I don’t normally write about cinema, because it’s not something I’m overly educated on. But I saw Shin-Godzilla and it was pretty damn good, so I felt inspired. Anyway, I do know a thing or two about Japan and it’s paradox of crazy/mind numbing shit, so here goes.
Traditionally, Godzilla as depicted in Japanese cinema is a chaotic antagonist. He is capable of fucking shit up real good, but also coming through with the goods and generally protecting Tokyo from what could potentially be a greater level of destruction. That’s something that the American 2014 adaption did quite well, in showing Godzilla as this force of inadvertent power who ends up coming through for the good guys. Also, no shortage of analysis has been given regarding the metaphor of Godzilla in regards to Japan’s unique relationship with nuclear programs. The same power that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki is now used light up neon signs and power the Shinkansen (that’s probably hyperbole, but you know what I mean). And of course, Godzilla itself is spawned by these nuclear after effects.
Under the direction of Hideaki Anno (responsible for Neon Genesis Evangelion) and Shinji Higuchi (who I had never heard of before, but was apparently a writer for the same series), Shin-Godzilla doesn’t shy away from contemporary commentary on nuclear power, but does deviate from the traditional approach of depicting Godzilla as a savior. In fact it is hard to identify any traditional protagonist in this film. At it’s core – and this is something which has been identified by numerous other analysis’of the film- Shin-Godzilla is a commentary on ineptitude’s and dishonesty carried out by Japanese parliamentarians in wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Godzilla first appears in Tokyo harbor as a mysterious entity which eventually makes its way into the city in an ever evolving amalgamation of destruction. Framed by this destruction however, it is the Japanese government, cabinet ministers and internal think-tanks who are given the majority focus for the first half of the film. And throughout their impact is minimal, erring on the safe side of initial encounters with the mysterious element that is Godzilla in order to protect the order of their constructed world, that of stuffy board meetings and inefficiency. They’re not necessarily self-centered and self-aware of their self-preservation, but they certainly do make ill decisions. Juxtaposed to this is a band of ‘misfits, outcasts and otaku’ who work as a task-force to understand Godzilla and stop him from causing further destruction. These individuals are forward thinking, efficient and concise. The Prime Minister and his cabinet are old, the Task Force are young. It’s a clear critique Japanese authority and is epitomised early in the first act when the Prime Minister ignores advice from a member of the Task Force because it won’t sound good when reassuring citizens on national TV. It’s a dig at how the real-life Japanese government didn’t inform people of the dangers present in Fukushima until some time after it’s citizens would have been effected by radioactive hazards caused by the disaster.
Anyway, that’s all been said before, so lets talk about some of the stuff that maybe hasn’t. This movie has Hideaki Anno written all over it, and most of the time it shines, but sometimes it does kind of go off the edge… just like the last three episodes of Evangelion. Okay maybe that’s not fair, it’s not that bad, but it does get a little too convoluted for its own good. Godzilla as a monster undergoes transformations throughout the film. From giant tail, to weird eye-bulging flipper thing, to the hundreds-of-teeth-laser-firing-monster featured on promotional material. It’s reminiscent of the Angels and EVA units from Evangelion. And this parallel continues when the JDF are attempting to destroy Godzilla, akin to the UN attempting to destroy the the Angel from Episode 1 of Evangelion. Furthermore, when human characters and new locations are introduced, extensive titles are given on screen. This is used to emphasize the central theme (as discussed above) and give a certain military-like order to the chaos caused by politics and giant monster alike. I believe it is also used to give a certain comedy relief (the Task Force becomes know as something like the ‘Godzilla observational biological metric Task Force responsible for the elimination of unknown entities for the sake of national safety’). In theory this gives the movie order, but in reality so many characters are introduced this way that it’s hard to keep track of who is who. Kind of like in Three Kingdoms or the Iliad where a character is introduced only to immediately die. This is likely intentional, though it is frustrating. Overall though, these Evanegelion-style similarities are great because, for those familiar with the iconic series, it helps sets the mood and tone of Shin-Godzilla.
And this is Shin-Godzilla, quite literally meaning New-Godzilla. In the original Godzilla movie, the titular character is not a good guy or reluctant protagonist. Rather, he is a phenomenon of destruction brought about by nuclear arms. In this movie he also a straight antagonist, brought on by nuclear waste. It does not seem that Anno wants us to see this new Godzilla as a ‘bad-guy’. But as a new set of contemporary concerns caused by the people of Japan (possibly coupled with the influence of the United States of America). This will likely be emphasized by the suggested sequel, where it will be interesting to see if Godzilla makes a transition to protagonist. Until then, Shin-Godzilla stands as an interesting stand alone piece, thoroughly thought provoking for young people of Japan and somewhat scathing of the generation who spawned the original character.