Rice with Sriracha Sauce
Perhaps it’s important to know that I am a “big” Godzilla fan. I’ve nearly seen every ancient and modern Godzilla movie known to man one time or another. From the original 1954 masterpiece to the kiddo episodic movies of the 60’s to the strong horror features of the 90’s to the modern reboots of Gareth Edward’s and (I can’t believe I’m even acknowledging it) Roland Emmerich’s American Godzilla, I’m in love with the iconic titan.
This is a back-burner review because this movie (produced by Japanese company TOHO LTD.) was just released in America a few days ago (August 1st to be exact). Besides this, Godzilla movies have never been widely recognized or watched by the general public. Maybe it’s the foreign nature of the film, the dubbed English or English subtitles. It’s probably the campy special effects, that’s got to be it. I think these movies though have something artistic to appreciate and enjoy and Shin Godzilla thankfully revives the centerpiece of the franchise that made it interesting and relevant in the first place.
The Godzilla franchise has had many different renderings and interpretations of its archetypal monster, but this new film reboots the franchise (like actually reboots it from its years of sequels and renovations and upgrades) by acting like it’s the first time anyone has ever seen a “Godzilla” or as the Japanese call him, “Gojira”. In essence it is rebooting the original 1954 classic directed by Ishiro Honda wherein Gojira was a modern-day parallel of the nuclear holocaust that devastated Hiroshima. He was in actuality created by the testing of nuclear bombs by America (a hint that Japan never forgot back then who did what to who). That is in fact the nature of Gojira though. He is a walking atomic bomb that feeds off of nuclear power in order to destroy and ravage mankind. The movie never forgot its purpose, to display the ironic nature of nuclear war, that the power used by humanity to devastate nature and humanity would be the same thing that would destroy themselves. Gojira was never simply about nature taking revenge on mankind. No, it meant to say something about the nature of nuclear war and weapons employed by humans in ignorance and vain-glory.
Shin Godzilla works so well because it builds on this concept and like any good fantasy sci-fi movie it parallels current socio-political problems. In this case, the Fukushima Nuclear accident of 2011 caused by an earthquake is the parallel. If you don’t believe me, I find it ironic that the same way to defeat Godzilla is the same way used to implement a cool shutdown of the meltdown. The metaphor is still the same (ever since Hiroshima), but the implications of it continue to hold water especially as we look at the current nuclear climate. How can man capably control a power such as nuclear energy? Is it even possible? Is it right? Godzilla is pretty much the pessimistic answer we get and although there is room for disagreement there’s no doubt that a nuclear holocaust is unstoppable once its unleashed, the same as Godzilla is in this movie.
Shin Godzilla is a political thriller, deliberately paced, and stuffed with bureaucratic power plays and strategies. It takes itself seriously and focuses on the humans instead of making Godzilla the main character (or worse, the protagonist). In exchange, we get more dialogue but it’s so very different from the corny screenwriting of earlier films. It’s punctuated with excruciatingly municipal, political, and national details about how departments and organizations are ran to stop disasters like a monster tearing Tokyo down with beams of photons and clobbering legs. The editing is fast-paced, almost like a Bourne movie, jumping from scene to scene and escalating in chaos as Godzilla evolves from a gill-breathing goggle-eyed ghar to a terrifically designed monster of fearsome proportions (akin to the classic 90’s design but with a meaner and more alien-like look). The editing is also a great feature, presenting meetings, people, and anarchic chaos with a Tom Hooperish style of cinematography (light Tom Hooper okay). There’s one enthralling scene where Godzilla begins to use his fire breathing capabilities that is all but poetically edited and shot, an operatic crescendo of destruction and despair that peaks the movie.
Among other things that makes this reboot a refresh is the employment of the original score and it’s evolution. The iconic score is brought back with such ease, originality, and sound familiarity that it reminds you that despite the differences this is a Godzilla movie, a grounded reboot. The technical aspects are sometimes a let down (the CGI rendering is not always top-notch, but I’ll take it any day over Michael Bay’s transformer trash), but at the same time I found myself mesmerized by the modern realization of the classic TOHO Godzilla, the one I grew up watching and adoring.
I can appreciate this movie for its Japanesque quality and even if you find the filming lacking the blockbustery nature of American movies, I simply call it a difference in culture. Rather you can appreciate it or you don’t, but you can’t say the movie doesn’t work in the venue it was born in. It does and it’s socio-political subtext classifies this movie as a worthwhile watch. It’s rice because it’s a simplistic monster/disaster formula but its Sriracha sauce has that political kick. Not to mention the new and updated fearsome look and destruction of Godzilla tearing Tokyo apart.