Godzilla is back. Just don’t tell the Americans.
Six decades and counting and Godzilla is still standing, with a franchise that now stretches back over 29 films. That number is set to grow further in the next few years with the release of Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Godzilla vs Kong, both parts of Warner Bros. planned MonsterVerse. Our appetite for Godzilla is still to be completely satisfied. Toho, the Japanese studio responsible for the 1954 original, have now rebooted the franchise for the first time, bringing the 300-feet monster back to terrorise Tokyo in a strange, funny and allegorical story.
The fear and paranoia that Gojira has represented across the course of its life on screen has mostly represented our own capacity for destruction, rather than the monsters. The existential fear about nuclear war that loomed large over the original remains firmly in place, with the shadow of America key to both the creation of this new version of the monster and its potential elimination. It is probably purely coincidental, but this week also marks the 72nd anniversary of Hiroshima, an event that lingers across the entire film. Haruo Nakajima, the man who played the original Godzilla, also passed away this week, aged 88.
Once Godzilla steps out of the sea and slowly begins to maraud towards Tokyo, obliterating everything in its sight, director Hideaki Anno remains with the bumbling, incompetent Government officials struggling to come to terms with the arrival of the kaijū. These tense meetings have always been something of a tradition in the franchise, often featuring more than the monster itself, as are the futile attempts to destroy Godzilla. The same pattern is of course repeated before it mutates and raises itself onto its hind legs and begins waddling towards the capital. Anno’s creature design is a clear homage to original Toho creation and you half expect the empty, vacant looking eyes to roll around in their plastic casing as it plods along.
The changes in its appearance continue throughout the film and culminate in a grim segment around the midway point. Under attack from gung-ho American stealth bombers, lasers shoot from its scaled back and mouth, instantly destroying its assailants. After the lasers have sliced through and destroyed countless buildings, flame-throwing breath shoots from its jaw and torches the entire skyline. Evacuations are said to have begun occurring before this point but the implication of nuclear destruction turns what at first appears as B-movie silliness into a moment of unnerving hellfire.
With the Government unable to piece together any sort of coherent strategy, the members of Rando Yaguchi’s (Hiroki Hasegawa) team of anti-bureaucratic saviours put together a last-ditch plan they hope will save the day. They face a race against time to beat the Americans to the punch, who in light of news that Godzilla could spread its destruction across the word, begin plans for a nuclear attack. Kayoko Ann Patterson (Satomi Ishihara) features as a special American liaison officer who never convinces in her role, but the looming mushroom cloud of US military involvement revives memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Godzilla Resurgence (or Shin Godzilla) can be read in a myriad of ways, which is why it feels like such a strong return to form. Relations between Japan and America are constantly referenced within the story. The younger, idealistic ‘geek team’ under Yaguchi’s leadership talk about being under the thumb of the American military, no doubt speaking to the US-Japan alliance created after WWII, which has allowed America to form such a strong base in Asia. The disorganised manner of the evacuations also look back to the criticism thrown at the Japanese government during the Fukushima triple disaster in 2011.
Anno clearly enjoys having the chance to play with retro styles and effects that intentionally stick out like a sore thumb in places, using a combination of animatronics, puppets and well rendered CGI. Combined with elements of Akira Ifukube’s original 1954 score and the humour provided by idiotic Japanese Self-Defence Force and Yaguchi’s patriotic team, you can’t help but be swept along.
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