Directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi
Written by Hideaki Anno
Starring Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi and Satomi Ishihara
Produced by Toho Pictures
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
After a 12-year hiatus, Toho’s Godzilla franchise returns with its newest entry, Shin Godzilla. Directed by Hideaki Anno (Evangelion) and Shinji Higuchi (Attack on Titan) from a script by Anno, Shin Godzilla returns the series to its creature horror roots while adding new wrinkles to the beloved monster and offering a strong critique of a bureaucratic government.
The 29th film in the Toho franchise, Shin Godzilla is the first full reboot, disregarding all continuity, including the original 1954 Gojira. The film opens simply enough, as an abandoned ship is found floating in the bay. However things quickly escalate as the bay suffers from several earthquake-like tremors and accidents. It is here that the film introduces the central protagonist, Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), who serves as Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary. If that seems overly specific, be prepared, as it is part of one of the film’s many stylistic choices.
As each character is introduced, subtitled captions appear on the top of the screen providing that individual’s name and title. These same captions also appear for most locations as well as some of the weaponry that is used in the film. It’s a choice that works well considering the political nature of the plot, but it isn’t without its problems. U.S. distributor Funimation has opted to use subtitles for the limited release, and while that helps preserve the delivery of the actors, at times the dialogue and captions appear on the screen simultaneously, requiring some quick reading to keep up. As the film progresses, this becomes less of a distraction, but it takes some getting used to.
One of the complaints about the Legendary’s 2014 Godzilla was that it didn’t feature much Godzilla and the plot focused almost entirely on the human characters and the MUTO creatures. Shin Godzilla takes almost the exact opposite approach, as the human plot is entirely about Yaguchi and the Japanese government’s attempts to drive back the monster. By making the film a true reboot of the franchise, Anno and Higuchi are able to take advantage of the government’s inexperience fighting kaiju to create some biting satire about the way the government handles the threat. Much of this seems directed at the 03/11 Fukushima accident, as politicians debate as to whether or not to use military force or if the Japanese Constitution allows for such a deployment against a living creature. Meanwhile, Godzilla continues its path of destruction.
Speaking of the big guy, Shin Godzilla makes some fairly dramatic changes to the origin and nature of the monster. Gone are the charming attributes of the Showa series or the feline qualities of the Heisei era. This Godzilla is almost a zombie in its behavior, wandering about with no apparent goal or purpose. Godzilla’s dead eyes and scarred skin makes for an unnerving appearance, and make it arguably the scariest incarnation of the character. Some fans may balk at the more substantive changes to the character, but Godzilla really comes into his own as the film moves on. And while Godzilla doesn’t have a substantial amount of screentime, cinematographer Kosuke Yamada ensures that every moment with the monster is perfect.
Yamada’s work throughout the film is stunning; so much of the film takes place in boardrooms and offices, that it would be easy for the film to become visually uninteresting. However Yamada chooses interesting shots and, along with quick editing by director Anno and Atsuki Sato, the film moves along at a brisk pace.
However, the beautiful cinematography can’t quite overcome some of the stiffness of the Anno’s characters. While Hiroki Hasegawa does fine in the lead, the script never really allows for any scenes to display his personality. The audience only gets to know him in a professional setting, and the only personal struggle he faces in the film ultimately comes from the government attempting to recover from Godzilla’s devastation. If one doesn’t become invested in the political satire of the film, Shin Godzilla doesn’t offer a real human connection, which could make the film intolerably dry. Other actors fair less well, particularly Satomi Ishihara in the role of Kayoko Ann Patterson, daughter of a U.S. Senator. Ishihara plays her part fine so long as she is speaking Japanese. however her English isn’t strong enough for her to convince you that she’s an American, especially when some of the actors playing Japanese officials deliver their lines more ably. It’s distracting, but it doesn’t hold the film back too much.
Shiro Sagisu’s score is fantastic, giving an operatic feel to the proceedings. The music utilizes vocals along with more traditional orchestration to give the film a haunting feeling. Sagisu also makes use of Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla music, not just the themes, but the actual recordings from the 1954 Gojira. It’s a nice way to pay tribute to the original film, and it gives Shin Godzilla some additional flavor.
In the end, Shin Godzilla isn’t quite the masterpiece some would like it to be. Directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi make some strong creative choices both in terms of the visuals and the narrative. How well once receives the film will likely depend on how open one is to those choices. Make no mistake though, Shin Godzilla is one of the better entries in the franchise, and an action set-piece in the middle of the film is worth the price of admission on its own.