Godzilla, star of the world’s longest continually running film franchise, has returned to the UK this year.
Hideaki Anno’s Shin Godzilla, the 31st movie in the series, was initially released last year in Japan and won seven awards at the 40th Japanese Academy Prize, including Picture of the Year – but does it hold up for a Western audience?
Shin Godzilla (meaning “new Godzilla”) differs greatly from Hollywood’s take on the king of the monsters from 2014. Whilst the latter was portrayed as a somewhat heroic force of nature, Shin goes back to its roots as a destructive nuclear mutation, punishing mankind for its mistakes. The plot is heavily political, packed with commentary on the shape of the Japanese government. Tokyo Bay has been flooded, and this is soon revealed to be the work of an unidentified aquatic creature. This being is pretty incompetent to begin with – it doesn’t even have arms and can barely hold its own weight. The real problem is how the authorities are weighed down by a number of pointless traditions that prevent them from dealing with the beast before it evolves into a much bigger threat. The forward-thinking Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) is then entrusted to build a task force of masterminds, setting their customs aside to come up with a solution.
Most of this is made up of intense boardroom discussions – you can really feel the desperation of the characters as they struggle to find a means of beating the seemingly invincible entity. Each character has a distinct personality. The two with the most screen time, Yaguchi and US agent Kayoko Ann Patterson (Satomi Ishihara), are particularly fleshed out and there is a great dynamic between them. The plot is incredibly fast paced, with each exciting new development leading to another. Occasionally, it gets a little too fast, making it difficult for the audience to keep up with what is going on.
Despite its themes of politics and disaster, the film is not short of humour, whether it’s the banter between the members of the task force or Ren Osugi’s excellent performance as the laughable Prime Minister.
Shin Godzilla boasts some truly amazing special effects. The titular monster looks more horrifying than ever before, with grotesque detail that really emphasises its nuclear origins. However, the beady eyes may cause some unintentional laughs – in some close-up frames, they almost resemble stick-on googly eyes. The best shots in the movie are those that show the sheer destruction Godzilla has caused – they’re chillingly similar to the 2011 Tōhoku eathquake and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. The pain of the victims really comes across in these scenes, and they deliver a strong anti-nuclear message.
Japan’s latest instalment in the Godzilla franchise had a limited screening in cinemas across the UK this summer and will get a home media release in December. As with almost all movies, the film isn’t perfect, but it’s exciting, thought-provoking and entertaining enough for the flaws not to matter – this is arguably the best Godzilla has been since its debut in 1954. If you feel like watching a monster movie, make it Shin Godzilla.