Friday, October 14, 2016

"Shin Godzilla" vs. Japanese Politicians

What if Godzilla arrived in Japan in 2016, and the Japanese government had to find a way to defeat him, but the process became mired in political infighting & second-guessing? Shin Godzilla (aka Godzilla: Resurgence) is the 29th film in the long running series produced by Toho Studios. It’s already been a huge success in Japan, and is being shown in U.S. theaters from October 11-18. The version being screened here is in Japanese with English subtitles. Not only are there subtitles for the dialogue, but the title & position of each character flashes on the screen as well. It's a lot of information to read, but it gets a bit easier to take in as the film moves forward. There's a bit of dialogue in English as well. This film is as much a study of the Japanese political structure (with some pointedly satirical elements) as a giant monster or kaiju movie. For most of the movie, we see the gatherings of various groups within the government trying to figure out the best way to deal with Godzilla, whose appearance on the scene is treated like any other natural disaster.

This is not the friendly, heroic "Big G" of the late 60s & early-mid 70s Toho entries. Much like the original Godzilla from Gojira/Godzilla, King of the Monsters, this creature is an elemental force of nature, and causes a great deal of mayhem & destruction. The issue of the nuclear contamination the monster leaves in its wake and the long-term effects it could cause are on everyone’s minds. When the U.S. proposes a nuclear weapons strike to eliminate Godzilla, it’s up to a team of Japanese scientists (with some help from other sources) to find a solution that's not as aggressive, and less devastating to the population. You can also sense some definite allusions to two real-life events that occurred in Japan during 2011: the nuclear disaster at Fukushimi Daiichi & the earthquake & tsunami in Tohuku. Those events inform the film as much as the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki were a clear & present subtext in the 1954 version. 

There are definitely moments of satire & humor in the movie, with parts of that directed at the U.S. political structure as well as Japan’s. Since it takes up a good amount of the movie's running time, some viewers may find this a bit off-putting. I thought it worked pretty well. But as the saying goes, your mileage may vary. The film was co-directed by Hideaki Anno (who also wrote the screenplay) & Shinji Higuchi, who are both anime veterans. The design of this iteration of Godzilla starts out a bit more on the comical side, which I think hurts his effectiveness early in the film. But as the creature evolves, it becomes a bit more frightening, culminating in a scene with the monster walking upright and firing radioactive blasts from its back as well as its mouth, in an impressive battle sequence that’s the highlight of the movie. And it was a treat for this long-time fan to hear some of composer Akira Ifukube's iconic original music from the earlier films throughout the movie.

Several reviewers have noted that there’s not much Godzilla action in the film, but there’s a bit more of it here than in Gareth Edwards’ successful & well-regarded 2014 American reboot of the franchise. The Godzilla scenes are very well done, and deliver the goods for kaiju fans. This film is considered a separate entity from the U.S. series (whose next entry is due in 2018) and is a re-launch of the Toho series, which has been dormant since Godzilla: Final Wars was released in 2004. Shin Godzilla is now the highest grossing entry in the Toho series in Japan, and one of their biggest box office successes of the year. It’s a safe bet to assume we’ll see more Godzilla from Toho in the future. The film is in limited release in U.S. theaters until October 18, and a home video release (it's rumored that it will include a dubbed version) is planned for the near future. Here’s a link to the trailer for Shin Godzilla: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgyq6YKeIms.

Update: The theatrical run of the film has been extended until 10/22, with a few theaters offering screenings through October 27. Details can be found on the following site: http://www.funimationfilms.com/movie/shingodzilla/.

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