I remember watching the original Japanese kaiju movies (a genre of film typically focusing on giant monsters – think Godzilla, Mothra and King Kong) of the 50s and 60s on weekend afternoon TV when I was younger. I remember feeling abject fear at seeing the King of Monsters, Godzilla, with it’s towering stature and atomic breath. As I grew older, I came to appreciate the creature’s conception as a metaphor for nuclear weapons in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As a long-time fan, when Toho, the studio that produced the original ‘Godzilla’ (1954), announced ‘Shin Godzilla‘ was to be released in 2016, I was hyped.
Literally translated, ‘Shin Godzilla’ means ‘New Godzilla’. The first full reboot of the iconic monster from the Japanese studio, and 31st film outing, this retelling sees Godzilla, or “Gojira”, emerge in Tokyo to wreak havoc on the citizens of the city. The American government is responsible for dumping nuclear waste in the ocean where the ancient leviathan lay dormant, and now the world must come together, without The Beatles, to deal with the “God Incarnate”.
Written by Hideaki Anno, creator of the cult anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, and co-directed with Shinji Higuchi, director of the live action Attack on Titan, ‘Shin Godzilla’ is as much a political satire as it is a disaster movie. As bureaucrats form committees and research teams to deal with the monster that surfaces, that monster rapidly mutates and evolves before our eyes. The tension that builds is almost unbearable as politicians and scientists race to stay one step ahead of the brutish kaiju. The dialogue is sharp, dry and witty, paced at breakneck speed, keeping it fresh and exciting throughout. I honestly feel if Aaron Sorkin wrote a Godzilla movie, it would be this.
Speaking of the titular monster, a combination of puppetry, models and motion-capture performance make up the kaiju we see on screen. At times Harryhausen-esque in the way it moves, its reminiscent of Godzillas from the past, slow and clunky. Its metamorphosis from what can only be described as derpy sea beast to indestructible behemoth is masterful. Its powers evolved beyond any previous on-screen version. Its scream as enduring as ever. The ultimate homage to Ishirō Honda’s original with a modern twist.
And the homage doesn’t end there. The scoring in ‘Shin Godzilla’ literally expands on the original orchestral music composed by Akira Ifukube in his decades-long tenure as composer for the legendary kaiju. Shiro Sagisu creates a score both perfectly retro and expertly updated for a newer audience. The musical cues are unlike anything I’ve experienced. Capable of building anticipation with booming battle themes and breaking tension with frankly comedic synthy-schmaltzy pop, the music is almost as important as Godzilla itself.
The trailers promised the King of Monsters is back in Tokyo. And back in a villainous role after years of retconning to be a defeater of other beastly kaiju. Come for Godzilla, but stay for the human story at the heart – this isn’t supposed to be about death and destruction, but about human triumph. I guarantee you will leave with a smile on your face.
In closing, ‘Shin Godzilla‘ is roar-some.
Sasha’s Rating: 8.8 out of 10
Director: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi
Starring: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara