There are plenty of issues with the world of cinema in 2016. But it is hard not to be a little optimistic when a new Toho Godzilla flick gets a good cinematic run, joining the western Godzilla franchise that Gareth Edwards kicked off a couple of years back. Personally I could handle two Godzilla series running parallel for years to come.
Shin Godzilla (2016) is the first Toho Godzilla film since Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). The film is a reboot, taking place in a modern day Japan that has never faced the beast before. Especially early on, this is a manic film. The opening 15 minutes is a cacophony of dialogue, characters, places and meaningless government taskforces. Although impossible to follow, this sets up what is at the heart of the human plot elements – a deep dive into the bureaucratic and ministerial response to a disaster. The monster arrives early, looking far from how I expected it to, but clearly evoking Godzillas past. Coming so fast on the heels of the relatively popular and well received American incarnation, there was a fear that Shin Godzilla could lack that distinctive Toho identity. The appearance of the main attraction is one of many pieces of evidence that prove we shouldn’t have been concerned, and that Toho have no interest in changing how they have always brought the character to life. Whilst the vibe of the monster is similar to what the company has given us previously, the evolving nature of the character is a great asset. The monster evolves as the film progresses, giving a different visual look, different powers and representing a different challenge to its human combatants. So whilst the film only features one monster, it essentially functions as a few different ones. Also nicely done in the plot is how the action escalates. The first extended military engagement is a highlight, the cool progression of weaponry brought to bear on the creature who happily saunters through it all. However the film does have too many stretches where Godzilla is dormant, which sucks a fair bit of the life out of the film.
If there is one moment that you will know for sure if Shin Godzilla is for you, it is the first appearance of the monster. Bug eyed, low to the ground and reminiscent of film monsters many years past, it is quite a unique thing to see in a 2016 cinema. My jaw swung open and I immediately fell in love with what this film was doing. But I could understand people rapidly assessing what they had gotten themselves in for as they copped a look at that. The monster is reminiscent of the rest of the film, both stylistically and thematically. Many elements of the film, the characterisation and destruction, share a schlocky, delightful throwback vibe to them. The mo-cap/CGI rendering of the monster mimics the man in the rubber suit vibe of films past, rather than the slick sheen of American iterations. Understandably given the ongoing horrors of Fukushima, nuclear concerns are situated at the heart of the film thematically. Complementing that focus are issues around laboured governmental decision making and the impact that has on making already dire situations even worse. Questionable international relations are also evoked as the USA decides, more or less unilaterally, to nuke Tokyo. The film is situated intelligently in the 20th century history of Japanese militarism. You can feel the weight of decisions made to take up arms and engage the might of the armed forces, the pall of WWII hanging over them. And of course the most important takeaway, as with all Godzilla films, is that “man is more frightening than Gojira”.
Verdict: Shin Godzilla is a proud throwback, not concerned with delivering a similar experience to what Edwards and co brought to screens. This is a film that will delight fans of the earlier Toho fans, and may also garner new ones with the astute social commentary complementing the schlock. Pint of Kilkenny