Shin Godzilla Review – Anno’s Masterpiece, but a Mess None the Least

Since Tuesday, October 11th, North America received a limited screening of the newest installment in the Godzilla franchise, Hideaki Anno’s Shin Godzilla via Funimation. Yet, since its release during the summer in Japan the film has quickly become one of the most success film in the series to date, and easily deemed a masterpiece. However before it even saw the light of day, the film has gone from being welcomed with open arms since its announcement in late 2014 to being question or hated throughout its production and release. One can easily blame the direction of the film, or some choose to blame the conception of the King of the Monsters itself as to how the movie could be terrible compared to those that praise the film. Now, as for my thoughts on the film it is best to say it varies from good to bad, since I am one of ‘grey fans’ of Shin Godzilla, but before we get into my in-depth analysis and review, maybe it is best to give a short summary of the film.

Summary:

Off the coast of Japan an empty yacht is found, nearby what seems to look like an active underwater volcano that’s recently caused a cave in to an underground tunnel highway. The Prime Minister and his cabinet begin to oversee the event, and attempt to come to a conclusion on what actions should be taken; this is where our protagonist, Rando Yaguchi, insists that what they see is not a volcano but actually a large unknown undersea creature. To his dismay the cabinet takes this claim as a joke, until a large tail surfaces and the creature begins to move inward towards the mainland. The monster eventually comes ashore and causes great damage, while being examined by the government the Prime Minister decides to have the creature killed as it begins to evolve. The initial attack is called off however, and the monster retreats back into the ocean. Sometime later the monster is discovered to be named Godzilla, when Kayoko Patterson an American envoy relays that the creature’s existence was covered up and that zoologist Goro Maki was a part of the creature’s possible creation. Goro Maki was also the owner of said yacht seen earlier in film, and it’s revealed he committed suicide too upon this revelation.

Godzilla soon returns, having gone through another evolution and the JDSF attempts to stop the creature this time with a full scale assault. The JSDF fails, and the US enters the scene upon a reluctant agreement to assist as long as they may study the creature. The attack seemingly works however Godzilla unleashes its atomic rays from all over body in retaliation, before exhausting its supply and becoming dormant. In the attack a majority of the Prime Minister’s cabinet is killed including the Prime Minister himself. Shortly after survivors are rescued, such as Yaguchi and his team they discover a method to subdue the creature with the possibilities of coagulating agents. However the UN believes the only resort in killing Godzilla is with more nuclear weapons, forcing Yaguchi’s team into a race against time in attempt to subdue and/or kill Godzilla before the nukes can be launched. Kayoko puts her career on the line to give Yaguchi’s team the time they need to put off everything and accomplish their mission to immobilize Godzilla, turning him it a living statue and left with a new edict that if Godzilla ever reawakens the bomb will launched immediately…

Review:

As stated before I am one of the fans who are in the grey, where I have my liking for this movie as well as have my dislikes towards it. Yet, I am sure my complaints towards the film may be greater than my overall score for the film (which can easily be seen at the bottom), and enjoyment than many reading this review had when seeing the movie. Now, I would like to begin with stating a lot of enjoyment for this movie can from the hype, as I easily flipped from liking to hating the concept before it released. There would be days when I feared Anno would go overboard with his personal themes and tropes or easily hoped for it along with days when I was not sure having the alleged designer for Ultraman Powered is a part of the design staff for Godzilla was the right choice. However eventually I fed into the hype and nothing, but actually viewing the film or reading several mixed reviews could detour me. What first caught my attention before my viewing of the film was that several reviews during its Japanese release, and hearing from friends who attended it was Anno’s focus on politics hurt the movie’s pacing; with some even saying that portions of the movie could be highly daunting in similar fashion as to watching certain scenes found in the original Gojira. That was the first con, I found with the film before even viewing it however the next thing at least kept me attached in wanting to see Funimation’s release, which the fact that this Godzilla evolves and the final image the audience is treated to, which I will talk about later on. The other minor thins that drew me in where additional cast members, and the score featuring classic tracks from Akira Ifukube.

