****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS VERY MINOR SPOILERS!!! THIS IS NOT A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!****
My Rating : 4 out of 5 Stars
My Recommendation : See it in the Theatre.
OF GODS AND MONSTERS
Shin Godzilla (Godzilla Resurgence), written and directed by Hideaki Anno (co-directed by Shinji Higuchi), is Tokyo based Toho studios 29th Godzilla film and its third reboot of the franchise. The film tells the origin story of Godzilla as he emerges from Tokyo bay and ravages modern day Japan. The film stars Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi and Satomi Ishihara.
Being the good Irish Catholic boy that I am, I usually spend Sunday mornings at Mass, but this past Sunday morning I attended a different kind of sacred ritual. Instead of Mass I went to the Royal Laemmle Theatre in Santa Monica, a sort of Church of the Sacred Nerd, and waited in line for the chance to get to worship God...zilla. God-zilla be praised as my waiting was not in vain and I was able to see the film which is in very limited release here in the states. I know that many will find my worship of Godzilla blasphemous, but when you dig deeper you discover I am not blaspheming at all.
As we are told in Shin Godzilla, the name "Godzilla" or "Gojira" as the Japanese call him, is literally translated to mean, "God Incarnate". The beauty of Shin Godzilla is that it recognizes the God encounter as a truly horrifying experience, not the new age, Mega-church, rainbow and puppy dog experience we Americans think it to be. The God encounter is undeniably terrifying, as God is capable of cataclysmic destruction without the least bit of effort. The Japanese have learned this lesson all to well over the years, from the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by nuclear bombs, or the fire bombing of Tokyo in World War II, to the recent devastation wrought by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the resulting nuclear disaster at Fukushima, the Japanese have seen first hand the power and peril of the God encounter.
I realize that most people think of Godzilla movies as a joke, and this thinking is strongly based in fact, as evidenced by the two atrocious American Godzilla movies (1998 & 2014), and a string of less than decent Toho Godzilla movies over the years. But Shin Godzilla is different, it is an actual, honest to goodness movie. Shin Godzilla, unlike its American counterparts, is entirely structurally and mythologically sound in every way. Yes, the special effects are not quite up to snuff at times, and there is a little bit of campiness to be found if you're looking for it, but with that said, Shin Godzilla takes itself and its subject matter deadly serious.
Similar to the original Japanese Godzilla (1954), not to be confused with the abomination that is the American version of that film starring Raymond Burr from 1956, Shin Godzilla skillfully uses the myth of Godzilla to tell a wider and more important story. Shin Godzilla uses the Godzilla monster to tell the story of the suffocating and debilitating bureaucracy that has paralyzed Japanese government and society. And while these scenes of government ineptitude and impotence are funny, they aren't a joke. Shin Godzilla is meant to hold up a mirror to Japan and hold it accountable for its less than stellar performance in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, and also praise it for the resilience and ingenuity of its people when unshackled by that bureaucracy.
Shin Godzilla is also about American imperialism and colonialism. Even seventy years after the end of World War II, the Japanese are well aware that they are still under the thumb and beholden to the Americans, who bully and cajole the world into bending to its will. In the film, Japan must acquiesce to America's demands or rebuilding the country after Godzilla will not be nearly as easy (and it wasn't easy) as rebuilding after the destruction of World War II. This is one of the main themes of the film, the Japanese search for its soul and spirit in the aftermath of devastation.
MAKE JAPAN GREAT AGAIN!!
It takes a wildfire for a forest to grow stronger, and so it is with Japan in a post-Godzilla, and post-American, world. Once the ruling class with all of their bureaucrats, technocrats and yes-man are burned to the ground, the true heart of the Japanese people can be revealed, the heart of a people with the Samurai myth entrenched deep within their psyches. Shin Godzilla shows us that the Faustian bargain the Japanese made post-WW II with the U.S. has left the nation a flaccid shadow of its former self, and Japan must grow a pair of balls if it wants to survive in the new world of the 21st century.
In the film we see that once Japan can get past its debilitatingly hierarchical political system and get back to the strength and greatness of its people, it will be be able to re-build from the ashes and rubble left in Godzilla's wake. Japan can become strong and independent once again and shake off the imperialism and colonialism of the west if they can only remove their self-serving and cowardly governing class. To put it in American terms, the Japanese need to "Make Japan Great Again!!", and Godzilla is their Donald Trump, who will burn down the establishment to make way for the Japanese to take back their country from its overlords and their self-induced malaise. The difference between Godzilla and Trump though is that Godzilla, being God Incarnate, is the unadulterated and terrifying Truth, whereas Donald Trump is the self-delusional lie, both the lie that he tells himself and the lie his followers tell themselves.
