Shin Godzilla (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): Cheesy but terrifying

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Even though it has been mostly stuck in the realm of B-monster movies for many decades since its first appearance in 1954, Godzilla has been quite an iconic monster figure to many of us. Although I have not watched any of Japanese Godzilla films, I fondly remember their several still shots which I came across during my childhood years, and those memories were revived during my viewing of “Shin Godzilla”, which stays true to its cheesy origin while surprisingly entertaining in more than one way. Unabashedly corny and preposterous, the movie frequently amuses us with its wry social/political satire on Japanese bureaucracy, and, above all, it effectively wields the terrifying glory of its monster star on the screen along with some nice surprises for us.

The movie begins with the early sign of a big disaster to come. After an inexplicable phenomenon in the bay of Tokyo is reported, Prime Minster and his cabinet members gather for an emergency meeting, and everything seems to be under control, but Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, thinks differently. As the sightings of a giant creature are reported on the media, he fears for the worst, but his senior officials casually dismiss his opinion.

Presenting the following progress of the situation via a deadpan docudrama style a la “The Office”, the movie has lots of fun with how its bureaucratic characters follow their protocols and procedures as usual even after it becomes clear to everyone that the giant creature is moving toward Tokyo. For example, they have to establish an emergency committee before doing anything, but then they must have a preliminary meeting before establishing an emergency committee, and that is just the beginning of many meetings among government officials to follow, which become sort of running gags throughout the film.

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Of course, the giant creature in question is Godzilla, and the movie serves us with big moments of panic and destruction as Godzilla advances into the city. Houses and buildings are destroyed on its way, and we see many people fleeing from this seemingly unstoppable destroyer. When the Japanese and US military later try to attack Godzilla, we all know that they cannot possibly stop it with all those bullets and missiles, and Godzilla turns out to have a few tricks inside his huge radioactive body, which is later revealed to be capable of rapid evolution. When it unleashes its wrathful might onto the downtown areas of Tokyo at one point, the movie goes all the way for the sheer terror of Godzilla’s mass destruction, and it is certainly the most terrifying moment in the film.

The second half of the movie accordingly becomes more serious in comparison, but the movie continues to amuse us nonetheless. As the US government considers using a nuclear weapon to kill Godzilla, Yaguchi and others around him try to find an alternative option as soon as possible, and they particularly focus on a puzzling picture map consisting of dots and lines, left by a dead scientist who dedicated himself to the study of Godzilla before his death. Once the map is decoded in a way you have to see for yourself, there comes a rather preposterous plan to stop Godzilla once for all (is this a spoiler?), and I can assure you that you will be entertained a lot by many improbable aspects of the climactic sequence. It may not look that realistic, but being realistic is the last thing you can expect from a Godzilla film.

The performers keep their acting straight amidst heaps of cheesiness and silliness in the movie. While Hiroki Hasegawa gradually holds the center as his character becomes more prominent along the plot, the other performers including Yutaka Takenouchi and Satomi Ishihara also look serious enough as demanded, and I must confess that I was particularly tickled by a certain brief scene between the American ambassador and Ishihara’s Japanese American character, who turns out to be as ambitious as Hilary Clinton.

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In case of Godzilla, it remains as the big main attraction as before, and I noticed how the co-director/writer Hideaki Anno, who has been mainly known for TV anime series “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, and his crew deliberately make Godzilla look as tacky and lumbering as its previous appearances in the other Japanese Godzilla movies. While it is now a CGI creature based on motion capture performance instead of being played by a guy wearing monster suit, it is presented with old-fashioned charm, and using Akira Ifukube’s scores from “Godzilla” (1954) and several subsequent Godzilla movies on the soundtrack surely adds extra amusement to that.

While it is understandably one or two steps below Gareth Edward’s “Godzilla” (2014) in technical aspects, I think “Shin Godzilla” is a better film for having some sense of fun and humor which the former sorely lacks. Although I was bothered by its nationalistic subtext a bit during my viewing, I often chuckled during its satiric scenes, and I was also terrified enough to become involved in the story rather than observing it from the distance.

According to IMDB, “Shin Godzilla” is the 31st Godzilla film, and, considering its big box office success in Japan, there will definitely be more Godzilla movies in the future. The movie shows here that there is still enough potential left with its famous monster star, and you may enjoy it even if you are not a fan of monster flicks.

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