Shin Godzilla (Godzilla: Resurgence)
Godzilla raids again in muscular Japanese reboot
Shin Godzilla (Godzilla: Resurgence) (2016)
Directed by Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi
Cast: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara
It’s hard to keep a good man down. A giant monster? Even harder. So it’s no surprise that “The King of Monsters,” Godzilla, has survived 60-plus years, weathered more than 30 movies and come through countless iterations both on and offscreen. The nuclear fire-breathing lizard has suffered various deaths, resurrections and reboots over the decades, falling into three distinct periods: the classic Showa Era (1954-1975), the Heisei Era (1984 to 1995) and the Millennium Era (1999 to 2004). Big G was also shipped over to America for the abortive 1998 TriStar film (considered by most to be “non-canon”) and the more successful Legendary Pictures version from 2014 (which will continue with 2017’s Kong: Skull Island and come to a head in the proposed Godzilla vs. Kong). This summer, however, Japan’s legendary Toho Studios got back in the game by ushering in yet another new era with the homegrown 2016 reboot Shin Godzilla (known in some English-speaking territories as Godzilla: Resurgence).
Shin Godzilla starts over from square one, wiping the giant monster slate clear and abandoning the mythology laid out in Japan’s last Godzilla reboot series, which ended with 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars. That film more or less served as a direct sequel to the Showa Era films. Shin Godzilla transports us to a modern, thoroughly monster-free Japan. But an accident on an underwater bridge and the sudden appearance of a massive, steaming geyser in Tokyo Bay sends government officials into a panic. The film starts off at a running pace, introducing audiences to a welter of characters and locations. It feels, occasionally, like a fly-on-the-wall documentary, hurriedly trying to observe and record as politicians, scientists and military leaders attempt to come to grips with what’s happening (and about to happen) to their country.
The closest we get to a main character is Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), a low-level cabinet official who offhandedly goes against conventional wisdom and suggests that this impending disaster isn’t a volcanic eruption, but the result of a biological organism. Yaguchi’s fears are soon realized when a massive amphibious creature lumbers up on land and starts crashing its way through Tokyo proper. This isn’t the Godzilla we’re used to. It is, instead, a rapidly mutating, nuclear-powered creature adapting to its surroundings. By the time it’s done decimating Tokyo for the first time, we get a creature that looks more or less like the Godzilla we’ve all come to know and love.
...this isn’t your father’s Godzilla. This Godzilla is one mean, ugly, scary-ass son of a bitch. Gone is the Earth-protecting, Ghidora-beating guardian of assorted past appearances. This is much closer in spirit to the pitiless, unstoppable force of nature glimpsed in Ishiro Hondo’s stone-cold serious 1954 Godzilla.
But this isn’t your father’s Godzilla. This Godzilla is one mean, ugly, scary-ass son of a bitch. Gone is the Earth-protecting, Ghidorah-beating guardian of assorted past appearances. This is much closer in spirit to the pitiless, unstoppable force of nature glimpsed in Ishiro Hondo’s stone-cold serious 1954 Godzilla. Old school fans may be disappointed to note that the traditional man-in-a-suit creation has been almost entirely replaced with a CGI creature. But the design work is interesting and the destruction the old boy doles out is appropriately up-sized.
Given his solid guesswork, Yaguchi is somewhat unwittingly promoted to the head of an impromptu task force slapped together to stop Godzilla. But how? A true mirror of its time, Shin Godzilla spends most of its time among the bickering politicians, who convene various committees and spend endless time debating policy. It’s frustratingly realistic and considerably more tense when the issue the politicians are fighting over isn’t a budget crisis, but that 120-meter-tall lizard rampaging outside the window.
Longtime G-fans will adjust quickly to this newest iteration, which follows the pattern well laid out by 60 years’ worth of daikaiju action. Recent converts, who expressed reservations about Gareth Edwards’ 2014 American version, may find themselves voicing similar concerns about the paucity of giant monster action. Godzilla takes a little while to rear his ugly head and is largely confined to a handful of epic set pieces. What’s there is impressive. As mentioned earlier, this is a bigger, nastier Godzilla, and the destruction he brings down is surprising. But he’s also sidelined for much of the movie, leaving us to deal with a lot of human interaction. The script (by “Neon Genesis Evangelion” creator Hideaki Anno, who co-directs alongside Shinji Huguchi) is chaotic. But the tone and pace are intentional. Settle into the human drama, and you’ll find some sold tension to savor. For starters, our characters are concerned about bringing the country’s defense force to bear on this amphibian invader. Keep in mind that Japan has been restricted in its use of military might since World War II. The fears about bringing out the big guns and the international controversy that would create aren’t taken lightly here. Of course, this is Godzilla we’re talking about, and no measly tanks are gonna hinder his big coming-out party. Worried about the international repercussions if Japan fails, the UN drops a bombshell (literally) on Yaguchi and his crew. If Japan can’t find a solution in two weeks’ time, an international coalition will nuke Tokyo to take out the monster. Needless to say, the specter of a thermonuclear warhead dropping on Japan gives our entire cast of characters some heavy duty agita.
The massive cast is difficult to keep track of at times, but—aside from the usual collection of questionable English voice cast actors—everyone seems appropriately intense. There are a handful of plotlines that fail to bear fruit. This Godzilla’s origins are somewhat murky. And the shady interests of an American envoy (Satomi Ishihara, whose phonetic English dialogue isn’t convincing anyone she’s American-born) doesn’t quite lead to anything. On the other hand, Toho seems serious about making this an ongoing series, so these plotlines could be developed in the future.
American company Funimation is offering a one-week release of this film on stateside screens, Oct. 11 through 17. So, if you like your monsters giant, irradiated and Japanese, you know what to do.
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