We’re so busy with the spectacle of shared universes and CG indistinguishable from reality that we forget the lessons of our monsters. Japan hasn’t, and Shin Godzilla is a reminder of the power the most famous kaiju in the world has in holding a mirror to the nightmares of our own making, allowing us to process unspeakable events through the rampaging of a massive radioactive fossil from the past. Where Ishirō Honda found a way to comment on the horrific aftermath of the atomic bombings of Japan in WWII, so now do Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame craft a multi-faceted look at a country in turmoil after a devastating event, with the nuclear behemoth standing in for the very real terrors following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, which happened following an earthquake and tsunami off the coast of eastern Japan.
THE QUICK SUMMARY: Something has erupted in the waters off the coast of Tokyo. The government assumes volcanic activity or active vents on the sea floor, despite growing evidence of a large creature. When the massive leviathan emerges to cause havoc in the surrounding area, ministers and military and politicians of all stripes work through enormous amounts of red tape and bureaucratic bumbling to arrive at placating press conferences and restrictions in the name of government to move decisively, even as the creature evolves and grows to astonishing heights. What’s happening? How can it be stopped? Can young Rando Yaguchi cut through enough of the red tape to enact a plan to stop Gojira, the God Incarnate before the US-led forces decide another atomic bomb is just what’s needed to stop the creature – and the country – in its tracks?
It’s impressive how agile Anno and Higuchi move between government bumbling satire in the beginning to horror and despair as the true power of Godzilla is revealed, to a final pride in the way a country sees itself for what it is, as opposed to how it is perceived by others. No one but the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion could have made this kind of a Godzilla film (just ask Jon), and it’s a marvel of a film even as it keeps its main character as a remove for the majority of the movie. Shin Godzilla is more concerned with the human response than it is the antics of the kaiju itself.
I could go on but time is short this week. If you’re a fan of Godzilla and you’ve never had the chance to see Toho’s latest live action Shin Godzilla needs to be moved up your queue. Don’t let those google eyes fool you: the monster evolves, but for the plot and for the times we live in.