Sunday, October 16, 2016

Shin Godzilla Review

When I heard that Toho Studios was making another Godzilla movie I was really excited. I'd been a fan of the big guy since seeing the 1954 "Godzilla" on Creatures Features when I was a kid. It was perhaps later that I was able to appreciate the producers using Godzilla as a metaphor for the destruction of the atomic bomb. When I was a kid, I just enjoyed the rampaging giant dinosaur.

The popularity of the character led to a series of movies in later decades. Godzilla became not so much a destructive force but rather the protector of earth, each movie featuring a new monster nemesis for Godzilla to battle. The movies were no longer about Japan trying to find a way to destroy Godzilla, but rather how to live with the creature who, while protecting earth, none the less seemed to tear up a good portion of it in the process.

In the 90s and 2000s we saw a more sophisticated look to the movies, the FX of which were starting to look a little thread bare by the 70s. When you can see the zipper on the monster suits, it takes away from the fantasy a bit. The look of Godzilla took on a much fiercer quality than it had in some of the later 60s movies. And the plots were a bit more intricate than the kid-friendly plots that had taken over the original series. But the plots still strayed from the original 1954 notion of Godzilla as a reckoning for the arrogance of humans.

The last movie made was 2004's "Godzilla Final Wars." In the meantime, the US tried its hand at a Godzilla film with the 1998 "Godzilla" in which the producers offered us a mutated Iguana rampaging through a rain soaked New York. Actually, Godzilla's first appearance in New York is fantastic. It's all downhill from there. 

The 2014 Legendary release of "Godzilla" seemed more hopeful. We had again, a giant dinosaur-like creature that actually fit the awesome roar. He was a little chunky for my liking and had ridiculous looking feet, but I still hoped for the best considering the fantastic special effects that were being put into play. Don't get me wrong, I love the guy in the rubber suit battling among the models of buildings. Say what you will, there is an art to that sort of look and Toho was great at it.

But I thought it would be great to see what could be done with the magic of CGI. Unfortunately, it was hard to see what sort of magic was wrought because the director decided to spend two and a half hours teasing the monsters. We saw them only in glimpses, or through smoked glass, or from the perspective of one of the humans who then turned their gaze away when they ran. Drawn on too long, the tease became irritating (as I describe in my blog piece on that film which you can access here). It was like Godzilla was making a cameo in his own movie. 

There is apparently going to be a reboot of "King Kong," which will lead into a Godzilla vs King Kong movie. My only hope is that this time they let us see them fight. 

So when I heard about "Shin Gojiro," or "Shin Godzilla (or as it was briefly known to America, Godzilla Resurgence) I was thrilled knowing that the mighty monster was in the proper hands again. Toho would know how to showcase their monster.

And after seeing it, I wasn't disappointed, although it isn't what many people might be expecting. It harks back to the 1954 "Godzilla," using the creature as a metaphor, only this time he isn't a reckoning for a horror unleashed by humans. He is nature, a true force of nature that humans have no control over. There was a beautiful starkness to the original "Godzilla" as there is with this movie and it's the simplicity of plot that adds to the horror.

The word is that filmmakers were influenced by the events of the 2011 tsunami (and both the destruction and the bureaucracy dealing with the destruction that ensued) that devastated parts of Japan. That is apparent in this film. 

Frankly, I was initially concerned as I watched the film. The shaky camera effect of the found footage films is liberally employed in the beginning and I really loathe that style of film making. But this is just one technique used in the telling of the story so it wasn't so bad. Another thing I found initially off putting was the scores of meetings that are held in the wake of Godzilla's resurgence. Until it dawned on me that that is exactly what would happen if such an event happened. This was political commentary on the massive amount of meetings with no results that were held during the destruction of the 2011 tsunami. With that event, things went from bad to worse as a wave of water devoured the land and the Fukushima Diachi nuclear power plant. And it is so with Godzilla's rampage.

In both events, the government seemed to spend more time talking about it than doing anything about it. And even when warnings are issued or assurances given, they're done all in an effort not to lose face. After much discussion among experts it is decided that the monstrous creature now sliding through rivers would never come on land. The prime minister announces with confidence that people have no need to fear. Shortly after, the creature comes on land, leaving the minister fuming that people will think him a fool. 

And yet, the reality of the situation is fully considered. While the endless meetings would be frustrating, the fact is that if such an unusual event were to occur, the government would have to put a good portion of energy into damage control, as well as trying to figure out what steps to take to stop further damage. If there are any. We complain about the bureaucracy of the government, but in most countries, things run fairly smoothly on a daily basis considering the massive amount of things that must run smoothly. In an event of this magnitude, even without massive bureaucracy bogging down systems, there would be no magic words to put it all right immediately. And that's also what this movie does so right. Especially after the destruction of Tokyo when everyone, including government officials, are forced to take shelter and must dig out and assess what's left to work with once they do.

