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The return of the king... of the monsters! From the studio that gave the world Godzilla 62 years ago comes the latest installment in the classic series; Shin Godzilla. Thanks to FUNimation we here in the United States have the privilege of seeing the new Godzilla on the big screen. ComiConverse contributor Mitch Nissen is here with a review.
Film Review: Shin Godzilla
Shin Godzilla or Godzilla Resurgence is the first Toho Studios Godzilla film in twelve years. The 29th Japanese Godzilla film and 31st total between Japan and the United States.
Directed by Hideaki Anno, the mastermind behind the legendary anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, rebuilds the iconic kaiju from the ground up in this hard reset of the franchise. Forget what you know and experience the king of the monsters like you've never seen him before.
Caution: Spoilers Ahead
It is the present. A massive unidentified organism appears in the waters just off of the Japanese coast. All the separate branches of government come together to decide exactly how to treat the situation. Marine biologists, both young and old, come to the conclusion that due to the creature's abnormally large size it can only exist in the water.
The beast makes landfall and begins moving inland. Still appearing to be a sea creature, the government officials believe it is only a matter of time before the organism dies due to being away from its natural habitat. Sure enough it appears to die. Then the impossible occurs before their eyes. The creature's biology changes almost instantaneously, evolving to suit its new environment.
Growing larger, the creature advances on Tokyo. As the destruction rises the Japanese Self Defense Forces are given the authorization to mobilize. Their efforts prove fruitless until United States weaponry is launched. The beast is hurt and retaliates with a catastrophic eruption of energy and fire. Whatever the armed forces of the world try only results in greater devastation.
A young official in the government has a plan. Enlisting the help of the government's science division, this plan is the last countermeasure remaining before the rest of the world drops nukes on Japan.
The only question is, will it work?
The 2014 Godzilla film, directed by Gareth Edwards, embraced the "super hero" aspect of the Godzilla films from the 1970's while employing the best special effects Hollywood could buy. A new design and a new roar were used for this monster. The result was a quite different creature from the classic king of the monsters.
While an enjoyable film it appeared less akin to Godzilla and more in line with the super hero films dominating cinema now. The spirit of the film was closer to the Gamera Trilogy from 1990's (which is no bad thing) than Godzilla. In addition to lacking a recognizable design and the iconic roar, Gareth Edwards' Godzilla lacked the pathos of the king of the monsters. Destruction. Punishment. And wrath of nature. The concept is acknowledged but only in passing.
"The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control and not the other way around."
With Godzilla Resurgence we look to Japan to show us who and what Godzilla really is. But do they even get it right?
As a long time Godzilla fan, one must keep an open mind when viewing Shin Gojira. The film is a brand new beginning wiping the previous 28 films from the record. The point of view is from the government officials of the world. This is a new approach to the series with subtle nods to the past. Ishiro Honda, the original director of the Godzilla series, typically tackled the problem of kaiju or alien threats with optimism. In most if not all of his kaiju films humanity comes together to stop the monstrous threat. Be it from a variety of occupations such as a scientist, reporter, prime minister, or military general to whole nations setting aside their differences. A uniting of mankind against an overwhelming threat.
Hideaki Anno presents a semblance of Ishiro Honda's optimisim showing the viewer the various departments of government coming together. Some are more effective than others to be sure, but nonetheless they unite. Anno's representation of the different branches of government is incredibly authentic, so much so that one would believe this is exactly how the Japanese government might handle a kaiju situation. Hints of this are present in the original 1954 Gojira in a few key scenes, but Anno takes those scenes and spreads them over a two hour film. We ride along with the government officials so much so that we spend the bulk of the movie with them and witness maybe thirty minutes of kaiju destruction, a complaint in line with the 2014 Godzilla film and the title monster's similarly limited screen time.
Is it really Godzilla?
While it may look and sound closer to the king of the monsters this depiction of the kaiju is quite different from any that came before it. The first glimpse of Godzilla we see is the tail, moving about as if it were a colossal tentacle of some cthulhuian creature. Godzilla's first full reveal is quite strange and somewhat comical in appearance. It resembles a googly-eyed weasel mixed with an eel.
It's not until Godzilla's "final" form that the kaiju starts to look like himself, channeling the heavyset body of the 1954 design. Godzilla's appearance is frightening, the most menacing he's looked since 1984. In regards to the body his legs and tail are disproportionately larger than his head and torso giving the monster an awkward appearance. He's always had big legs and a big tail, but this design pushes it even further. His face and dorsal plates however look breathtaking.
