The King of Monsters has returned to the big screen, and despite it being over a year after his resurgence in Japan, Godzilla has finally found his way on to UK cinema screens. Not to be confused with the American version of Godzilla released in 2014, this is the first Japanese Godzilla film since 2004's Final Wars, and produced by the legendary Toho studio. Godzilla is a cultural icon in Japan, especially in Tokyo, with a statue erected on the side of the Toho building in Shinjuku (fun fact, from 10am to 8pm every hour, on the hour the ground rumbles thanks to speakers on the roads around the building, and the animatronic statue roars and spits mist/lasers). With that cultural status, a new Godzilla film is a really big deal, and as a huge fan of the Japanese franchise I was incredibly excited to see what Shin Godzilla could bring to the long-running series and whether it could breathe new life into the property. Thankfully, for me at least, the answer was a resounding yes.
Shin Godzilla takes place in present-day Tokyo and tells a very simple story of Godzilla emerging from the ocean, and terrorising the city while the Japanese Government try to devise a way to stop it. As Things get progressively worse, international partners begin to get involved and the Disaster Management team have a race against time to find a way to stop Godzilla before America drop a nuclear bomb on Tokyo to neutralise the threat.
The things to remember about Shin Godzilla, and probably the Godzilla franchise as a whole, is that it is culturally very Japanese, obviously. This includes the dry wit of Japanese culture, which is fully on show here. Shin Godzilla is as much a disaster/monster movie as a satirical jab at the bureaucratic and red tape, and convoluted nature of government in the Japanese Diet. It's also very interesting that they include the storyline of America attempting to drop yet another nuclear bomb on japan, something that seems more and more relevant under the Trump administration. There are multiple references throughout about the strong-arming of Japanese interests by their American counterparts, which is a very interesting subtext, which to me read as much as a shot at the relationship between America and "post-war" Japan, as the perceived failure by the US studios to correctly adapt Godzilla in a way that stays true to its roots.
It would be remiss of me to not spend some time ruminating on the beat himself, and his appearance here in Shin Godzilla. The idea that he mutate is used to great effect here, as Godzilla starts off looking like a slightly cheap, goofy shadow of the monster of old. However, as the film progresses we get more and more of the mutation and evolution of the monster and he becomes an increasingly worthy and dangerous foe for Tokyo. The special effects are a mixed bag, with the classic 'man in a rubber suit' dynamic retained for much of the film, but an increased use of CGI. The marriage between the two works fine for the most part, but occasionally the transition between practical and digital can be a bit jarring. There's certainly plenty of room left for Godzilla to evolve further in future iterations of this new monster, and I imagine this won't be the last we see of this resurgent monster, even if it is in direct competition with the US version in the coming years.
Shin Godzilla is exactly what it promised, and need to be. A resurgence. For the first time in a long time, Godzilla looked like a real threat, and by rebooting the character in a world where he isn’t a pre-existing known entity the film manages to create a dynamic monster, all while showing that the real monsters that Japan needs to fear are their own bureaucracy, and global interference/US bullying. The opinions of the filmmakers, not necessarily mine. Still, Godzilla is a good blend of action, subtle comedy, and satire with big action set pieces done in a way that is befitting of the Toho heritage. A must see for anyone who loves the franchise.