Godzilla returns to attack Japan, but this time with an unlikely ally: a sclerotic Japanese government that is disastrously slow to respond. [ Shin Godzilla credits: Dir: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi/ Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara/ 120 min/ Action-Adventure, Sci-Fi/ Incompetent Government, Individualism/ a.k.a. Godzilla Resurgence/ Japan]
Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein, a novel about a man-made monster, as a warning to rapidly advancing Science to take care that it did not end up doing more harm than good. The original Godzilla monster films were likewise allegorical, questioning the wisdom of the atomic age, pointedly underscoring that man had unleashed something terrible and beyond his control.
In Shin Godzilla, the classic monster returns, still an allegory for man’s foolishness but this time the foolishness of incompetent government. The film is an explicit indictment of the Japanese government’s slow and disorganized response to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
As the story goes, when Shin Godzilla first rises from the sea, the Japanese government denies that there could be such a monster, attributing events to natural phenomena. Officials hold meetings and press conferences, and change meeting rooms and wear special clothes, according to protocol. Then, when video of the monster finally appears, they argue with one another as to what to do and hope that an easy resolution will fix things. Finally, they become resigned to a catastrophic solution proposed by the US — a nuclear strike – accepting the likely carnage as inevitable.
Fortunately, a handful of nerds and outsiders are developing a better solution, that is, when they’re not being hampered by bumbling officials.
This film is, of course, firmly in the action/sci-fi genre, but there is an inescapable undercurrent of very dry comedy as well. I laughed out loud at the prevarications of authorities who do not want to be held accountable, the absurdities of red tape, the group think and hesitation to come to a decision, all against the backdrop of a giant multi-capable monster spitting fire and radiation at fleeing thousands. The film is essentially two parts Godzilla one part Dilbert.
Sci-Fi buffs have generally given Shin Godzilla high marks for special effects. This monster is far more believable than his man-in-a-Godzilla-suit predecessors, and the scenes of destruction are remarkably real. The film won seven awards at the annual Japanese equivalent of the Academy Awards (Japan Academy Prize), including Picture of the Year and Director of the Year. It was barely distributed and marketed in the US, a pity as it is a film well worth seeing.
“Within its opening moments, Shin Godzilla uses a sudden attack on Tokyo by a marauding sea monster to evoke the devastating impact of 2011’s Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The film then takes aim at the bureaucratic junkyard of ageing, out-of-touch politicians desperate to pass the buck and avoid controversy.”
–China Morning Post
“This film is nothing short of a triumph…Already, many Japanese reviewers are hailing the film as an ‘unprecedented masterpiece’ that should be regarded as a classic piece of Japanese cinema, and, you know what? It deserves all that praise, and then some!”
“What we have here may be the first truly libertarian kaiju movie, one in which excess government and deference to international treaties is the problem, tying the population’s hands while a big ol’ party animal does whatever the hell it wants, complete with a big tail that sprays radioactive fluids…Yes, the story suggests, if we come together we can beat the threat, but we have to do so through a maze of regulations that nobody dares challenge..”
“The film portrays the widely known inability of political leaders to decide on anything, always taking a wait-and-see attitude. The long-established tripartite policy-making process involving politicians, so-called experts and the Prime Minister’s Office becomes totally disoriented. In the film, the ‘experts’ in particular are portrayed as useless, only spouting off-point comments.”