Saturday, November 12, 2016

"'Post-war' extends forever." Shin Godzilla review

Shin Godzilla, directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, is the latest Godzilla motion picture from Japan; it's been appearing in North America in a limited release with subtitles; to my surprise, my home city in dusty ol' Calgary hosted the film in a pair of theatres. I'm not a tremendous fan of Godzilla, but I like the concept when it's executed well - that is, when the film either has a philosophy worth hearing or is tremendous fun to watch. My most learned friend on Godzilla, Craig, told me this was a Godzilla film worth seeing. And so it was.

Like the US versions of Godzilla, this is a complete reboot - nothing, not even the 1954 original, is left in-continuity for the purposes of this film. Thus, we have Godzilla making his first-ever appearance in modern-day Japan with absolutely no one prepared to deal with the likes of he; but this is not only a throwback in the sense of people seeing Godzilla for the first time, it also hearkens back to the spirit of the 1954 film. In 1954, Godzilla, King of the Monsters examined how post-atomic bomb Japan was dealing with its own anxieties about war and atomic destruction. Shin Godzilla does likewise (there are many references to the atomic bombs and "scrap and build") but is chiefly concerned with Japan's 2011 earthquake/nuclear disaster.

I had my doubts about this film due to Hideaki Anno's past as creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Yes, it is considered one of the greatest anime programs of all time, but the ending of that series truly soured me on Evangelion (and frankly, much of anime). There are touches in this film which seem much like his vision: the international rivalry over monster killing, Godzilla "evolving" and firing a grid of laser beams from his back, discussions about Godzilla as a "god" ...also: Shinji = Shin Godzilla!!! Wake up, sheeple! Atomic breath can't melt steel beams!

My doubts quickly vanished; this film drew me in immediately with its method of storytelling - lots of dialogue, lots of sets, scene upon scene. The dialogue is at times delivered so quickly (the director was inspired by The Social Network) that the subtitles would nearly cover the screen! This is one non-English film where I think a good dub would be welcome for the sake of those who don't read & absorb too quickly. At any rate, you need to pay attention during this film and the dark environs of a film theater are well suited to it; it's less likely you'll check your e-mail at the cinema (though the person next to me checked a message).

The film is very skeptical of leaders, be they interlopers from the U.S.A. who are convinced they can solve Japan's problems, to the bureaucracy in Japan's own government. At the times the film is much like a political farce. In one instance, the word is given to engage Godzilla; word travels through all the appropriate ranks until the helicopters mobilize and surround Godzilla; now the pilots ask for authorization to fire; word travels back up through the ranks until it reaches the Prime Minister, who authorizes firing; when bullets prove ineffective, the pilots ask for authorization to use missiles; one more, the message is relayed through channels until the Prime Minister agrees! It's very unlike a typical Godzilla picture.

Outside from leaders, the film also has it in for unimaginative thinkers; the ultimate solution to defeating Godzilla is very creative (and involves hitting Godzilla in, appropriately, the shin), but all other avenues are proven to be ignorant, thoughtless or ill-considered. There is a particular anxiety about using nuclear weapons against Godzilla which all of us who have seen Godzilla films know won't work, and are thus better able to see the use of nuclear weaons as a mistake - something which the franchise has always been on-point about.

Shin Godzilla has probably wrapped up its North American trip by now, but I encourage you to seek it out on video when it arrives.

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