Terror of Tokyo Returns With Shin Godzilla

photo courtesy of indiewire.com


For the 31st film in the Godzilla franchise, and the last film since 2004, Toho Studios has decided to reboot the classic series with a look back to the monster’s origins.

Released in Japan on July 29, 2016, and with a run from Oct. 11–18 in American theaters, you might watch Shin Godzilla expecting a man in a rubber suit. But Shin Godzilla is not an ordinary Godzilla film. Co-directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, the men behind the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shin Godzilla is an attempt to take Godzilla back to his roots, and it does so with terrifying force.

The original Godzilla film was inspired by the nuclear attacks on Japan during WWII, but Shin Godzilla’s source material comes from a more recent time. Godzilla brings disaster in his wake, flooding the land, crushing buildings, and leaving a trail of radiation where he goes. It brings to mind 2011’s Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and the following Fukushima nuclear disaster. And as Godzilla stomps through the city, government officials bicker with each other over what to do while the monster destroys Tokyo, mirroring political criticisms in the wake of the disaster.

In Shin Godzilla, Godzilla feels scary. He’s a magnificent force of nature, and at times the human protagonists are just doing what they can to contain the damage. The movie shines through its wow factor combined with “oh shit!” moments. When Godzilla emerges from the ocean at almost 120 meters tall, the audience gets a ground-level view of his tail sweeping across the rooftops.

The moments of terror keep coming when night falls and Godzilla glows red from within as we find out that he’s fueled by nuclear energy. And when he unleashes his atomic breath, his jaw splits open to emit a laser that cuts down a dozen buildings at once. But despite the on-screen monster, no Godzilla film is complete without a human angle, and just because Godzilla seems unstoppable doesn’t mean they won’t try.

Japan’s relationship with America is another focal point of the film. When a UN-backed committe decides the only way to destroy Godzilla is with an American thermonuclear device, the protagonist, Rando Yaguchi, knows he cannot allow another nuke to be dropped on his country. However, Shin Godzilla’s focus on its human aspect is its weakest point, as the scenes often progress quickly with an unforgiving amount of jargon which tends to overshadow what little character relationships there are. For a film about Japan’s personal triumphs over disaster, it feels like the human element is lost amidst the panic over Godzilla.

Shin Godzilla is not a perfect movie, but what it does well it does very well. Godzilla fans will be happy to see the monster king’s return to his roots, and newcomers may be surprised at the differences in how American and Japanese studios handle the iconic kaiju.

Christian Pokrzywnicki

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