Once I understood what the writers and directors were going for, I appreciated the scenes (and there are many) of meetings on a different level. It can be taxing to watch when trying to read subtitles. I generally love to hear foreign movies in their own language so I don't mind reading subtitles. But there are so many when they announce the title of this person, or the name of this cabinet, while people are talking, that it can be difficult to take it all in. That might lead some people to be more frustrated by the scenes of meetings. It does take a bit to get into the rhythm.

But let's talk about Godzilla, which is why I bought my ticket (and there may be some spoilers along the way). As stated, Godzilla is a force of nature. I was fascinated by what I read about the slightly different take they were going to give this new movie. I was used to the majesty of the giant dinosaur and wasn't completely sold on the idea of this new creature. Just as in the original Godzilla, this creature is born of radiation. Cans of radioactive waste, dumped into the ocean who knows when, led to the mutation of tiny sea life that eventually coalesced and morphed into what would become Godzilla. In this movie, Godzilla is constantly evolving, changing into the creature that resembles the giant rampaging dinosaur. 

It is the concept of the little problem, unattended, that becomes so much larger and deadlier over time. It offers yet one more challenge for the country to to overcome. Just as the government is getting a handle on what it is, it changes into something else, with new powers.

The first real glimpse of Godzilla comes just as a cabinet is discussing an unexpected tunnel collapse, bringing up the discussion of infrastructure in the country. On the TV they see what appears to be a giant tail flipping around in the ocean. This is the first form of Godzilla, though they don't know that at the time. Zoological experts are brought in to try to figure out what it is, and eventually it's decided to leave it be. Out in the ocean it's harming no one, it'll probably just disappear back to where it came from.

Not long after that, Godzilla's second form emerges from the ocean and starts prowling the rivers of Japan. That's when the prime minister makes his ill-timed statement before the monster crawls its way onto land. Experts have assured him that the monster would be crushed under its own weight if it went on land. But they never considered that the creature was in a constant state of evolution.

This is when you really begin to appreciate the inspiration that the tsunami was on this film. A mound of boats and debris proceeds the monster which is pushing through the river. The only glimpse you get is what looks to be a giant fish eye as it passes. The clip is brief but reminiscent of images of the wave entering towns and bringing with it the debris it had picked up along the way.

Truthfully, when the second form is shown in full, my first reaction was a bit of humor. But as the scene goes on, that muppet-like cuteness took on a horrific feel as this massive creature surges mindlessly on. He almost looks to be confused and in pain, an exposed nerve, as he scrapes, leaking blood from gills no longer necessary. He's not interested in the people running in front of him, he's just following the urge to surge a wall of water, picking up cars, buildings and people as he moves along. 

It's a haunting image and handled so believably that you become completely immersed in the horror of it. Suddenly, that face doesn't seem so cute. You can imagine the terror you'd feel if you saw something like that coming down the street.

It's not long after this that the creature evolves into the third form of Godzilla, which perhaps explains why it seemed to be thrashing around in agony as it went through the town. The Godzilla that we know is beginning to take shape though it still looks raw and in pain.

Godzilla's fourth form appears after he makes his way back to the ocean, presumably to cool down the nuclear reactor inside him. When he emerges, he's massive, the tallest Godzilla in all the movies, his flesh scarred over though there are still areas with open wounds. Is he done transforming and is now healing, or will there be a fifth form? And always this relentless need to surge forward. 

In past movies, there was always something that Godzilla seemed to be after when he moved through Tokyo. Often it was to fuel up at nuclear reactors. In this movie, there doesn't seem to be a motivation for his rampaging. And actually, it's hard to really call it a rampage since that implies anger. Godzilla's forward motion doesn't seem to entail anger (until people start shooting missiles at him). It's mindless, again, like that tsunami wave that moved across the land. In fact, there are shots in the movie that are reminiscent of the shots of the tsunami as it surged inland.

Another thing I found brave on the part of the film makers was that so many of Godzilla's scenes take place during the day. It's much harder to disguise FX when scenes are set during the day. That's why big CGI scenes are set at night. The film makers were a bit fearless in that. And while the FX has come a long way from guys in rubber suits rampaging among models, there is still a slight sense of that with this movie to keep up the tradition.

Of course, mindless as he may be, Godzilla is capable of major damage and there is a glorious scene when he finally enters Tokyo and a fierce battle ensues which leads to the destruction of the city. It also highlights not only Godzilla's atomic breath but also the fact that he can now shoot rays through back scales and his tail.

This only seems to add to the hopelessness of the situation. He is unstoppable. 

So all in all, I was highly impressed with the direction of this movie. It is open for a sequel (though even after being dissolved at the end of "Godzilla" 1954, he somehow managed to come back for more (and let's not forget, where one Godzilla was created from a mass of irradiated sea creatures, so could another be formed). I'm not sure, if there's a sequel, where it will go. Will go go the route of the earlier series where Godzilla goes from threat to protector? Will it be matter of Godzilla returning to rampage again? I'm just very happy that the people behind this production found such an inventive way to tell the story again.