In the same way it takes an organised team of politicians, generals, and scientists to take on the behemoth that is Godzilla, we at SnapThirty felt that the task of reviewing a brand new Godzilla film simply could not be done by one person. Jahanzeb Khan, Frank Inglese, and Luke Halliday had the opportunity to witness the historic event that is the international release of Japan’s reboot of the historic monster franchise, appropriately titled Shin Godzilla to signify a new beginning and the most definitive, truthful, and memorable depiction of the movie icon himself. Shin Godzilla is every bit of a historic landmark release as the original 1954 Godzilla film.
Shin Godzilla had a lot of high expectations to live up to, and the limited international release means not everyone will have a chance to witness it. Thankfully, Madman has taken the mantle to distribute the film all over Australia in major cities. It was initially meant to be a one night screening only on 13 October 2016, but thankfully more dates have been added at least until the end of the month. So if you’re in one of the areas where they’re playing Shin Godzilla, you should absolutely take the time to catch this flick if you’re even a little bit interested.
Honestly, it’s a shame that America’s 2014 Godzilla reboot had a stronger global media presence than Shin Godzilla, because in terms of the film quality Shin Godzilla couldn’t be more far ahead of Hollywood’s overproduced effort. But that’s not important now, as Shin Godzilla exists in its own spectrum and continuity. Where Godzilla 2014 was a loud popcorn flick, Shin Godzilla provides the grandeur of an epic monster flick and so much more.
A historic event like this simply needs to be seen from the lens of more than just one critic, which is why Jahanzeb Khan, Luke Halliday, and Frank Inglese will each share their thoughts on their experience as they witnessed Shin Godzilla in the cinema.
How do you reinvent a character that has been around for over six decades? How do you reaffirm Godzilla’s position as a cinematic icon after decades of being a popcorn Kaiju battle flick? These were the questions I had going into Shin Godzilla, and while I was expecting something truly great, there was no way I could have predicted the structure of the film. Shin Godzilla was not what I had thought it would be, as it’s most certainly not like the Hollywood efforts, and it’s nothing like the staple Godzilla versus Other Big Kaiju format we’ve grown accustomed to. Shin Godzilla is a reboot in the truest sense: re-debuting the radioactive giant lizard to an unsuspecting world for the first time.
The original Godzilla was released in 1954, and the reason why it remained the best film in the franchise despite countless sequels which had better effects and more monsters, was because the original film was grounded in the real world, providing a provoking commentary on issues that prevailed during that time. The 1954 Godzilla film represented The King of Monsters as a metaphor of all the horrors of nuclear warfare. At the time it certainly was topical (arguably still is), and spoke to the audience not just in 1954, but in generations to come. Visually and technologically it may be outdated, but the cinematography, story, and themes are practically eternal. Still, you can’t expect a Godzilla newcomer to be on board with a 1954 film as their first foray, and a lot of water has flown under the bridge since 1954… which means that a Godzilla film that is relevant in today’s world needed to be made. I’m not talking about technology, but in terms of the underlying theme and message.
That’s what Shin Godzilla is, it follows the original 1954 film in the sense that it presents Godzilla as being much more than just a destructive lizard on the loose, as it grounds the creature and its impact on Japan in a way that is so authentic and believable that you can instantly relate to it. To put it simply, Shin Godzilla succeeds at answering the question(s): What would happen if Godzilla was real, and appeared today in the world as we know it?
Shin Godzilla convincingly portrays a scenario, as realistically as possible, where Godzilla wrecks havoc in Japan as we know it today (and it most certainly isn’t the same Japan from 1954!). But what’s really compelling about the delivery and pacing is seeing how modern day Japanese bureaucracy responds to the threat of Godzilla. On paper, watching fast paced scenes depicting Japanese politicians frantically trying to deal with the Godzilla situation may sound boring, but in practice it makes for engaging viewing. In a way, Shin Godzilla is a commentary on the current Japanese political climate, and on international politics in general. If a creature like Godzilla suddenly appeared and destroyed half of Japan in a matter of hours, is it as simple as unleashing an army on the spot as we’ve seen in so many other monster films? Not even close. Shin Godzilla artfully portrays the political, social, environmental, and economic implications of a threat like Godzilla, and the drastic consequences of the actions undertaken in dealing with it. What do you tell the public? How do you negotiate with other countries and the United Nations for aid and support? What would happen if the destruction consequently erased the financial market of Japan? And how do you deal with groups wanting to preserve Godzilla as a rare life form? These are the questions that Shin Godzilla addresses in its over 120 minute run time.
