Shin Godzilla

Year: 2016
Production Co: Toho
Director: Hideaki Anno/Shinji Higuchi
Writer: Hideaki Anno

I'm not the most knowledgeable Godzilla devotee but I'm pretty sure most of the classic era Toho films were set in a universe where the world knew Godzilla existed and they had to try and pit him against some other monstrous threat like Mothra, Mechagodzilla or that hilarious rubber-faced Kong from 1962's King Kong vs Godzilla.

This time it's what we all know as a reboot. A strange phenomena appears in the ocean near Yokohama – the sea churning and boiling and a road tunnel underneath the harbour splitting open and spewing torrents of filthy water onto passing traffic below.

While the powers that be hurriedly convene in boardrooms to watch footage of the unfolding crisis and argue about what to do about it, the proverbial hits the fan.

A huge tail emerges from the plume of spray and a gigantic, lumbering, quadruped creature climbs out of the sea and starts tromping down the street in a Tokyo neighbourhood, obliterating cars, houses and property while the authorities try to execute a frenzied evacuation in advance of the creature.

All of a sudden it stops, rears up and reforms into a bipedal creature who's shape we as the audience are more familiar with, growing exponentially in size and turning around to go back to the water.

Personalities and alliances emerge out of the crisis as the government tries desperately to figure out what to do next. They unearth a US presidential envoy (a woman too impossibly young and beautiful to be an up and coming politician) with a theory about the creature that's tied to the research of a disgraced scientist and Godzilla, as they're now calling him, climbs back out of the sea, now twice and big and heading for Tokyo again.

The combined might of the JDF and the US, who sends a special division to try and destroy the creature, only inflames it more and even more destruction is rained down on the city.

All seems lost until the hastily-assembled team of biologists and military experts led by the main government protagonist hits upon an idea – Godzilla is radioactive in nature, and the iconic plates down his back work as a cooling system. If they can manufacture and collect enough coagulating agent they might be able freeze him.

When Godzilla stops dead again in the city, apparently entering into a dormant state to restore energy after his attack, the race is on to create, ship and deliver gigalitres of the magic juice that will kill him.

I normally wouldn't have bothered with this film, but when the big Hollywood do-over Godzilla vs Kong came out some movie website ran a list of the best Godzilla movies and I was intrigued by how high this one was on the list.

It had a strange paradox of being extremely insightful while at the same time kind of narratively... plodding. To be honest the first time I saw the creature I thought it looked kind of stupid with its big googly eyes and CGI that felt quite a way short of the sort you see in $200m Hollywood blockbusters.

But – just like the original film was a metaphor for the radioactive horror of the World War II-era atomic bombs – I read that this film was similarly about the reaction to and aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in the 2011 tsunami.

Large swaths of it play like an urgent military thriller, supertext appearing on screen countless times to identify the politicians, scientists and policymakers all trying to hold the chain of bureaucratic command together and make it work in time to save countless lives with the crisis unfolds one second at a time in front of them.

In the latter stages there are also shades of anti-Americanism, several voices in the government maintaining that Japan can take care of the threat itself and doesn't need American interfering and adopting an immediate war footing.

I think it's all that stuff that resonated with critics and put in on that top ten list I read, and it indeed takes the spirit of what made the original Godzilla so impactful – by tying it to a real geopolitical threat and making it a sociopolitical issue.

Regardless of any shortcoming in the tone wrought by the editing, it's a great example of a movie taking something kind of dusty and very successful contemporising it.

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