A brief discussion on the summer 2016 Japanese film “Shin Godzilla” (also known as “Godzilla: Resurgence”), produced Toho, co-directed by Hidaeki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, based on the original story by Anno (Evangelion).
*I am not overly familiar with the Godzilla franchise (meaning I cannot properly decide whether it is a particularly “good” or “faithful” addition), but I do respect it and the impact it has had on the Japanese people and the rest of the world.*
“A God Incarnate. A City Doomed.”
This is how Funimation captions the deadly film containing the biggest, baddest Godzilla known to mankind, and accurately so. (He’s literally the tallest in the franchise!) But before the King of Monsters surfaced from the deep, it was just another quiet day for Japan. Chaos quickly floods the scene when a giant, strange gilled creature explodes from the ocean’s surface and begins tearing through the city.
Prioritizing citizen safety above all else, the government attempts to keep the situation under control, only to realize that their technicalities and formalities are useless in the face of true terror. It’ll take a rag-tag team of volunteer scientists, engineers, and public safety officials to come up with some sort of way to combat this seemingly perfect lifeform. “But time is not on their side—the greatest catastrophe to ever befall the world is about to evolve right before their very eyes.” – Funimation
More Than BOOMS! and BANGS!
Despite boasting action (it’s a Godzilla film for crying out loud), there’s a surprising amount of substance, particularly a possible social commentary on the hierarchy of the Japanese government and they way the nation handles foreign affairs during war time. Specifically, we are frequently shown how frustrating and slow policy can be. The film’s first half centralizes on political officials arguing about who should do what, when, and their reactions to the unbelievable events unfolding—most were consumed with disbelief, in fact, except for the young yet forward-thinking Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi, our basically-main character (and wow, what a title).
We join Yaguchi in his frustration against the higher-ups, as well as his struggle to make amends with the innocent lives lost because of the government’s inability to act early on. While those above him in rank merely wish to hold fast to their comfortable, well-paying seats, shrugging off the impending doom that is about to likely kill them all, Yaguchi pulls together every asset that he can to find out what Godzilla is, and solve the mysteries surrounding Goro Maki’s research on the subject. It’s sad to admit how painfully real the execution of this all is.
Unlike the other officials who merely bicker about bureaucratic protocol and semantics (and not take things seriously), Yaguchi deals with exactly what’s in front of him. He knows he’s trapped within the system’s web, but he doesn’t fear questioning those above him in order to do his job correctly and honorably. Actor Hiroki Hasegawa conveys the complexity of Yaguchi’s character impressively, balancing fitting facial expressions for each emotional hit: a mix of concern, anger, sadness, and confusion.
As I side note, I thoroughly enjoyed the excitement that came with watching Godzilla transform from the weird gilled lizard on all fours to the menacing tower of terror we’ve come to know and love. It was so much fun! One small small complaint that I did have was (and I’m not sure if this actually counts) that I couldn’t really tell if the CG done on Godzilla was “good” or not. Seriously, I couldn’t. Was he creepy lookin’? Sure, but I’m not sure how this makeover compares to previous ones. Also, while his explosive beams later on looked absolutely terrifying, I didn’t like the cheesy sound effects for the explosions—they felt like they were missing a low boom to ’em, or perhaps an epic bass you’d expect from a Hollywood explosion.
Intense Dialogue, and the Engrish Doesn’t Help
Most of the film’s complaints are targeted at the lead female, Kayoko Ann Patterson, portrayed by Satomi Ishihara, whose unfortunate script is loaded with English-heavy dialogue. In an interview, she even stated “Sometimes it’s so frustrating, I just want to cry,” and by NO means is any of this her fault—that’s a director issue. Her character is meant to seem very American, and while we definitely get that feeling, I can’t help but think that her normal Japanese speaking would’ve sufficed the whole way through. Anyway, I still love Kayoko to death because of how her character acts as an excellent foil to Yaguchi’s—both see themselves in higher positions, but for now, they work together efficiently with what they’ve got in their own ways.
The Engrish problem is solved by switching the language settings to Funimation’s English dub, which is especially wonderful because the subtitles just fly by! Shin Godzilla is a film about talking through the problem, and less about any spectacular human actions. The political nonsense in the first 20 minutes, as well as the ending with solving Maki’s quote (which I’ll get to) are much easier to understand with the dub. If you don’t mind live-action dubs, do give this one a go—it could help immensely with understanding the film’s main messages.