In Shin Godzilla, the options are clearly presented for the Japanese, they can fall under the rule of the U.S. and the U.N., or turn to other imperialist powers like Russia or China. Instead of following those paths the Japanese realize they must turn inward and conquer their fear and shame, and take their country back, not only from Godzilla, but from the west. This sort of self-determination and neo-nationalism unleashes a pride and self-sufficiency that can go one of two ways. It can either be turned into a confident and self-reliant patriotism, or it can become an arrogant and toxic imperialism hungry for conquest and control. The Japanese have known both forms of this pride, as has America. Shin Godzilla leaves me wondering where this national thought process will lead the current generation of Japanese who seem to be dying on the vine, a lost generation of sorts without even the will to reproduce or the imperative of the sexual drive.
"MAN IS WORSE THAN GODZILLA"
A female scientist in Shin Godzilla tells her compatriots that "Man is worse than Godzilla". This statement resonates with her co-workers who, even seventy years later, all hear the echo of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ringing in their collective ears. Godzilla was born of those atomic bombs, both literally and figuratively, and as he stomps across Tokyo he leaves a trail of fire and devastation that looks remarkably like the destruction left in the wake of the firebombing of Tokyo in World War II.
As former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara once stated, "LeMay (U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay) said, 'If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he's right. He, I'd say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?" (The Fog of War). But to the victors of WWII went the spoils, and to the Japanese went the nightmare that still haunts them to this day.
The Japanese nightmare of World War II is embodied in Shin Godzilla by the "alternative" scientist who had discovered and studied Godzilla but whose work was covered up by the U.S., This scientist, Goro Maki, had lost his wife to radiation sickness from fallout of the Hiroshima attack. A tormented Maki commits suicide in Tokyo Bay by presumably jumping into the water. From the exact spot where Maki jumped into the water, Godzilla rises. In other words, Godzilla is born of the national and personal wound of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic attacks.
LEVIATHANS, ROUGH BEASTS AND THE SHADOW
As the film and Godzilla progress, his destruction looks disturbingly similar to that of the tsunami in 2011. Director Anno masterfully relates Godzilla to the most recent catastrophes in Japan, the tsunami and the Fukushima meltdown. It is easy for us in the west to forget, but over 18,000 people were killed by those events. That is six times the amount killed on 9-11. The Japanese psyche must be deeply scarred by that "God encounter" and the wrath and destruction it wrought. This is why Shin Godzilla is so effective, it uses those deeply ingrained scars and fears to reveal to the Japanese truths about themselves. Shin Godzilla teaches us that just as the God encounter at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 still reverberates in the collective consciousness of the Japanese today, so will the equally horrific God encounter of the tsunami and Fukushima in 2011 effect future generations.
In Shin Godzilla, Godzilla is the long ignored psychological shadow of Japan. The beast is born out of Japan's anger, shame and guilt for its past hubris and both the sins it committed, the rape of Nanking for instance, and that were committed upon it, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The psychological shadow contains a great deal of energy and power, and when the shadow contents are consciously integrated, which they yearn to be, then that energy and power can be released and used positively. When these shadow components are not consciously integrated, but rather unconsciously vent, the effects are devastating. The shadow contents desperately want to be made conscious, and when they are ignored or repressed, they lash out. Godzilla is the ignored shadow lashing out in order to be recognized, acknowledged and finally integrated.
Godzilla's destructive power is heightened by his radioactive core. This radioactive core, just like the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when unleashed leaves a trail of deadly fallout behind them. Godzilla and the atomic bombs not only kill in the moment, but for years and decades to come. This means that even when Godzilla is gone, he will not soon be forgotten. Like all powerful elements of the shadow, Godzilla forces the Japanese to acknowledge him consciously and to never be able to push him back into the bay, a symbol of the unconscious.
Like the Behemoth or Leviathan of the Old Testament, Godzilla is a symbol of the terrifying power unleashed when we have a God Encounter. Shin Godzilla is like the Book of Job, with Japan being Job and Godzilla being God's psychological shadow. Godzilla is a reminder to the Japanese, and all of us, that while we may think we are in control, we aren't. Not even close. Godzilla is a symbol of the powers out of our control, and of the darkness that is rising in our world that will engulf us all sooner or later. Our collective shadow, and Godzilla, will not be ignored much longer. Like the reptilian beast that lurched out of a black pool in Orlando to snatch a little Nebraska boy a few months back, Godzilla is coming out of the depths to remind us of our fragile place in the world and the universe. And we aren't going to be happy when we are forced to reckon with the fact that our rightful place is not at the top of that totem pole.
In conclusion, Shin Godzilla is not only a terrific Godzilla film, it is a very good film. While it doesn't boast the high end special effects of the U.S. Godzilla films, it certainly outdoes its American counter parts with in-depth storytelling, acting and directing. While some non-Godzilla fans may not be able to get past the perceived silliness and campiness of a monster movie, those with the ability to suspend their disbelief and enjoy well done cinema will be left very satisfied by Shin Godzilla. The film is in very limited release in the U.S. so I recommend you see it in the theatre while you can!!