Godzilla Resurgence / Shin Gojira (dir. Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, 2016) – The rise of a giant monster plunges Tokyo in chaos as the Japanese government assembles an emergency cabinet.
Not quite your typical Godzilla or kaiju movie, Shin Gojira satiates its appetite for politics first, destruction second.
Shin Gojira is not what one might expect from a Japanese kaiju feature. For one, the beast bears a different hide. Its title indicative of a new beginning, the movie reintroduces the famed monster through three evolutionary stages, before we meet him in his iconic bipedal form on land.
Though looking a little daft with googly eyes at the start, each transformation is more impressive than the last. In his final form, Gojira casts a pall of terror over Tokyo with presence alone. The creature design may be what Godzilla fans would love most about this reboot, or spiritual sequel if you will. Still, one striking difference will leave opinions divided.
Offering a keen sense of realism mostly absent in the 60-year franchise, the events unfold through the unique perspective of Japanese government officials rather than victimised citizens. Bureaucracy ends up a bigger threat as politicians and diplomats struggle with difficult decisions under international pressure.
An extensive focus on the board room allows for engaging political commentary and light criticism of the bureaucratic process. The grounded context of the disaster further interests in its mirror of real-world incidents, including Fukushima and Hiroshima. However, messages on nuclear warfare come off heavy-handed, as constant exposition contrasts with much missed subtlety of the past movies.
The approach also risks feeling distant or bland. Many may find it difficult to connect with unmemorable men in suits, while not every cinephile will be compelled to sit through meetings after meetings. Expect red tape, obstinacy and the nagging incompetence of political puppets, before the titular kaiju finally gets to unleash the anticipated chaos on the city. This is when things get exciting.
Soldiers act upon shoot-to-kill orders, and the creature can only fight back with no room to retreat. The battle is no doubt the highlight. Phenomenal in scale, Gojira’s atomic attack is both impactful and harrowing. Juxtaposing his indiscriminate destruction against hapless refugees is unexpectedly emotive, testament to the balanced craft of directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi.
As the God-like creature rages on Tokyo, the emergency cabinet insists upon increased offence that proves ineffectual and amplifies tension. Even as desperation condones the use of violence, none of them are willing to take responsibility for inciting collateral damage or a third World War, every minute wasted a cause for concern.
Proposing a more decisive and peaceful alternative is Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), who leads with convincing authority in the anxious climate of mistrust and political rivalry.
His ambitious plan sees a mild but adequate conclusion, as far as kaiju battles go. That being said, Shin Gojira does take its time to get to the final showdown. So gather every ounce of patience if you are game for a watch.