Understanding the Legacy of the Atomic Bomb
More than having knowledge of the franchise, it’s historical context that is needed for full emotional effect here. Japan was rocked not once but twice by an evil that shouldn’t have even been unleashed on the planet: the atomic bomb. History has learned that the destruction that follows an atomic bomb is not cool. It’s not something the U.S. or any country should glorify, and this film makes sure of that. Godzilla was birthed once the long-term effects of radiation poisoning revealed themselves as something just as fearsome and frightful as the bomb itself—gosh, perhaps worse.
This brings us back to the film, which could stand an allegory for nuclear war and its long-standing effects, Godzilla itself mirroring the disastrous earthquakes, tsunamis, and radiation that hit the poor nation all at once. Unlike normal action films where you’re just waiting in anticipation for the bad guy to unleash their awesome powers, I was left not cheering, but shaking with fear of the results that, very closely, mimic an atomic bomb. The theme of destruction is a powerful one, a scary one, and that’s how this film shocked the viewers—the moment Godzilla unleashes its wrath is one that can only be witnessed . . . and feared.
The People that Made this Experience Special
1. Sharla (Sharmander on YT)—Being one of my favorite YouTubers, it’s rare to ever hear about her work life as a dialogue coach, and so I was ecstatic once she put out a video saying that she worked with the cast (particularly Yaguchi and Kayoko on those stubborn English lines) and Anno himself.
2. Shiro Sagisu—Known for his epic music in Evangelion, Shiro gives the film a really neat character. His famous “intense operations planning” music that plays throughout the franchise makes several appearances in this film, and though it felt overplayed at first, a second watch through with the dub made it all feel like it blended seamlessly, as if Eva and Godzilla were truly “a match made in kaiju heaven!”
3. Hidaeki Anno—THIS MAN puts me through so much stress, and yet I can’t ever look away whenever I hear his name involved in a project. He is the reason I jumped into this foreign franchise, after all, so that’s got to mean something, right? He perfectly combs together realism, destruction, and rebirth in such a way that merits a masterpiece with every work. In Shin Godzilla, he took me back to the first time when I saw Evangelion and was impacted in such a way that I’d never be the same without it. I’m glad Anno took the break between 3.0 and the final Rebuild film, because hey, sometimes we have to “Do as we please,” and I respect that.
Thank you for giving me my Evangelion fix—it was an incredibly enjoyable experience!
“Do as you please.”
These are the few words left by the enigmatic Maki, and yet, they remain the strongest message within the work. It’s something so simple, to do as you want to, though I get the impression that it’s not a common Japanese lesson taught. No, this isn’t a wish or a passing thought, but a statement aimed DIRECTLY at Japan. Towards the end of the film, the Prime Minister must either give consent to or deny the United States’s declaration against Godzilla: “Take care of it now, or we will nuke it.” That’s right, history will repeat itself. Japan would risk losing the pride and dignity it spent so many years recuperating to the humiliation of starting at ground zero once again.
With the titular creature MIA towards the end and the U.S.’s threat, it almost begs the question: Are humans deadlier than Godzilla?
But oh, “Danger is an opportunity for personal growth,” remarks the U.S. President in the film. Yeah, not for this country. The true climax of the film comes down to a duel between philosophies—to accept help and then rebuild, or own up to the situation. And when Japan finally does decide to take matters into its own hands, fighting the way only they do best by studying their enemy, the scientific team makes work of the King of Monsters in a way that, without spoilers, makes me proud to be human. Using science, mankind’s greatest weapon, the team transforms the impossible into plausible—theory into reality.
It’s that moment when you realize you CAN stand for yourself WITHOUT having to kill another being—THAT is the big takeaway. Take pride in the things you can create and accomplish together, NOT destroy. And finally, for ONCE in your overly obedient life, do as YOU please, NOT what the others want.
Shin Godzilla is incredibly smart, realistic, meaningful, and genuinely scary at times. Most of all, my god, if this film had come from my country, I’d be overflowing with pride, too.
“Accountability comes with the job. A politician must decide to own it or not.” – Rando Yaguchi
(None of these screenshots belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended.)
Have I been completely Godzilla-fied? Haha, not quite, but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for future installments, including the wildly anticipated CG Godzilla film directed by Gen Urobuchi, another one of my favorite directors in the industry! Shin Godzilla may not be anime, but I’ll let it slide into the “Caffe Mocha” selection as grade-A movie material for sure, and for everything it stands for. Shout-out to Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) for hyping me up about it, and for covering the film way better (and quicker) than I did here.
Lastly, thank you so much for reading, as this was a film that has grown to mean a lot to me. I’m dying to know what you thought about Shin Godzilla, especially regarding its production, so let me know your thoughts in the comments! Until next time everyone, this has been
– Takuto, your host