Starting with Anno’s focus on the political theme was not uncalled for, as this film was to be loosely based on the real-life events on how the government responded to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake/ tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster; this can also go for the visuals created to when Godzilla first appears. What I did think was uncalled for was the depth and duration that politics had throughout the film, because I felt it drew away from one of the most incredible Godzilla’s the world has seen to date. Having the possible directly manmade Godzilla that is constantly evolving should have had more precedence to the plot, than the brief footnotes provided to the audience. To me this was most character development/ back story for a Godzilla to receive in a single movie, as compared to previous counterparts, but a majority of was just expelled because Anno wanted to show that Japan’s government is slow. The other thing that the politic theme took away from was Yaguchi’s team studying the Godzilla, and stopping it. Now, the parallel I was able find in the film’s message were similarities to how America responded to Hurricane Katrina, and the belief that younger people with initiative should have larger roles in the government or be allowed to run for higher levels of office. There were a few scenes that were comedic, but heavily implied the government’s incompetence was when Anno focused on the cabinet asking the Prime Minister to proceed with attacks or the course of the operations. What I felt hurt these scenes was the redundancy of the actions, and Anno’s love of close ups. Luckily everything tends to speed up once the Prime Minister and majority of cabinet is killed, with focus being shifted back to Yaguchi’s team.

Shin Godzilla Politics

Aside from the politics the cast was not terrible and easily conveyed Anno’s script wonderfully, but the movie only tends to address a few of its many characters by their names which at times made it hard to follow. Majority of the cast are named but like I said were barely address, however to distinguish them by their proper name and title a subtitle was presented similar to what many western otaku have seen in anime. I found this method as a good attempt to keep the audience informed of who was who, since the dialog focused on the use of either a person’s title or surname as it is with common tradition in Japan. One of my only gripes with the cast was that there were very few returning actors from previous Godzilla films, and it highly felt like either actors were not asked to make appearances or simply opted out completely. Luckily though, Anno seemingly managed to pull in Akira Emoto who portrayed the badass Yuki from Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, as well as other actors who had experience in Tokusatsu such Kanji Tsuda (Kamen Rider Ryuki, Gamera the Brave), and Yu Kamio (Dr. Maki in Kamen Rider OOO, Captain Kamiki in Ultraman X, Tachibana in Kamen Rider Amazons). However new comers to the franchise Hiroki Hasegawa (Rando Yaguchi) and Satomi Ishihara (Kayoko Patterson) were incredible, specifically who aside from being heavily labeled the candy of the film worked hard to deliver her English based lines. The only issues I could see with her English were that at times her Japanese accent was highly relevant, and affected her overall portrayal of being American, especially when the character is supposed to be trying to one day become the country’s president!

