Writer: Hideaki Anno
Cast: Hiroki Hasegawa, Satomi Ishihara, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Jun Kunimura
Running time: 120 mins
What’s the story: When a giant lizard emerges from Tokyo Bay and wreaks havoc in the city, the Japanese government debates how to handle the crisis.
What’s the verdict: A running gag throughout the blackly comic Shin Godzilla is, whenever the King of Monsters embarks on another round of Tokyo stomping mayhem, there is a governmental reshuffle.
This administrative pinball is conveyed through rapid fire subtitles announcing which position key characters now hold. Don’t try reading them on a first watch. You’ll get nowhere and it’s not needed to follow the plot.
Best known before viewing is that Shin Godzilla is written and co-directed by Hideaki Anno. Anno, a one-time Studio Ghibli animator and creator of the phenomenal anime TV series Neon Genesis: Evangelion, is an iconoclast who rarely delivers the expected.
Positioning the movie as a reboot, Anno has Godzilla (the US government’s name, met with bemusement by local officials who translate it into Japanese as Gojira, “God incarnate”) emerge in a modern day Japan ignorant of the leviathan.
Pulling a Nolan, he and co-director Higuchi then depict how a giant sea monster lumbering on to land for the first time would behave. A bizarre, bug-eyed ostrich/baby snake-like thing, it lolls and lumbers. Blood haemorrhages from its gills as it evolves to become the upright, thunder-thighed titan we know and love.
Evangelion fans will thrill to see Anno’s take on Japan’s cherished movie monster. And how he incorporates the anime’s music cues alongside Akira Ifukube’s original Godzilla score. Others will need time to adjust.
Old school destruction is ladled out, fear not. In two massive action sequences the “God incarnate” unleashes atomic bad breath on downtown Tokyo, the scale matching that achieved by Gareth Edwards’ underrated 2014 Godzilla. Early scenes also borrow that film’s caught-on-camera build up before the beast is unleashed.
Which is presumably where co-director Shinji Higuchi stepped in, the director and FX man bringing Anno’s ideas to life (mo-capping an actor rather than putting a guy in a suit).
Once a metaphor for nuclear paranoia and Japan’s war guilt, Godzilla here is an embodiment of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster. And rather than a single hero tackling the threat, the film abides by the Japanese phrase, “None of us is as smart as all of us”. So it’s a committee approach to problem solving.
Prominent amongst the expansive cast are Attack on Titan’s Hasegawa and Ishihara, the latter meant to be half-American but betrayed by her phonetically delivered English. Legendary director and actor Shin’ya Tsukamoto and Audition’s Jun Kunimura are on-hand for old-school class.
As with all good monster movies, governments can be just as dangerous as the skyscraper-sized menace. In Shin Godzilla nuclear missile sabre-rattling by the United States (hmmm…) is the ticking clock to discover a less destructive solution as much as Zilly’s fiery halitosis.
Not everyone will sign up for this left-of-field West Wing influenced behemoth beat-down. But, this kaiju deserves kudos. Now, when’s Anno gonna focus his camera on Gamera?