I finally saw SHIN GOJIRA (aka Godzilla Resurgence) last night. This is the latest Godzilla film from Japan. It was released in July, 2016 in Japan. And, although it has played at a few theaters in the US, it has yet to be widely released here in theaters or on DVD. The official US release is scheduled for August, 2017 on DVD and Blu Ray from Funimation. I got a bootlegged DVD from an anonymous source.
Most of my Godzilla loving friends hated it. The main complaints I saw were about the film’s heavy-handed political message. So I wasn’t expecting much.
Godzilla films have had political messages before. The very first Godzilla film in 1954 was an allegory about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Both King Kong vs Godzilla in 1962 and Godzilla vs the Thing (aka Mothra vs Godzilla) in 1964 were, in part, satires on uncontrolled capitalism and consumer culture. Godzilla’s Revenge (aka All Monsters Attack) in 1970 was about the plight of neglected kids in postwar Japan. But in all of these cases the message was subtle. So subtle, in fact, that many viewers missed it entirely. The anti-pollution theme of Godzilla vs the Smog Monster (aka Godzilla vs Hedorah) in 1971 was less subtle, but still way more subtle than this new mess of a movie.
You could not possibly miss the message of Godzilla Resurgence. The makers of the film seem obsessed with making absolutely certain of that. I’d estimate that well over half of the film is dedicated to repetitive scenes intended to pound home its political point. It’s annoying and feels patronizing. What’s worse, it’s boooooring.
I get it! You think Japan was hamstrung after World War II by the Allies’ insistence that it never keep a standing army of its own. You feel that it’s high time that provision was struck from the law. You think the Japanese government is inefficient in times of crisis, with its attempts to reach complete consensus before taking any action. You think Japan kowtows too much to the United States.
The filmmakers could have put all that into a few brief scenes, which might have been funny and poignant. Instead they stretch every cabinet meeting to infinity. There’s a running gag about the way Japanese government agencies tend to get saddled with ridiculously long names. It’s cute the first couple of times, but after the 15th time the same joke gets a little wearying.
Also, for American viewers another big distraction is the casting of Satomi Ishihara as Kyoko Ann Peterson. She’s supposed to be a third-generation Japanese-American. But her accent gives her away every time she speaks English, which she does throughout the film. Of course, Japanese audiences generally won’t be able to tell. But the filmmakers knew the film would also play in the US. They could have altered her backstory or had her spend a bit more time with a dialect coach.
As for Godzilla himself (itself?), I am the only Godzilla fan I know who actually likes the new design. At least the final form. In this film, Godzilla appears in four forms. The first one is terrible, with eyes that look like those stick-on googly eyes things you see in a lot of memes. But the final form of Godzilla is genuinely scary in a way Godzilla hasn’t been for a very long time.
I also liked the way Godzilla is explained in this film. It makes him a lot more terrifying and utterly alien than previous incarnations. Rather than being a mutated dinosaur, this Godzilla is the product of accelerated evolution caused by the dumping of nuclear waste in the deep ocean. Any time you try to kill this Godzilla, it instantly evolves a new defense mechanism against that attack. Thus, the way Godzilla is impervious to all weapons is finally given some sort of (almost) logical justification.
I also appreciated the way the use of nuclear weapons against Godzilla is handled in this movie. In previous films, they’ve only ever dealt with this in brief throw-away lines. “We can’t use atomic weapons! Think of the human casualties!” In this film, the danger of Godzilla multiplying and destroying the entire world makes it imperative that he is killed at any cost. It makes complete sense that the UN authorizes the nuking of Tokyo as a way to stop the monster. The Japanese have just two hours to come up with their own way to destroy it before the bomb is dropped. That, I thought, was a novel twist, even though it plays into the film’s heavy-handed political message — again.
I did not like the way the filmmakers dumped the traditional man-in-a-costume effects for full computer graphics. This Godzilla was, like the previous two American versions, completely realized inside computers. This is the first time the Japanese have made Godzilla this way.
The computerized effects are done pretty well, at least. Unlike previous Japanese attempts at CGI, there are only a few scenes in this film that look like they could have come from video games. But, to me, a big part of Godzilla’s appeal was that you always knew he was portrayed by a human being. I’m sure I’m in the tiniest of minorities in this opinion, though. So I’ll shut up about it.
My overall assessment is that this is probably the worst Godzilla film to come out of Japan. At least the much reviled 70s Godzilla films like Godzilla Vs Gigan and Godzilla Vs Megalon were fast-paced, goofy fun. And even the almost universally hated Godzilla: Final Wars had some cool action scenes, like the one where the Japanese Godzilla mops the floor with the American Godzilla from the 1998 mega-flop. This one doesn’t even have that much going for it.
I hate to say it, but this one was a snooze-fest for the most part. Other than the bits I pointed out above, I just couldn’t get into it at all. Most of the film’s running time is taken up with endless scenes of Japanese politicians discussing stuff. If I wanted that, I’d turn on the Japanese version of C-SPAN (not that such a thing exists, but if it did, it would look like most of this movie).
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