In over sixty years of his cinematic terrorizing of Japan, Godzilla has caused so much damage that the Japanese construction companies must love him, because he keeps them in constant work. The level of destruction that the Big G commits in Shin Godzilla, the latest Godzilla film from Toho, is also pretty impressive on a big monster movie scale. But that’s basically the only thing that has remained the same. Gone are the wonderfully kitschy elements that were found in abundance in the Godzilla films of the 1990s: the cute girls with psychic powers, sub plots involving the Yakuza and time travel, Baby Godzilla, and just about everything else that Toho threw in to make each Godzilla adventure a popcorn film classic (and I thoroughly enjoyed these films for what they were: fun flicks).
But Shin Godzilla pretty much strips away the last sixty years of Godzilla mythology, making this a reboot of sorts. Godzilla first appears after inflicting damage on an underwater tunnel that runs across Tokyo Bay. And when he finally arrives on land with big googly eyes, he’s a completely different design, more of a water borne creature with gills that flails and flops around on land. However, the one and only Godzilla that we know and love finally makes his appearance after quickly evolving into his familiar upright, dinosaur-like shape. It’s an interesting take on the Big G, eschewing the T-Rex exposed to the atomic bomb backstory from the ’90s films.
The heroes of Shin Godzilla are also another surprise. Instead of a group of spunky young outsiders who find themselves fighting a conspiracy along with Godzilla, the heroes we get in Shin Godzilla are regular government bureaucrats who are overwhelmed by dealing with an unknown creature that has suddenly attacked their country. Seeing them grappling with Godzilla, who is becoming harder and harder to rein in the more powerful he becomes, makes Shin Godzilla almost feel like a Japanese version of The West Wing: there are a lot of ’walk and talk’ scenes between the government officials as they debate the best way to take down this monster.
And Shin Godzilla vies for a more realistic approach with the notion that the United States, working with the United Nations, threatens to step in with the use of nuclear weapons against Godzilla. This makes for a much more realistic take on the Godzilla film, although its one drawback is that Shin Godzilla takes itself so seriously at times that it barely has a sense of humor. Still, while I loved 2014’s American Godzilla film (and look forward to the sequels), it’s great to see the original Japanese Godzilla back in his natural cinematic home. --SF