Shin Godzilla (2016) is the newest movie in the famous kaiju saga. It is the 31st film in the franchise, and the 29th produced by Japanese film production company Toho, which produced the 1954 original Gojira. The film is co-directed by Hideaki Anno, of popular anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion fame, and Shinji Higuchi. The film is a reboot of the franchise, with an all-new original story for the giant monster.
The basic story follows all the classic Godzilla tropes: a strange water eruption at the Tokyo Bay and a mysterious flooding of the Tokyo Bay Aqua-line tunnel attract the attention of government officials, who soon discover through a video gone viral that the creature responsible for the events is a giant monster. The creature then emerges from the bay and rampages through the city, before evolving into a bigger form and escaping into the ocean.
What follows is a strange movie: a combination of political satire and giant monster flick. Godzilla itself is seen here in one of its most frightening incarnations. In other films in the franchise, writers have always let the viewer sympathize in one way or another with Godzilla, or at least, provided some way of relating to it. Here, Godzilla is a force of pure destruction, impersonal and unknowable. The main characters refer to it as a “god of destruction” and there is even a scene where the hysterical Tokyo population chant his name, as if worshipping it.
The movie has an apocalyptic feeling to it, with a sense of impending doom as the characters, all government officials, search in desperation for a way to stop the monster’s onslaught without involving the United States proposed solution: thermonuclear bombs.
The nuclear threat is omnipresent throughout the movie. Godzilla itself started as a metaphor for the nuclear problem. Here the implications are clear: the monster is indestructible and uncontainable, and in the end it is only just stopped for the time being; no one can turn back time and stop atomic bombs from being developed, we have to just accept that we are living in a world with such a threat.
The other half of the movie is also pretty typical Godzilla fare, at least in its Japanese versions: scientists and government bureaucrats sitting around in meetings, talking and trying to figure out a way of stopping the menace. Here, Anno and Higuchi resort to a clever satire of the Japanese government, presenting it as moored in endless bureaucracy and demonstrations of a, we are suggested, misguided sense of honor and ritual which slows what should be fast and critical proceedings. The top-of-the-rung leaders are presented as out of touch, aloof and borderline useless people, while the young hotshot bureaucrats are seen as cool, slick people who think outside the box and eventually find a solution: a McGuffin formula that eventually freezes Godzilla on the spot.
Hiroki Hasegawa as Rando Yaguchi and Satomi Ishihara as Kayoko Ann Patterson deliver credible performances, although the latter stretches credibility as a special U.S. envoy. Anno’s sensibilities for apocalyptic destruction, no doubt developed during his run of Neon Genesis Evangelion, especially shine in the middle part of the movie, where Godzilla demonstrates for the first time his signature atomic breath and basically annihilates all of Tokyo’s downtown while the ominous score of Shirō Sagisu (who also composed the score for the Evangelion series) resonates in the background.
All in all, the movie is a very welcome return to form for the King of the Monsters.