Warning: Here be spoilers.
When Toho announced in 2014 that we would be getting a new Godzilla film and it would be co-directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, with a screenplay by Anno and visual effects by Higuchi, it was a certainty that the men who collaborated on the anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, would be giving us a very different kind of Godzilla.
And so, jump forward to 2016, and that’s exactly what we have. Shin Godzilla, or Godzilla Resurgence as it’s also known, takes a markedly different approach which will either be seen by viewers as a refreshing stroke of genius or as a huge disappointment.
I fall squarely in the former opinion. The human viewpoint in this film is not on some forced love affair, or crazed scientist caught up in the events of a giant monster stomping through Tokyo, but rather it takes a long, hard look at the stuff we usually don’t see: the politicians, the military, the administration and the bureaucracy thrown into complete turmoil by the emergence of a creature in Tokyo bay that comes up onto land and works its way through the city relentlessly.
That this creature is only the first stage in the development leading to the newest form of Godzilla is just one of the new slants taken by Anno & Higuchi. It’s a strange looking beast, almost comical, which serves to keep viewers on loose footing as we’re then shown how much damage it creates on a very personal level.
And that’s another interesting wrinkle, there are no central lead characters (despite the lead billing of Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, and Satomi Ishihara (whose struggles with her English line readings unfortunately shine through all too clearly). Instead, we follow a bureaucratic hive mind of politicians and scientists as they struggle to figure out evacuation plans to minimise the public death toll.
When the final Godzilla emerges again to wreak havoc, the stakes get higher as the U.S. threatens to intervene with nuclear weapons, a course still found abominable by the Japanese, of course. The politicians become caught between a rock and a hard place as they must decide whether to bow to international pressure or strike forward with their own plan.
I found this approach completely refreshing and was absorbed quickly into proceedings. Drawing inspiration from (and heavily alluding to) the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami gave this film a resonating power that really sets it apart from and yet beautifully parallels Ishiro Honda’s nuclear parable in 1954’s original, Godzilla. Anno and Higuchi are highly critical of the bureaucracy that frequently mires Japanese officials into inaction, but they also express positivity and hope of Japan finding its way without international intervention (something I feel has been misread in some quarters as out and out nationalism). Having said this, I can see why this very talky approach will not appeal to all viewers – there are a lot of scenes in board rooms and meeting rooms. Your mileage may vary.
The action when it comes is spectacular. Seeing Godzilla attack the military with an entire bridge is something that filled me with complete joy, and despite one or two shaky FX shots, this is a hugely impressive film visually, with many breathtaking shots. I also loved Godzilla’s astonishingly brutal new radioactive breath, and the newest additions to his arsenal.
The design of this new Godzilla has also proven to be controversial among Godzilla fans (but then change of any kind is always controversial among Godzilla fans). His slow movements and little arms (and biiiig thighs) do take a little getting used to, but I warmed to both approaches by the end.
Without going into full spoiler mode, the final shot is also quite horrifying and chilling (something I’ve not felt in a Godzilla film since Honda’s original) and if a sequel moves ahead – highly likely since this is now the highest grossing live-action Japanese film of 2016 and the highest grossing Japanese-produced Godzilla film in the franchise – then it would prove an intriguing starting point for any new story.
One of the qualities I love best about the Godzilla franchise is its constant ability to reinvent itself – it’s done so many times before and with Godzilla being a worldwide brand thanks to the continued success of the Japanese films and international offshoots such as Gareth Edwards’ 2012 U.S. production – and what I enjoyed about Shin Godzilla is that the big, scaly beast has mutated into something different once again. Don’t like it? Don’t worry, there’ll be yet another type of Godzilla along in twenty or thirty years. Right now, I’m happy with this horrific new incarnation.