Directed by Anno Hideaki (Evangelion) and Higuchi Shinji (Attack on Titan live-action films), the latest entry into the Godzilla universe is something of a mixed bag. A gamut of government officials, a ragtag group of underdog nerds, and a rampaging creature from beneath the sea all combine to create one of the most politically-driven, compelling action films in recent memory. Should you be averse to lengthy discussions and extended research sessions, then you may wish to steer clear of Shin Godzilla, but if you have the patience, then you shall be greatly rewarded, as the titular creature is simply phenomenal.
After an enigmatic opener which sees the discovery of an abandoned fishing vessel, we are plunged into chaos. A creature erupts from the sea, destroying tunnels, buildings and bridges, and causing widespread panic. The government hesitates on how to respond, and once the creature retreats, they begin to relax. However, it returns fully evolved. Led by Yaguchi Rando (Hasegawa Hiroki), a team of misfits, rebels and outcasts is assembled, tasked with researching the creature and, if possible, defeating it.
First and foremost, this is a political film. It brilliantly satirises the supreme levels of bureaucracy and red tape the team must navigate, subvert and manipulate in order to achieve any success in their task. The officials are incapable of making a decision, and when they finally attempt an onslaught, they succeed only in angering the creature. This resulting sequence, accompanied by Sagisu Shirō’s majestic score, is intense, beautiful and elegiac.
Further political commentary is explored when the American government plan to bomb the creature. By this point, the politicians have already been forced to make difficult decisions, but many will not be convinced by this idea. As the original Godzilla was conceived as an allegory for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, these scenes are suitably moving. The men know all too well what happened the last time their country was bombed by Americans, and it is in these moments that the film transcends action and dense politics to become truly powerful.
Despite the heaviness of these themes, there are some comedic moments, and, mostly, they work. Perhaps my favourite is the new Prime Minister realising that his noodles have gone soggy, and lamenting that he ‘knew the job would be challenging’. In addition, Yaguchi’s team includes a half-Japanese character, Kayoko Anne Paterson (Ishihara Satomi), who breathes confident, ambitious life into a role that could have easily been ‘pretty girl #324’. She and Yaguchi have a great bond, one which perhaps would have turned romantic in an American film, but here remains professional, and is all the better for it.
Overall, despite some flaws – the earlier evolutions of the creature, the shoehorned English dialogue that is often indecipherable – there is humour and power in this monster movie. From start to finish, it constantly surprised, shocked and delighted me, and it is certainly a film that I will return to in the future, even if only to relive the aforementioned spectacular sequence. As I said, if you can be patient during the political spiel, then you should find something to enjoy in this unusual, unforgettable monster movie.