Shin Gojira (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi’s “Shin Godzilla” offers a different flavor of what we come to expect from a giant lizard wreaking havoc in a metropolitan area. While expected images of skyscrapers being smashed to smithereens, panic-stricken crowds dispersing like ants, and various acts of heroism can be found in this picture, its level and depth of humor is a most welcome surprise. Although the plot revolves around how to deal with a gargantuan radioactivity-loving kaiju, an argument can be made that the story is about the pervasiveness of red tape when immediate action is required in the face of calamity.
The first hour is highly likely to repel some viewers because action is not at the forefront. On the contrary, inaction is underlined, highlighted, and bolded to such an extent that we cannot help but laugh at what is unfolding on screen… until we realize that it is funny exactly because there is truth within the nucleus of its satire. Substitute Godzilla with an earthquake, massive flooding, tornadoes, typhoons, and other natural disasters, it seems like our governments, not restricted to the west, can’t seem to act swiftly enough. And if they did, swift is not always synonymous with effective.
The material shines not only because of its consistently scalding social commentary. I enjoyed its occasionally bizarre special and visual effects. Although these are first-rate in their own way, I was reminded of the old-school Super Sentai and Tokusatsu series I used to watch as a kid—some of them without translation. Energetic images are coupled with lightning fast editing; it is easy to miss certain punchlines when a viewer is less attentive. It is admirable how it doesn’t slow down to appeal to those not putting in the work to keep up.
If one were to put this picture on mute and/or remove subtitles altogether, it would still function as a watchable disaster flick due to the sheer power of its eye-catching images. Look at the early form of Godzilla and how it wiggles like a tadpole in order to move around and get through Japanese infrastructures with relative ease. Meanwhile, the camera ensures to capture shots of those crazed eyes. Notice how they do not blink. The longer one stares at the ridiculousness of this monster, the more amusing it becomes. One cannot be blamed for not taking the monster all that seriously—at least initially.
With plenty to say about intra- and international relationships, ranking and seniority, and mainstream intellectuals versus outcasts, “Shin Gojira,” based on the screenplay by Hideaki Anne, rises above what the genre usually offers on just about every level. It could have been just another Godzilla film and it would have raked in a lot of money. The willingness to do something fresh, exciting, clever, and different should be used as example by future iterations of the lizard-like creature.