Shin Godzilla grips the viewer with all the behind the scenes insight on the process of fighting Godzilla, simply because Godzilla in this film is a manifestation of the overnight impending doom the haunts the world today. In Shin Godzilla, Godzilla changes the world overnight with no one remotely prepared for it, and that’s essentially the nature of disasters that we face in this day and age whether it’s political unrest, economic and financial collapse, climate change, or terrorism. In a way Godzilla is a manifestation of all of these things, how we are constantly on the brink of a major catastrophe and choose to live in denial regardless. It’s because of these reasons that all the jargon and human elements in Shin Godzilla help make the film feel more alive and meaningful than any other monster flick in the last 60 years. But with that said, it’s worth noting that Shin Godzilla is the kind of film that textbook monster/kaiju film fans may actually not enjoy in the first instance, but they will most certainly cherish it in hindsight.
Of course, Shin Godzilla isn’t all just politics and practicalities, because the titular Godzilla has never looked more real, more alive, and has never been more devastating. This is not the Godzilla you remember, he has quite literally been born anew for 2016. From this point on, people will be talking about this depiction of Godzilla as the one that is true and canon. Visually Godzilla looks menacing, with the film making use of computer generated graphics (although not too much) and animatronics to create a physical creature that looks authentic. I will say that the first reveal of Godzilla isn’t quite as heart-stopping as it was done in the 1954 film (the infamous hilltop emergence scene) but the screen time Godzilla gets is ample, his cinematography is superb, and the destruction depicted is a sight to behold. There is one scene in particular that will forever remain the most memorable and standstill event in the film, and that is the heart-stopping moment when Godzilla truly retaliates for the first time. The image is forever burned to my memory.
Shin Godzilla is one of the most mature and thought provoking Japanese films in recent memory, taking the monster movie genre and giving it compelling substance and meaning. Shin Godzilla reinvents the wheel by restoring Godzilla back to what he truly was when he made his debut back in 1954. Shin Godzilla may be about a giant radioactive lizard, but the way it is situated and grounded in reality makes Shin Godzilla a remarkable example of art not just imitating life, but art becoming life.
Mission accomplished: Godzilla is born anew.
SHIN GODZILLA is one of the few films that baffles me. It is not its story, nor its visuals, nor its subtle morality lessons that have left me in a state of confusion, but instead it is my currently undecided opinion that keeps my mind turbulent. From what I have been lead to believe; Godzilla films are ones centred around the creature known as “Gojira” who, as defender of the Earth, must combat Kaiju’s like himself whose goals are, unlike our saviour, to destroy mankind. With this information in mind, and comments from those who were lucky enough to experience this before me, I was under the impression that SHIN GODZILLA was going to be a Neon Genesis Evangelion-esque Kaiju kill-fest. Instead, the film I watched was one revolving around the Japanese government, and the inability to make quick and concise decisions thanks to the countless streams of red tape that must be cut before making any move as a member of the higher government. SHIN GODZILLA surprised me in many, many ways. This was the first of many.
Getting one thing clear right away; this was, arguably, one of Hideaki Anno’s more tame projects. The beginning of the film gave me the impressions that this would indeed follow in the horrifying footsteps of his former works, but as the movie progressed I realised that Mr. Anno is much more than a one-trick pony that relies on gore and pseudo-horror to captivate audiences. In saying that though, I was quite disappointed by the lack of psychedelic creatures and astonishing gore, but that was a fault only of my own for expecting things that I simply should not have. SHIN GODZILLA, despite the lack of what I expected, was all in all…a great film. Anno’s use of text to aid the story allowed for dialogue to remain only necessary, not wasting time with cheap exposition to push the story forward. It had a series of characters that all played key roles within the story despite how grand or small their presence was. This film also played host to a strange essence of dark humour that had me giggling all throughout the film. It also featured Godzilla which, though mostly stagnant for a great deal of the film, got his time to shine during one pinnacle scene that saw Tokyo Bay engulfed in flames.
Japanese cinema is infamous for lacklustre special effects, but SHIN GODZILLA forced me to second guess my opinions based solely on how great the film looked. Granted, there were times wherein which the computer generated imagery did look about a decade old, but those times were few and far between. It seemed as though Anno’s focus throughout the film was on alternative film techniques to make seemingly boring situations, like a press conference, more exhilarating. Anno also never allowed a scene to become stale, quickly switching from location to location and character to characters so as to give the illusion of fast-paced action, only later coming to the realisation that what you were watching was nothing more than a man and his retainers discuss how they should reveal this information to the public. Once again, I would have enjoyed to see more Godzilla, but sometimes you must play with the hand that you are dealt, and this one didn’t necessary cause a loss.
