Thursday, September 15, 2016

Shin Godzilla, aka Godzilla Resurgence

I managed to locate a theater that was showing this movie in the original Japanese soundtrack version, with subtitles in English, Thai and Chinese, of all things. Many scenes also had a banner describing the location or the nature of the meeting that was taking place. Sometimes the screen was so crowded that it looked like CNN.

The theater was not easy to get to, and it was expensive, but it was all worth it. The projection was perfect. And Shin Godzilla, aka Godzilla Resurgence, is a great movie.

This is a big budget Godzilla movie. The special effects are a big leap beyond any previous movie in the Toho franchise. There’s a lot of CGI, for one thing, with most of the action taking place in actual cityscapes, in broad daylight. The effects, to my untrained but very experienced eye, looked better than those in the recent Hollywood Godzilla movie, itself a very good looking, high quality effort. Much of the action in the Hollywood movie takes place at night, and sometimes the perspectives got dodgy. But those are small criticisms; I love the Hollywood movie, too.

Japanese viewers seem to love Shin Godzilla. The franchise can always count on fans coming out in the first couple of weeks, but this movie has legs, as they say. That means that word-of-mouth is bringing more people into the theaters. The last movie in the franchise was Godzilla, Final Wars. That one brought in between two and three billion yen in domestic box office sales. Shin Godzilla is already over six billion yen. People like it.

I like it myself. I admit that I’m a fanboy and a Godzilla completist. I’ve seen every one of the Toho movies multiple times, and I have many of them on DVD. Often multiple DVDs of the same movie. I might have the Japanese version and the dubbed version, and then I see a letterboxed version in Japanese and I’ll buy it immediately. Some are great; some are cheesy; several are awful. I love them all. But I do prefer a good story and good human characters. Shin Godzilla has those things, in spades.

Most of the movie is taken up with the government’s response to the crisis, and its treatment of this aspect of the story is not typical. The usual thing is to put some government officials and a couple of generals in the movie to look heroic and concerned, but usually this is not done in a naturalistic manner. In Shin Godzilla the human action of the big shots is extremely realistic. It could just as easily be scenes from a “serious” movie about the Fukushima earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis a few years ago, and in fact some reviewers have mentioned that as an obvious intention of the movie.

The inevitable human conflicts are delicately handled. The conflicts between rival politicians; between rival agencies; between the letter of the law and raw necessity; between Japan and the U.S.; between Japan and the United Nations; all are addressed in a way that is always believable and enjoyable to watch. Oh, and it’s a very impressive Godzilla that’s stomping around as well.

This Godzilla is terrifying. In my opinion, that has only happened in two previous movies, the original 1954 Godzilla, and the ridiculously titled Godzilla, Mothra, King Gidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack. This one tops them all. Not just the look of the monster. The creature is an issue of first impression in this movie, and that should be terrifying enough. The scariest thing is the fear of the human characters when, over halfway through the movie and after we know them all pretty well, they discover that Godzilla has the potential to wipe out human life on earth. Their fear amplifies our concern. That’s good story-telling.

I’d recommend Shin Godzilla to anyone at all. You don’t need to be a fan to enjoy it, and you needn’t have seen any of the previous movies. You could watch it just for the depiction of a high-level government response to a huge, unanticipated crisis. It’s a great movie.