Shin Godzilla, 2016
Directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi
Starring Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara, Ren Ohsugi, Akira Emoto, Kengo Kôra, Mikako Ichikawa, Jun Kunimura, Pierre Taki, Kyûsaku Shimada, Ken Mitsuishi
Japan is plunged into chaos upon the appearance of a giant monster.
Having been dormant in his native Japan since 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars, the King of the Monsters is back with a brand-new outing, a completely new look and a re-developed backstory and creation. Gareth Edward’s 2014 American reboot split some sections of the audience, but those craving an ‘authentic’ Japanese Godzilla movie can rejoice with the release of Shin Godzilla, which gets a short theatrical run in America today.
Co-directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi (best known for their work on Attack on Titan and Evangelion) make a bold statement coming into this movie by not playing with the rules set by previous instalments. Our last two franchise reboots (Godzilla 1985/Return of Godzilla and Godzilla 2000) both used the idea that the original Gojira is part of Japanese history but the sequels are removed from cannon. In fact, every film in the Millennium series (1999-2004) used Gojira as the jumping off point. Shin Godzilla, however, acts as the very first true franchise reboot. Nothing has happened prior to these events, and this is the first time Japan has ever encountered a kaiju attack. It’s also the first movie since 1984 to not pit The King of the Monsters against another kaiju, and it’s the first movie to not only change the character’s creation, but alter his physical appearance and growth.
Paying homage to the ever-popular Pokemon, we first Godzilla in his ‘first form’ as an aquatic creature on legs propelling itself forward on its stomach with big cartoony googly-eyes (a possible tribute to the 1970s era of the character). We then see him evolve into his ‘second form’ while shedding the skin that’s been holding down his arms. By the time the action really kicks in, it’s the Godzilla we’ve seen from the marketing material which has removed his huge eyes, and gives him the divisive long tail. It’s a really clever way to portray the character, and it adds an extra element of danger to the film as you’re never use of what his next evolutionary step will be.
As one would expect from a Japanese produced Godzilla movie, The Big G is a man in a suit (played by Mansai Nomura) which has then been enhanced by CGI in post. It’s really effective as it allows for this radical new design to shine above its predecessors. Not just stuck with one look, Anno and Higuchi can play with the burning radioactivity in his chest and tail (a possible tribute to Godzilla vs. Destroyah) which creates a huge amount of menace. Godzilla, for the first time in decades, genuinely looks terrifying. The new look may have not have pleased everyone when it was first unveiled, but on screen and in action it really works. Godzilla’s main attack on Tokyo is breath-taking in its destruction. Not since the very first movie has the character been treated like a force of nature, one that will rip apart the very fabric of society. When he fires his trademark Atomic Breath, it comes in various stages and each one is more devastating than the last. Anno and Higuchi direct this sequence flawlessly, and it contains so many ‘hand-to-mouth’ shock moments that the Godzilla franchise has sorely been missing.
However, with the use of CGI comes an issue that plagues many Toho-produced Godzilla films: it never looks convincing. The blur between suitmation and CGI is fantastic, that can’t be denied, but some of the other special effects are pretty woeful. There’s a moment during Godzilla’s second-stage evolution where the effects seem unfinished, and a spray of blood raining from the sky is more PlayStation 2 than next-generation. When Anno and Higuchi use miniatures and real-world effects Shin Godzilla is stunning, but certain moments that are left in the hands of zeroes and ones leave something to be desired.
Same with the first hour of the movie, which also won’t please anyone who felt there ‘wasn’t enough Godzilla’ in Edwards’s 2014 effort. Aside from The King of the Monsters pushing his away upon the shore, there is no action in the first 50-odd minutes of Shin Godzilla. So what you’re left with are lots of scenes of people sitting around talking about Godzilla and making plans to protect Japan against him. It’s not terribly dull, but it gets a bit much. What takes the film 50-minutes could have been summed up in a few sequences. There isn’t any big character development either, so it really is just conversation after conversation after conversation about nothing in particular.
The second hour is a totally different story and its when Shin Godzilla really shines. It’s not just the Godzilla sequences that are awesome, the human scenes become vastly more interesting. There’s character moments, developments and tensions. Its in this second hour when Anno and Higuchi bring in the tried and tested ‘use Godzilla as a metaphor’, depicting the United States as this power-hungry warlord of destruction. Japan’s attacks on Godzilla aren’t wielding results, so the President of America just suggest dropping nukes on him – because that’s their answer for everything (according to the film). It’s not only a topical plot mechanic, but it adds a lot of human drama to Shin Godzilla as our heroes frantically find a way to stop Godzilla before the Americans wipe Tokyo from existence. Like all the early movies of the series, Shin Godzilla stands out from its contemporaries because it raises questions about the world we live in.
The second hour and action scene at the mid-point genuinely make Shin Godzilla one of the best films in the long-running franchise. It’s easily better than most of the Millennium series (Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack not withstanding) and it even eclipses much of the Heisei-eiga. It’s not just that it feels current and the effects don’t look dated, Shin Godzilla brings something new to the table with the character and it puts so much emphasis on the threat that comes with him. Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla was a loving tribute made in the Hollywood system, but this is a true Gojira film in the 1954 sense of the character. There are issues with the first half, but Shin Godzilla is a fantastic film that fans will love.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and Scooperhero News. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen and read his weekly feature The Week in Star Wars.