"Shin Godzilla", Dir: Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi, 2016
Updated: Jul 30, 2021
I wasn't sure what to expect from this 2016 Japanese reboot of "Godzilla', here entitled "Shin Godzilla", which roughly translates as "True" or "New" Godzilla in order to differentiate it from the recent Hollywood franchise-spawning films. As such, it's not so much competition from the country that started the whole Godzilla phenomenon as simply another film in a long-running series that takes a step back into the origins of the monster, with the added sense of a good-natured riposte to the 2014 Gareth Edwards origin film made in Hollywood.
I'd seen stills that didn't fill me with much hope since they depicted a CGI Godzilla integrated into real environments much the same as the Hollywood reboots, re-designed and decidedly meaner looking than earlier iterations.
I can imagine a production committee meeting headed by the directors, Hideako Anno and Shinji Higuchi - "committees" are a feature of Japanese film production - where they asked the question "well, if Ishiro Honda had had access to CGI in 1954 when he made the very first "Godzilla", what would it look like ?" - add to that, camerawork unrestricted by bulky equipment and "Steadycam" for a "hand-held" quality to add a sense of realism.
Plot-wise the film follows the same general trajectory as the 1954 film - Godzilla rises from the ocean depths, the radioactive mutant offspring of dumped nuclear waste rather than of nuclear bomb tests, and then proceeds to march on Tokyo, destroying anything in its' path with its' fiery atomic breath until scientists discover a "magic-bullet" solution that stops the monster at the last minute, but not before most of Tokyo is decimated.
This time around the film-makers have constructed a story that aims to inject a greater sense of realism to the human aspects as various Government bodies try and grapple with the menace - first via skepticism and the need to protect the public from the uncomfortable truth with cover stories and then the dawning realization that they are unprepared to deal with such a threat, an aspect that seems very prescient in the context of the Covid pandemic, particularly since this "Shin Godzilla" is constantly mutating into who knows what at an alarming rate.
However, I found these sequences quite dull and wordy, but necessary in the sense that the film is also a dig at the dense and immovable bureaucracy that is typical of Japanese politics - bureaucracy that more often than not acts as an impediment to progress and finding solutions to problems.
The "science" behind Shin Godzilla's existence is only marginally more convincing than in the original film and with just enough talk of the monster's complex DNA structure, the result of atomic mutation, to lift it beyond complete whimsy but with some novel touches. For example, when the crack team assigned to find a solution to Godzilla's unstoppable march on Tokyo acquire a chart of the monsters' DNA structure, they hit on an answer by treating it like a huge piece of "origami" paper-folding, which reveals a weakness.
One thing retained from the original film is a sense of creeping dread, not just from the very convincing scenes of destruction but from the way in which the designers have imbued Shin Godzilla with the personality of a zombie, in fact, a pitiable mutated casualty with a blank-eyed stare motivated by some incomprehensible need.
When Godzilla first appears it is not as expected, instead, it is a first-stage mutation that pushes itself forward on its' belly with its' back legs, blindly trashing everything in its' path before mutating rapidly into the more recognizable incarnation that towers over the city - gone is the rubbery fixed keloid scarring of the man-in-a-suit latex monster to be replaced by CGI tissue that throbs and crawls with life in a constant state of flux and a lava-like atomic glow.
Of course, Godzilla is finally defeated at the point where all seems lost, with the help of the American Government who have accumulated secret intelligence on the monster that hint at a cover-up and topical subjects like so-called "Black Projects" and the solution is revealed to be a chemical that freezes the atomic fusion that animates the monster.
The film ends with a pan up the huge frozen tail of Shin Godzilla which reveals that it was stopped before it could spawn numerous creatures that could pose an even greater threat to Japan and also to anticipate a sequel, though this is yet to be seen.
An intriguing afterthought is that this Godzilla refers back to Japanese mythology concerning the supernatural and "Yokai" (and is referred to as a "god" in the film) and not a single mutated species so much as an agglomeration of the souls of numerous entities and is therefore capable of assuming many forms, and in particular of the many who perished as a result of the Fukushima Nuclear disaster in 2011, which perhaps explains the distorted human forms briefly glimpsed in Shin Godzilla's tail at the films' conclusion.
In terms of the visual effects the film is very impressive and easily on a par with anything that comes out of Hollywood whilst avoiding a tendency to provide a "look" or ambience through grading that characterizes the American films and has the effect of removing them from reality - here, everything is rendered as if in broad daylight which means that it's harder to hide behind atmospherics and so effectively puts a greater responsibility on the CGI to appear real and convincing at whatever scale is required.
A nice touch over the end credits is a reprise of the classic Godzilla film scores by Akira Ikufube, who scored the original film.
"Shin Godzilla", Dir: Hideko Anno & Shinji Higuchi, 2016
Viewed on Apple TV