Friday, September 30, 2016

Shin Godzilla is not your usual monster, or monster movie! (film review)

The Japanese poster for the Japanese film known as 
 Godzilla Resurgence in some other territories, including the USA

Shin Godzilla (Japan, 2016)
- Shinji Higuchi, co-director and Hideaki Anno, co-director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Hiroki Hasegawa, Satomi Ishihara

It's not like most other monster movies.  Based on that asssessment cum assurance from a friend, I decided to go check out the 29th film from Japan -- and the 31st in total (since that giant creature also has appeared in two Hollywood movies, including the 2014 blockbuster bearing its name) -- since 1954 in which Godzilla has top billing.

Far talkier and serious than expected, the first ever Godzilla movie I've seen from start to finish often comes across as more political point-making drama than action blockbuster.  After a Japanese coast guard boat is mysteriously destroyed in Tokyo Bay and Tokyo Bay-Aqua Line combination bridge-tunnel is severely damaged, Japanese government officials get to realizing that they've got a major disaster on their hands.  But rather than spring immediately and efficiently into action, they wade at a deathly slow pace through a series of meetings where bureaucracy and "face saving" impulses tend to prevail at the expense of productive action.

Amidst a tangle of fearful as well as colorless administrators who appear to prioritize etiquette, precedence and procedure above all else, mid-level cabinet official Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) stands out for his straight-talking and willingness to consider seemingly wild possibilities when provided with evidence that they are indeed valid and actually true.  But while he manages to muster a team of like-minded individuals who are able to think outside the box from among his countrymen (and at least one woman (Mikako Ichikawa)), it's really only after US special envoy Kayoko Ann Peterson (Satomi Ishihara) enters the picture that the efforts to deal with this giant monster -- known as Gojira to the Japanese but Godzilla to Americans (as noted at one point in the film) -- really get going; and this despite it already having amply demonstrated early on how utterly destructive it is!

As unlikely as it may seem, the most interesting aspects of Shin Godzilla may well be its illuminating highlighting of certain uniquely as well as distinctively Japanese political procedures and perspectives.  Among these are the accepted roles and limitations of the Japan Self-Defense Force (which has far more experience in disaster relief efforts than in the firing of any weapons in anger), and the "brotherly" relationship it has with the USA by way of the US-Japan Security Treaty in which Japan is very much cast as the lesser, weaker sibling.  In addition, it's easy to draw damning parallels between the frustratingly inept governmental administration depicted in this Toho production with those who were frequently found wanting when Japan's Tohoku region was beset by earthquakes, tsunami and then a nuclear disaster in March 2011.

Still, whenever the king of kaiju appears in the frame, it often is the case that the havoc it wreaks is pretty mind-blowing!  For with only a fraction of the budget of Hollywood blockbusters, special effects wizard Shinji Higuchi and Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno have managed to create a number of spectacular scenes featuring an 118.5-meter-tall monster that is the largest Godzilla to date that are utterly believable in terms of its incredible power(s).

Ironically, the least convincing element in Shin Godzilla is not the titular mythical creature but, instead, the actress playing the US special envoy.  Kayoko Ann Peterson's Japanese physical features may have been explained away by her being Japanese-American (with a grandmother who had been born in Japan and lived there for a time).  But shouldn't it have been possible to find another actress at least as capable as Satomi Ishihara, yet fluent enough in English to be able to speak it with a convincing American accent?    

I suppose the idea was -- and excuse is -- that Shin Godzilla's primarily meant for domestic consumption.  But surely the filmmakers must have known that this offering was destined to play in many other countries on Godzilla being, well, big -- heck, gigantic even -- in many territories rather than just the Land of the Rising Sun (and kaiju eiga)?!

My rating for this film: 7.0

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