Shin Godzilla: A 60-year-old monster franchise evolves into political satire

By Jim Slotek

 

When I was a juror at the recent Toronto Japanese Film Festival, Shin Godzilla (a.k.a Godzilla Resurgent) was one of the featured films – though it wasn’t offered up to us for awards consideration.

 Shin Godzilla runs hot...

Shin Godzilla runs hot...

This is a shame, since it would certainly have made my short list (and not just because I’m a monster geek).

Shin Godzilla, which was in Canadian theatres for one weekend only last year and is released on Blu-ray Aug. 1, is, in large part, a hilariously dark satire of government bureaucratic incompetence in the face of disaster.

The 29th Toho film featuring the scaly Big Guy is also one of cleverest and smartest, clearly informed by the Fukushima nuclear disaster and a jaundiced view of do-nothing “experts.”
At a guess, the movie seems to about one-third scenes of Godzilla doing what Godzilla does (ie. inflict maximum property damage on Tokyo and environs) and two-thirds scenes of high-level meetings where committees are formed to react to Godzilla’s latest move. Of course, such decisions are usually about three decisions too late.

It’s only when the authorities throw their hands in the air and give the hammer to an ad hoc group of rogue nerds that things get done (however haphazardly).

Writer-director Hideaki Anno and co-director Shinji Higuchi do the reboot right. After decades as a bad-monster-turned-good, Shin Godzilla starts from square one, and even further back than that.

 And cool...

And cool...

The “Godzilla problem” begins with a larval stage monster plodding amphibian-like out of a bubbled-up Tokyo Harbour - this after the feckless prime minister (Ren Ôsugi) has gone on TV to assure the public that this is a harmless anomaly. After an initial rampage, the proto-Godzilla slumps back into the sea - following which, the prime minister assures the public that experts predict the monster is unlikely to return.

Famous last words. Thus, we are given a chance to see Godzilla himself literally evolve in this new Toho universe.

Of course, it is a tradition in Godzilla movies for the U.S. to play a part (initially it was part of the series ethos that the U.S. was itself to blame for its monster-producing nuclear waste and bomb tests – though this version seems to suggest a random act of God).

And there are U.S. military men, ready with bombers and monster-piercing missiles if the lesser Japanese military fails to do its job.

But the most unique American application comes in the form of a Kayoko Ann Paterson (Satomi Ishihara), a powerful Japanese-American envoy who is tagged to be U.S. President some day and makes dismissive reference to Japan as, “the land of my grandmother.” Trouble is her English is spotty, which detracts from her believability as a member of the American political elite (though, to be fair, it hasn’t proved a detriment to the current occupant of the White House).

Patterson comes to believe the monster story put forth by bureaucratic functionary Rando (Hiroki Hasegawa), who seems to be the only person in the entire Japanese government with a brain in his head. And together they help the military implement the crazy ideas coming out of the nerd-room.

The effects have also evolved - past the guy-in-a-Godzilla-suit to the 21st Century equivalent, CGI with an actor in a mo-cap suit. The effects are Hollywood-worthy (beyond a certain level, who even cares anymore?). And there is enough versigodzillatude (hey, I made up a word) to harken all the way back to the ‘50s – even as the filmmakers take the world’s most famous monster in an entirely different direction.


Jim Slotek

Jim Slotek is a former Toronto Sun columnist, movie critic, TV critic and comedy beat reporter. He’s been a scriptwriter for the NHL Awards, Gemini Awards and documentaries, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for comedy writing on a special (the NHL Awards). Prior to the Sun, he worked at the Ottawa Citizen as an entertainment reporter.