremendously entertaining.
At the very least, it’s much better than the 1998 Matthew Broderick movie.