As a fan of giant monster movies, I’m annoyed that I haven’t seen a Japanese Godzilla film all the way through before. I’ve seen clips of Japanese Godzilla films but the only Godzilla films I’ve seen all the way through have been the American ones. Now though, thanks to Manga UK, the most recent Japanese Godzilla film, Shin Godzilla, has been released in the UK and I managed to go to a cinema screening of it. Now Shin Godzilla has been on my radar for a while since it was announced that Hideaki Anno, the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion, was going to direct it. Now I’ve already talked about Evangelion with my review of The End of Evangelion a few months ago and I was interested to see if Anno would bring that level of insanity and after watching the film, I can say that Anno delivered on the insanity.The film is a reboot of the Godzilla films, with the film focusing on the first appearance of Godzilla, unlike other revivals of Godzilla in Japan which act as sequels to the 1954 original, with the film focusing on the reaction of the Japanese government to the appearance of Godzilla and their attempts to stop Godzilla from destroying Tokyo. Now the main element that makes this Godzilla film unique compared to the American films is that it equal parts monster movie and political satire. Many scenes in the film are given to satirising the ineffective nature of the Japanese government, with multiple meetings and press conferences being held before any decision is made. This gives the film a sense of humour more akin to the works of Armando Iannucci than to other giant monster movies. There’s even a good bit of satire towards the American political system, how often they cover up things that make them look bad and how political ambitions come ahead of doing things that will actually help people, even in the case of Godzilla. What helps this satirical element of the film is the large cast of characters, there being dozens of characters in the film, giving the film a real sense of a functional, if incredible slow and ineffective, government, making this feel like the most believable response to a giant monster attack, with the performances, particularly from Hiroki Hasegawa, adding to the political satire elements of the film, along with their reactions to Godzilla and the death caused by Godzilla feeling believable. The only part of the political side of the film that really pulled me out of the experience was Satomi Ishihara as Kayoko Ann Paterson, the special envoy for the US President. Her performance works for the character, but the heavy Japanese accent doesn’t quite fit a second generation Japanese-American woman who’s lived in America her whole life, someone like Olivia Munn would have felt more natural in the part.
Whilst most of the film is focused on the political side, with this side giving the film more weight, when the film focuses on Godzilla it’s a treat to behold. From the first second we see it, it’s clear that this is a Hideaki Anno version of Godzilla. The first form we see of Godzilla (the second known form), whilst the CG renders it looking a bit goofy, has this creepy quality to it with giant, dead eyes and gills that are constantly spewing blood, this type of image is the kind of thing you think of when you imagine a Hideaki Anno version of Godzilla. This comes more into play later on when we see more images of the final form of Godzilla, in particular the tail, with flesh that looks rotten and humanoid creatures being seen in Godzilla’s tail, with it kind of looking like the tail was originally meant to be a second head. This feels more natural for what Godzilla would look like as a creature adapting to survive in constant radioactive waste and it’s this kind of imagery that made Hideaki Anno the perfect choice for a Godzilla film. The scenes of destruction meanwhile have a brutal edge to them, some similarities being seen both with the 9/11 terrorist attacks and, more potently, the 2011 earthquake and the Fukishima disaster, particularly when we see Godzilla rise from Tokyo Bay, creating some really haunting imagery. The film also remembers the badass nature of Godzilla, with some great moments of haunting beauty coming from shots of Godzilla, with the first time we see the atomic breath being the highlight of the film. The action scenes with the military are impressive as well, feeling believable for what would be used to take down Godzilla, including taking advantage of train lines and the buildings (which interested me as a planning student), along with showing how ineffective traditional military forces would be against Godzilla, with all traditional weaponry just bouncing off Godzilla.
Outside of Godzilla, the film is very impressive on a technical level, for the most part. There is some really dodgy CG here and there, but apart from that the aesthetics of the film are strong. The different ways the footage is presented, a mix of traditionally filmed footage, security cameras and phone footage, gives the film a bit of a documentary feel, adding to the more realistic tone of the film, whilst the production design for the government buildings is impressive in its blandness, feeling like proper government buildings. The cinematography does a great job at building dread throughout, with Godzilla being in the background of dozens of shots outside, never knowing when Godzilla will attack next, whilst the contrast of orange and black in the nighttime attacks adds to the haunting beauty of the atomic breath scenes. The music meanwhile does a good job at paying tribute to Godzilla, with the famous Godzilla theme making an appearance here, along with tributes being paid to Hideaki Anno’s career, with most of the political scenes being set to the music from Neon Genesis Evangelion, mainly the track Decisive Battle.
Overall, whilst I can understand why some people would be a bit hesitant towards this film, I found Shin Godzilla to be an effective, powerful monster movie. The elements of political satire give the film more weight that I originally expected but this doesn’t detract from the scenes with Godzilla, these scenes showing why Hideaki Anno was the perfect person to bring Godzilla back to the big screen in Japan, with the film showing the true horror that would emerge from an attack by Godzilla, with this horror being right in Hideaki Anno’s wheelhouse, again showing why, especially with his work on Evangelion, Anno was the right person for Godzilla.
My Rating: 5/5