I said I would return you you old friend. That’s right, Shin-Godzilla is back on the blog ladies and gents! After pottering about I finally decided to act upon an idea I had months ago! Recently I’ve been watching Filmento on YouTube, a film essay channel who really inspired me to try an essay of his sort. Since I have spent the vast majority of my free time watching kaiju movies, I figured what better movie to talk about than Shin Godzilla, and how it crafts the perfect incarnation of the King of the Monsters.
But First, About the Movie
Shin Godzilla is a 2016 Japanese Kaiju movie that was the first Godzilla movie released by Toho studios in 12 years, the last one being Godzilla Final Wars. The movie was released to positive acclaim, even winning the Japanese Academy film award for best picture. The movie follows a band of politicians, scientists and general misfits try to find a way to tackle the new and imposing threat of Godzilla, a colossal creature with the potential to bring humanity to its knees.
Perfect Plot Integration
One of the things that Godzilla in this movie has going for him, that already sets him about many other incarnations of the king is his integration into the plot. For me, an important quality for a Kaiju movie, or any movie with a large imposing threat is for that monster or threat to be integrated into the plot. One of the problems with older Godzilla movies is the Big Gs lack of true involvement in the plot outside of being there for the marquee value. Movies like Godzilla vs Megalodon and Ghidorah the Three Headed Monster are prime examples for me, both movies have Godzilla in them, but the movies suffer due to him lacking true placement in the plot. In these movies and many like them, there are two plotlines, one about the humans, and one about Godzilla. But what Shin Godzilla blends the Kaiju King into the human side of the plot with seamless perfection.
One way to determine how important Godzilla is to the plot, is to ask a question about the question and see if it links back to Godzilla. Why is everyone in this movie working together? Because of Godzilla. What do the characters want? To get rid of Godzilla. Why should we be scared for our characters? Because of the looming threat of Godzilla. Why is the U.S going to throw a nuke at Tokyo? Because of Godzilla. Almost every question you have about character motivation, decisions and events, each one in some way links back to Godzilla. With such an integral place in the plot, Godzilla feels ever present despite not always being on screen. Even though you can’t see him, he’s directly influencing characters and advancing the plot by being an essential factor to our characters journeys. From beginning to end, every major event in the movie is connected to Godzilla, and thus he forever feels chiseled into the plot and keeps the audience intrigued and watching even when he isn’t in the scene since he is still effectively pulling the strings. As the movies slogan says ‘A god incarnate’ and much like a god, Godzilla feels forever present and forever powerful, but forever loving…not so much.
Familiar Yet Unknown
One facet of Shin Godzilla is the unusual way Godzilla is depicted. Rather than being an irradiated dinosaur or some ancient primordial titan, this Godzilla is more akin to an ever evolving force. It’s established that this Godzilla is capable of near instant evolution and is capable of evolving and changing his appearance and ability set to better suit his environment and to survive. Not only does this lead to the showcasing of some of the most devastating and unique abilities ever used by Godzilla, but also gives us a trifecta of strange and different forms/evolutions. These were a fantastic decision since it adds a real sense of alienation to Godzilla. One one hand we know this is the King of the Monsters, but these new designs and strange forms really give him a sense of uncanny valley, you know its Godzilla, but it’s also not quite Godzilla.
The first form we see in full, the ever so memeable Kamata-kun really sells the unknown nature of the Godzilla. As our on screen introduction to him, we’re taken aback by the starkly different design and body shape, with Kamata sluggishly slinking through the streets and shambling about like a fish out of water, which is ironically exactly what he is. This form has a strange energy to it that makes it almost unnerving, you can just tell there’s something more to this creature, and its that fear of the unknown that makes the grand reveal of the short lived Shinigawa-kun form and the terrifying Kamakura-san form all the more shocking and intimidating.
But that’s not to say this Godzilla is completely alien to the audience, he does display many of the classic Godzilla traits that serve to remind you that this is still the King of the Monsters. However, there is one other facet of Godzilla in this movie that really makes him a perfect kaiju in my opinion, his motivation and purpose.
Purpose and Subversion
When rewatching this movie, I noticed a very small detail that while it may be a case of me overlooking things, really put a different spin on the movie for me. That detail being,
Godzilla never really attacks anything unless provoked.
Seriously, rewatch the movie and you’ll see that unless actively provoked or attacked, Godzilla never outright attacks people. Now yes, there is the scene where Kamata-kun is seen destroying a street as he hobbles onto land, but to that I offer a rebuttal. That Godzilla has only just crawled onto land, it is a shambling creature and despite the destruction its causing, doesn’t seem to attack anyone, at least not outright. There’s no denying the chaos and destruction caused by Godzilla’s presence across all his forms, but if you were that big, you’d undoubtedly cause some collateral damage yourself. But again, why is this important, well I think it serves to further enhance his involvement in the plot by making him a threat, but not a villain. If Godzilla showed up and started blasting every building he saw, we as the audience become disconnected from him and it would become a story of humans vs. Godzilla, rather than a story of humans AND Godzilla.
When we see Godzilla use his atomic breath and ignite the city of Tokyo in a blazing inferno, it shocks you because it was held back until this point, and rather than being simple scene of destruction it become a poignant and soul shaking moment.
The scene at the end with the humans finally defeating Godzilla displays his atomic breath again, but I feel the scene acts more as a representation of humanity finally overcoming the threat of Godzilla and what he represents. It was no secret that the inspiration for this Godzilla was the Fukoshima nuclear power plant disaster, where in the 2011 tsunami and earthquake that struck Japan caused the plant to melt down, a nuclear disaster not seen since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The movie very clearly has something to say about humans mishandling of nuclear power, with it being the cited material that caused Godzilla’s mutated form to be birthed into the world. The way Godzilla is handled really does depict him as a force rather than a creature, his seemingly passive but nevertheless destructive actions combined with his volatile nature and latent devastating power are all traits of nuclear power. Not to mention the way Godzilla is defeated, he isn’t killed but rather immobilized and put in suspended animation. This leads to a very bittersweet ending, one where Godzilla is once again forever present, and even after the movie ends Japan will have to live with his presence regardless of their victory. If Godzilla wakes up, the nuclear warhead in the U.S will be sent once again, and Japan will be besieged with the nuclear threat of Godzilla once again.
With that, my Shin Godzilla discussion/essay has come to an end. I’m really happy I was able to return to this movie, it has definitely improved with repeat viewings for me since my initial review of it, maybe a redux review is in the works? Regardless it feels good to be writing something I enjoy again and I hope you enjoyed it too. This is probably what I’m going to write more of since I feel deep dives and over-dissection of media is my jam and would love to spread it across my blog.
With that said thank you for reading, if you liked it please leave a like and follow my blog for updates on future posts. Also follow me on Twitter @joe_reviews for further updates and general nonsense. Until next time, stay safe, stay awesome and stay above average!