In true Hideaki Anno fashion, SHIN GODZILLA featured a few small but key throwbacks to that of Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of which was a track that appeared in both this film and the director’s breakout Anime series. Alongside a beautiful orchestral score, tracks from the original film’s soundtrack also made an appearance, which I found was a fantastic way to respect the old whilst transitioning well into the new. Booming brass instruments populated the soundtrack and it made for an incredible level of emotional development within scenes. As a member of the audience, one truly knew when something crucial was about to unfold, and it was thanks to the auditory presence of this film. With the help of the soundtrack, SHIN GODZILLA truly did solidify itself as a film that is bridging the past, present, and future.
I’m not sure of what else I should say. Sure, SHIN GODZILLA is not the film I was expecting to see…but it seems as though I enjoyed it nonetheless. As much as I’d enjoy pulling this film apart piece-by-piece, I cannot deny that it had me enthralled from the very first minute to the very last. While there is so much that I would have enjoyed to see, what it did deliver was indeed satisfactory. This was the very first time I have seen a proper Godzilla film, and the only thing that ruined it for me was my own expectations. In the end, that is not the fault of the film but instead my own, so how could I condemn it for such a one-sided mistake? If what I’ve said has yet to convey my proper feelings of the film then hopefully this will: SHIN GODZILLA performed well enough that I am currently in great anticipation of any sequels planned for the future. SHIN GODZILLA has made me a fan…and I think that says more than any alphabetical score could.
I think it is only appropriate that for a franchise as epic and historic as the Godzilla series, that we give our review of SHIN GODZILLA the very same treatment. Each of us entered this film with varying expectations and left with varying feeling on the film that we had just watched. One thing we all could agree upon was that what we had watched was a film for the ages.
The film had been heavily promoted as a ‘Hideaki Anno’ film, his name attached to just about any form of advertisement for the film, trying to draw in Evangelion fans to the reboot of Godzilla. Surprisingly I found myself shocked to see how little it felt like an Anno project. By and large I felt that there wasn’t anything distinctly Anno-esque about this film, apart from a night time assault on Tokyo by Godzilla. I honestly felt that this film could have been directed by anyone else and I would not have known any different. That said, Anno does an admirable job in his live-action directorial debut, crafting a new grizzly vision of Godzilla as an unrelenting force of mass destruction.
Largely the film takes place in countless meeting rooms as politicians try to coordinate how to appropriately deal with this unforeseen threat. The majority of the film follows these various politicians and their struggle to overcome the endless red tape of Japanese bureaucracy. While the Godzilla films have always had a deeply anti-nuclear message, never before has the franchise tackled the subject matter of the political ramifications of such a threat as Godzilla in such great depth. SHIN GODZILLA spends a lot of its run time detailing the political process that goes on behind the scenes of a disaster such as this with characters maneuvering one another and debating upon how to reveal the situation to the public among other discussions.
If politics isn’t your cup of tea you may have a tough time getting through these sections but SHIN GODZILLA does something smart in that when these politicians are discussing the current actions of Godzilla we get the meeting scenes inter cut with straight up action of Godzilla’s rampage. Another interesting element was the way in which the film splices handy cam and phone cam footage of the incident seamlessly in with the action, giving a human perspective to events as well.
In terms of Godzilla’s representation, I must say he was quite different to the kaiju busting hero many have come to know and love him for. This interpretation is admittedly similar to the original 1954 iteration of Godzilla, as a force of destruction that makes himself the enemy that mankind must unite against, unwittingly or not. This version of Godzilla also is interesting for his many different mutations, constantly evolving after each attack. One does have to ponder however what exactly is Godzilla’s intentions here, is he an emissary of nuclear rage, infuriated by humanities dumping of radioactive waste or is he simply a mindless beast hell bent of senseless destruction? The film never truly makes up its mind on that question, instead ending in a way in which it leaves that open for further investigation in a sequel.
SHIN GODZILLA may very well be one of the most thought provoking films in the long running franchise, waxing philosophic on the Japanese bureaucratic system, the way in which Japan responds to disaster and the question that the series has rarely explored, what if Godzilla was actually real? How would the world react if one day a giant monster beyond our comprehension or understanding crawled out of the ocean and began to tear down the world we have come to take for granted?
Despite all the questions SHIN GODZILLA raised, I left the cinema with one thing on my mind; Thank god for Godzilla.