As for Shin Godzilla, itself, I found this monster incredible after having an on-and-off love-hate fascination with its overall design mostly due to aspects seemingly too campy for Anno’s serious take on the monster/ movie. What I loved was how this incarnation of Godzilla obtained several traits from the original ShodaiGoji suit, as well as focused on using several aspects from the unused concept art, which one could see within the head and radiation scars. I personally enjoyed that Godzilla’s head invoked the visual of mushroom cloud that was intended for ShodaiGoji, as it was one of my more favored unused concepts. Now, originally I was opposed to the excessive use of the radiation scars until it was loosely explained that they were cooling vents for Godzilla, as well as aided in its new beam spamming ability that could be launched from the plates and tail; having this understanding easily made its scarred tail an impressive asset. The biggest surprise from Godzilla though was its on-going evolution, as well as its ability to be asexual in its reproduction however through the course of budding, which is the final image the audience istreated to when viewing the film. The earliest scenes with Godzilla in its second stage easily invoke the realism of the 2011 Tohoko earthquake/ tsunami with all the damage it causes, especially to how it pushed boats up onto the shore and the visuals of the aftermath. I personally adore the form because it is awkwardly adorable and seemingly innocent due to its infantile design. I felt more time could have been given to this stage, by having at least portions of its attack still visible to audience during the cabinet’s decisions whereas once it began evolving into its third stage things blended perfectly, as it is accompanied by Ifukube’s track, “Godzilla Comes Ashore”. Yet, this newer red form was the stage that truly needed more scene time in the entire film as it received the least amount of time, compared to stage two and the final stage, Shin. The movie’s explanation for why it was the least seen form is understandable, as they claim the evolution process caused Godzilla to overheat from his own energy supply and it needed to cool down via the ocean, but the transition to its final form literally comes out of nowhere and its presentation sadly lackluster.
The Tiny Arms of Death
When Godzilla returns it has already surfaced, and under gone its evolution process with government officials either questioning its size or the sanity due to the vast growth in a comedic seen. Now, I would have made the reveal for Shin Godzilla more impactful, where subs or battleships have been attempting to track the monster and locate it, only to notice that its blip on the sonar is increasing as it begins to surface. Then show Godzilla surfacing, or have the cabinet get word the cut to on the scene news footage of Godzilla walking on the shore where everything that followed leading up to the encounter with the military the same. Once Godzilla encounters the military, it’s a wonderful array of effects from Japan attempting to push Godzilla off course and back toward the ocean, only to fail. One of the coolest highlights is when debris from a bridge is set flying overtop tanks, which are attempting a retreat. This is shortly followed by Godzilla entering Tokyo and being attack by B-2’s which gives the audience probably its most favored seen Godzilla’s new array of radioactive lasers, that are not just fired from the mouth, but now its dorsal plates and tail. When originally hearing about this I was greatly uncertain, I’d like this change with Godzilla and even today it’s a 60/40 struggle for me pending on the day, because I cannot lie that the visual of the attack was incredible, but I thought it was completely unneeded. Especially when the CGI began to skew in the final minutes of the film, when Godzilla excessive used the ability and the CGI model began to speed up on screen as well as the looked like it was not fully rendered properly. I felt the final moments of the movie held the worse sequence for the use and need of CGI. Yet, the ending featuring that tail leads to the possibility of a great sequel, and when Godzilla destroyed most of Tokyo it brought back a lot of nostalgia towards a specific moment during the original 54 film where the city was ablaze. The creature’s overall presence easily set the mood of fear towards natural disasters, and the constant remembrance of what nuclear energy can easily do to mankind, but I also felt Anno attempted or thought give Godzilla more life than other movies where it stood alone, as the true King of the Monsters. It really made me felt there should have been more focus on Goro Maki research; hell I would take a prequel on everything that lead into this movie, but I doubt Toho would capitalize on this possible opportunity to make the first ever prequel in the franchise.
Shin Gojira RayNow, I already mentioned brief changes that could have made this movie more interesting like toning down the political satire, and focus on this newer incarnation of Godzilla, especially when it came to the digital rendering. However there was one odd thing about the movie that really stood out and made me mark out when used, but how it blended with film was not entirely a perfect match made in heaven. What I talking about is the the use of Akira Ifukube’s iconic tracks in the film because without those this would not feel entirely like a true Godzilla movie. The issue was Anno collaborated with partner, Shiro Sagisu who worked with him on Neon Genesis Evangelion to score the film and together they sought to incorporate Ifukube’s tracks, which was a great idea, but they edited the tracks to play as mono and used practically the original recordings rather than the modern track’s from the Best of Godzilla soundtracks. This showed Ifukube’s original tracks’ age, and threw off the overall score for me whereas on the official soundtrack released they sound fine! Aside from this alteration that was jarring for me, the original tracks Sagisu composed were beautiful, blending well with Ifukube’s classic tracks; the transitions between their work was phenomenal and suited the scenes they were applied to. Sadly like most fans of the film I am with the majority, and believe Sagisu’s greatest contribution from his score was “Persecution of the Masses (1172)”. The only thing that surprised me was that it was not featured heavily throughout the film, as I loosely believed this would be Anno’s Godzilla theme as long as the continuity may continue. Never the less, I would greatly look forward to Sagisu scoring possible future Godzilla films, and think he is the right man for the job unless Sawano ever gets the chance!

To conclude my review, I believe this film is more toward the hardcore fans of the character and franchise, the ones who can easily endure along with enjoy a slow burn. For the people who want to see it because they saw the 1998 film, the sequel animated series, and the Legendary Pictures’ film I cannot recommend it to them. Anno’s political message is one several people internationally can understand and get behind because for some their own countries do the same, but I think several can admit he was beating a dead horse to get the message across similar to I am now towards his choice. Audience will admire the cast for the realistic approach of the characters they play, even if the ‘Engrish’ makes someone grit their teeth together. The score is impeccable, the visuals are breath taking as well as fear invoking, and as for the King of the Monsters… He pretty much steals the god damn show! If one does miss out on this limited theatrical event from Funimation, do not fret or cry because it is most likely that we could be seeing its home video release in time for the winter holidays, making it a must have on several people’s wish lists! Yet, even with all my gripes I will agree it’s a masterpiece as long people meet me halfway to admit it is a mess, then again not many Godzilla films are be perfect. Also here’s praying that there will be a sequel, whether Anno stays on or decides to leave to continue on the Evangelion films. Anyways, thanks for taking the time to read this review, and please do not be afraid to voice opinions below in the site’s comment section!

Rating: 7 out of 10 – “Even with all my gripes!”

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