Godzilla's radioactive breath is present as well but it too has undergone renovation. Two types of radioactive breath are displayed. One is a smokey orange fiery discharge that floods the streets like a tidal wave. The other is a purple beam-like expulsion, similar to the Angels from Evangelion. Godzilla can also fire the purple beam through holes in his dorsal plates and out the end of his tail (which seems to possess a mouth and teeth of its own). From his initial appearance in the film on through to the end, Anno is suggesting to the audience that Godzilla isn't what he seems. This isn't the classic Godzilla at all.
While the film deviates from many of the conventions of the series, the filmmakers include several elements inherent to the franchise. The opening titles are almost identical to the original 1954 titles. Many themes from Akira Ifukube present in the original film are sampled throughout the movie as well as an original score by Shiro Sagisu (another veteran from Evangelion). Even sound effects such as the thundering of Godzilla's footsteps are present. Most importantly, Godzilla's signature roar is back.
Including all these classic esthetics of the series still doesn't disguise the fact that this movie is a bit out there comparatively. The film reflects the persona of the anime Evangelion more than Godzilla. This is no surprise but what is surprising is how much Evangelion is present. Evangelion character archetypes are present and even a music piece from the anime is completely lifted and used multiple times in the film. The future of Toho's Godzilla series will be interesting to say the least, the question being whether the studio will continue with Anno's interpretation or reboot yet again with something else. After watching this film it left me many ideas as to where the story may go.
Theories and Speculation:
In the film Godzilla's origins are described as a creature mutated by radioactive waste on the bottom of the sea floor. Godzilla's biology is hyper-evolved, adapting to its environment and evolving its body accordingly. One biologist in the film goes as far as to suggest that Godzilla could sprout wings if the environment required it. In the film we see Godzilla evolve from a worm-like creature to something resembling a marmot and then to his upright form. Strangely this seems similar to the kaiju Hedorah, the Smog Monster, and that monster's multi-form evolution. Interestingly there are just as many similarities between Shin Godzilla and Hedorah as there are between Shin Godzilla and the traditional Godzilla.
I mentioned earlier the disproportionately large tail on Godzilla. In addition to its anatomically-nonfeasible size the tail is almost always moving even when Godzilla is not as if independent from Godzilla itself. Then there is the mouth at the end of the tail, teeth, and eyes. The tail is the first part of the kaiju we see and also the last shot in the movie. The final image shows what appear to be other creatures sprouting from the mouth of the tail.
My personal theory is that the tail is the original or prime kaiju. Godzilla sprouted from it and so too will other kaiju if this story line continues into another film. At some point Godzilla may even separate from the tail, grow his own more proportionate tail, and battle the other kaiju born from the tail. And given how much Evangelion Anno poured into this movie I can foresee Shin Godzilla merely being a part of a planned Evangelion/Godzilla crossover series.
I wasn't wowed but I wasn't disappointed either. As a fan of Godzilla there were moments where my heart was pounding with excitement. Likewise there were moments that felt nothing like what I was expecting, leaving me undecided. All in all the movie was entertaining and surprisingly thrilling given how much of the narrative revolves around government officials and nondescript office rooms. At the end of the day I feel the 2014 film gave me half of what I wanted and the 2016 film gave me the other half, but neither delivered the whole.
Again, this movie was a new and very different take on Godzilla than any that have come before it, which is saying something given this is the 31st Godzilla film in existence. I don't foresee this rendition spawning a new era of greatness for Godzilla like the Heisei Era or the first six films of the Showa Era. Rather this movie feels like another odd experiment like so many conducted in the Millennium Era. At any rate, I am ecstatic that Godzilla films are being made once again across the pond. Here's hoping we'll receive more new Godzilla movies sooner rather than later.
We're any of you like me and fortunate enough to see Shin Godzilla in a theater?
If you have seen it leave a comment and tell us what you think. If this movie accomplished anything, it's given us fans a lot to talk about.
Mitch Nissen is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @NinjaMitche
Japan's Toho Studios resurrects the classic kaiju in Shin Godzilla. Directed by anime legend Hideaki Anno, the new film reinvents the story from the ground up in a bizarre and radically different interpretation that feels partially like Godzilla and more like Neon Genesis Evangelion.