After getting his second American make over, The King of the Monsters returns home. Shin Godzilla, the first Japanese Godzilla in over a decade, shows off a new look for the massive monster from Tokyo Bay. He’s got clear radiation scars all over his body. His eyes are super small googley eyes of death. The monster’s tail is slightly taller than he is. This ain’t your grandpa’s Japanese Godzilla… or is it? The trouble with calling your movie Shin Godzilla (which roughly translates to ‘New Godzilla’) is that one would expect something modern. Even without that title, Toho bringing back their iconic monster should probably result in something really out of the box and new for the character & the kaiju concept in general. America has already been stepping into their territory over the last couple of years, so it’s about time the Japanese showed off something different. Well, there’s at least a different perspective potentially at play. The question is, did Shin Godzilla need to be told from this angle?
Our “rousing adventure” starts in a setting we need to be comfortable with: a boardroom. After sightings of a large creature off the coast of Tokyo Bay, a boardroom of government officials meet with Prime Minister Seiji Okochi (Ren Ohsugi) to talk about the steps that need to be taken in order to address this problem. Every. Single. Grueling. Step. They have to interview a bunch of biologists who can describe what this creature is, meticulously describe how to evacuate citizens out of the path of destruction and analyze data about why blood is spewing out of its gills. Meanwhile, the actual monster is destroying everything in its path, before suddenly getting up on its hind legs and making its presence known as helicopters wait in the sky for official confirmation to shoot it. Then, the monster suddenly disappears and we get more boardroom scenes as young Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) attempts to slowly fill up a power vacuum that this monster’s attacks have opened from the seat of a task force of scientists dedicated to finding out the mystery behind Godzilla’s weakness. Suddenly, our monster – dubbed ‘Godzilla’ – has come back into its full final form to wreak havoc… that we’ll mostly see in between massive boardroom scenes.
In case you couldn’t tell, Shin Godzilla is full of boardroom scenes. Not scenes of Godzilla fighting another creature or causing full on mayhem or even that many people suffering in the streets of Japan. No. Boardroom scenes. Meticulous endless boardroom scenes where every single step of the process in evacuation, diplomacy and scientific research in a crisis is doled out without much of any heart or soul put into it. I don’t want this to seem like a stereotypical American response of “I wanna see more of da monster destroying stuff, not this political drama.” However, the keyword missing from the actual conflicts between these human characters is just that. Drama. Everyone in these boardroom scenes is about as cold and meticulous as they could get. They treat Godzilla less like a massive threat that’s literally attacking the city and more like a publicity snafu they have to get rid of. It’s honestly an even worse case scenario of the problem with Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla, but now there’s even less Godzilla featured and – more importantly – emphasis on human characters with even less interesting arcs going on.
Hell, non-existent arcs going on. Even when delivering all this extremely lengthy red tape, there’s no real passion in anyone’s faces. No extreme worry for those who are dying. Just a cold empty stare and robotic decree that something needs to be done decisively. The only people with any sort of characteristics beyond talking heads in Shin Godzilla are Hiroki Hasegawa with his determined desire to be a boring talking head and Satomi Isihhara as the Special Envoy to the President. Neither have well written characters, but the actors put some kind of decent spin on what they’re giving to breathe some life into things. However, it’s not nearly enough to save this from its padded plodding story and incredibly overbearing exposition that’s rammed into your face.
Clearly, Shin Godzilla is attempting to evoke some of the determined skill of Japan’s bureaucracy, though with a bit of attempted Dr. Strangelove satire mixed in. The over elaborate ways in which this is red tape is being strewn while Godzilla is destroying the city is a very dark form of satire, which falls in line with (the little I have seen) of co-director/writer Hideaki Anno (creator of the anime Evangelion) and co-director Shinji Higuchi (director of the Attack on Titan live action films) works. They obviously enjoy the idea of using very dark sci-fi concepts and disturbing human behavior to convey their satiric bitter outlook on humanity. And that’s fine in theory. In practice, they just end up taking more of the exact same themes we had in the original 1954 film, but without any of the nuance or genuine terror. Even the few modern illusions to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster are pushed far to the side in favor of rehashing what worked about the original Gojira in terms of actual commentary about Japan’s past. It mostly just boils down to “Member Hiroshima?” all over again.
We are always outside of the main human drama of this attack. Never much of anything related to those either struggling to survive or are giving into Godzilla’s presence. There’s a point where we see a crowd of people protesting the task force trying to defeat Godzilla, saying that “He is a god.” Then… we just keep focusing on the boardroom sitting around coming up with a plan, where the only attempt at something visually interesting is a hand held camera that follows someone with a laptop from one table to the other. In trying to make Japan as a whole feel like the one character we should care about, Shin Godzilla manages to ignore 95% of its population in favor of boring red tape bureaucracy. Then again, this may have been worth it if not for one of the more moronic solution reveals I could have possibly imagined for The King of the Monsters.
Speaking of which, while we do get very little of Godzilla in our Shin Godzilla movie, the few intriguing moments of the film revolve around the titular beast. We’re introduced to him with a weird evolution form that spills blood from his gills. He evolves and sways with his huge tail that depicts the massive scope of him as a beast. There’s even an amazing scene showing the repercussions of Godzilla’s atomic breath that brings new life into this iconic monster… but those moments are few and far between. Godzilla is more of a plot device here, leaving the movie due to a very lazy excuse or sometimes no actual excuse at all. None of this is helped by the big scene of taking him down, which ends up being the lamest attempt at giving an escape bull a dental filling rather than the spirit of human ingenuity it’s striving to be.
Ultimately, Shin Godzilla is a bloated waste of time. The few teases at world building and expanding this universe are tempting, but tossed to the side in favor of this attempted satire of how meticulous Japan is at bureaucracy for a natural disaster. Maybe I missed something in translation, but the satire being done here feels immensely one-note. After the first few board meetings, we get the idea. The extensive red tape meant to do something as simple as take down Godzilla is ridiculous and takes forever to do something as simple as shoot a missle at him. But one can take only so much of the endless phone line from gunner to Prime Minister before it gets stale. Despite a few cool moments with the beast himself, Shin Godzilla is the type of frustrating bore that hurts the most. It’s repetitive on both a basic structural level and a thematic level with the original Gojira to the point of being a creatively bankrupt mess. Anyone still complaining about either the lack of Godzilla or interesting characters in Godzilla 2014 and praising this is in a state of pure denial.
Rating: (1 / 5)