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The giant monster movie is sort of like random candy in a bubble gum machine now, a potential fun treat that will either be a tasty surprise or a passing, forgettable experience. With our ever-curious and seemingly insatiable fondness for beasts of gigantic size, there will be no stopping the glut of them any time soon. With Godzilla, one of the original sources of the genre, there have been no less than thirty-one iterations of this kaiju, with Godzilla Resurgence, or Shin Godzilla in Japan, being another reboot that marks a clean slate for the series to kick it off again.
The story starts in Tokyo Bay, as an abandoned yacht draws the attention of the Japanese coast guard, who almost immediately after boarding the boat find themselves under attack that soon spreads at the bay erupts in a sea of roiling water. Not long after, the underwater tunnel collapses and the internet lights up with images of an odd-looking entity moving toward shore. A massive serpent-like tail rises from the sea and it becomes clear, something alive is on the move.
Typically, the Godzilla franchise puts the blame for the monster on the American military, the first Godzilla’s a response to the atomic consequences of the second World War. Here it is illegally dumped nuclear waste and the creature is a rapidly evolving beast that mutates almost before our eyes. Coming ashore first, it is a bug-eyed spawn of sorts, thrashing about on no legs and breathing through giant gills while it makes its way inland before circling back to the water. The country goes on high alert as the damage causes catastrophic losses. The government and the military spend hours in debate trying to understand what it is and how to protect the people as the world responds, sending scientists and humanitarian aid. As the monster continues to morph, coming back ashore at even larger and more devastating sizes, those in command must find ways to evolve with it or face annihilation.
Directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, Shin Godzilla is clearly a response to the tragic 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that followed. A monster movie more focused on the bureaucracy and hesitation in deploying efforts to stop the monster, who now is depicted as a blood red beast that creates its own nuclear fusion, the film is as much a political statement as it is a clever and well-made monster flick, though features eerie images that recall the frightening footage of the crushing waters carrying boats ashore from the tsunami. Layered in lengthy segments of dialogue, often cutting back and forth between people in different places and of differing opinions, it is careful to reveal no clear right side. There are good people on all ends doing what they think is best in a situation that is, by the very nature of it, uncontrollable.
At the half way mark, by the time Godzilla reaches Tokyo and evolves into its next cataclysmic stage just as the American military response arrive to drop a heavy payload of destruction upon it, the monster unleashes a horrifying assault upon the city that is a visual nightmare of an apocalypse that takes this monster movie to the next level. The beast is called a true god incarnate, and when the choice comes to decide if the US should be allowed to drop a thermonuclear bomb on the city, you can be sure, the movie becomes less about the monster on screen and more about the shadow of a monster that seems eternally lingering over Japan.
Godzilla Resurgence is a smart, slickly made film that benefits from some superior visual effects and excellent performances from a large cast. Even while the monster itself might lack the realism of Gareth Edwards‘ 2014 American made Godzilla–here it is a motion capture CGI creature (by Mansai Nomura) that harkens with respect back to its earliest predecessors–it is nonetheless an impressive beast. Boosted by Shiro Sagisu‘s magnificent score, that plays on themes of Akira Ifukube‘s now legendary music of the originals, Godzilla Resurgence is a new modern classic that differs greatly from its American counterpart but is no less entertaining. A film about sacrifice and ingenuity, this is an uncommon monster movie that does right what so few do, remembering that it’s the people under the creature’s feet that make it matter. A chilling final image of Godzilla though, especially of its tail, which is something wholly unexpected, reminds us with greater impact just who is to blame and what its true final evolution could (and might still) be.
Directors: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi
Writer: Hideaki Anno
Stars: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara
Genre: Action, Monster
Language: Japanese, English