Director: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi
Writer: Hideaki Anno
Starring: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara
Review by Michael Walls-Kelly
When Toho, the production company behind the original Godzilla, decided to reboot its largest cultural icon in the wake of 2014’s American Godzilla it tried to go bigger and better. Shin Godzilla definitely went bigger, but better is a little more questionable.
Shin Godzilla is a solid reboot from Toho. When you watch most Kaiju films, specifically Godzilla films, you expect a large amount of people talking compared to the amount of large monsters wrecking up the place. Shin Godzilla has a solid ratio, all things considered, and more importantly the human parts are funny and entertaining, if not exactly loaded with pathos.
The plot is extremely straightforward, as these movies go. When a creature appears in Tokyo Bay the government comes together to bury itself in bureaucracy until a rag-tag group of scientists and workers who seem unbound by honorifics try to figure out a way to stop the continuously evolving monster. A lot of the human portions of the movie are solidly funny, as if they handed those parts over to Terry Gilliam and Armando Iannucci. The intricate bureaucracy of the Japanese Parliament is exploited for as much humour as possible, with meetings at odds with each other happening in the exact same room, cross communication and classic passing-the-buck.
Hiroki Hasegawa plays Rando Yaguchi, one of the only same men in politics and the head of the rag-tag group. He does an extremely solid job, playing both incredulity in the parliament meetings and straight-man during the brainstorming sessions. Slightly less successful is Satomi Ishihara as Kayoko Ann Paterson, a helpful envoy from the United States. As a Canadian it’s extremely obvious she’s a Japanese actor trying to play a born-and-raised Japanese-American. Once you go with how silly it is, it kind of loops back around to adorable. She has a really tough role, with not much to play besides stereotypically brash American, but she acquits herself nicely.
What truly matters though, what everyone came for, is the Godzilla action. When I followed the announcement and production of the movie I was very excited by the seemingly dangerous design this time. Not only is it allegedly the biggest Godzilla ever, it’s also one of the least-appealing(in a good way). The sharp, jutting teeth and red highlights emphasize its place on the [Villain — Force-of-Nature — Hero] scale as solidly between villain and force-of-nature. Godzilla has three main action set pieces in the film. The first is really interesting and different from most Godzilla attacks which have come before. The second is maybe one of the best Godzilla attack scenes I’ve ever seen. The combination of creature design, special effects and score works so well that it ends up leaving the finale — which is still fairly inventive — slightly underwhelming.
One of my biggest worries was actually the odd googly eyes on Godzilla that showed up in the posters and trailers. I thought it would be a little too ridiculous. Honestly, when you first see Godzilla in his slightly less-evolved state, the eyes do stand out as ridiculous. But something happens as the film builds and you get more invest. During the later attacks, when Godzilla’s googly eyes appeared it became unsettling, like a shark’s eyes rolling over white. It was an effective use of a singular design, and I applaud it.
See It! Honestly, this reboot is easily in the upper half of the Godzilla films, which is all that you can hope for. I feel like it may creep up higher after repeat viewings. I found it creepy and funny in equal measures, both fun and harrowing. The human parts went for a style and pretty much nailed it, giving a BBC comedy vibe like The Office or The Thick of It to the bureaucratic clusterfuck. It was fun to see POV shots of office chairs and pens juxtaposed with a barely-formed Godzilla belly flopping its way through a car strewn street. The Godzilla action was top-notch, with specific emphasis on the second attack. If you’re a Kaiju fan it’s a must-watch, and if you’re not a fan it’s probably still worth checking out.