Shin Godzilla

4 out of 5 

Directed by: Shinji Higuchi, Hideaki Anno

Meetings upon meetings. While shots of embattled politicians, holed up in a board room and debating What To Do decisions are not unexpected in a Godzilla movie – or any kind of mass calamity movie, I suppose – it is fascinating that this 2016 reboot of the franchise is structured almost entirely around that for its two hour runtime, shuttling a swath of suited figures from one room and committee to the next, the Prime Minister (Ren Ôsugi) ducking in and out of press conferences, trying to decide the best way to manage the public impression of this giant creature which has just emerged from the water, and now seems to be mindlessly boring through and tearing up Tokyo. PR damage control is never far from being the focus of these discussions… and then actual damage control thereafter. 

There’s inherent comedy in this, of course, as well as much cultural commentary on a political structure that requires 18 different people to confirm what’s happening – when you can look outside and see that giant lizard shooting laser beams out if its mouth – and then 18 other people to coordinate committees to present facts and figures that don’t really illustrate anything, creating a circle where each person is only willing to accept responsibility for something if they’re approved by someone else to do so. There’s logic to these beaurocratic checks and balances, and the desire to think first and then act, but also – as shown for 120 minutes – sets up a circle of nodding heads which won’t produce actual solutions. 

From this mire emerges Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), who is the first to essentially point out the window and shout that it’s a giant lizard, and eventually gets the opportunity to put together a team of oddballs who are willing to put the people (and not their reputations) first, and think outside of the box for weird solutions. 

What’s fascinating about all of this is how fascinating it all is: writer / co-director Hideaki Anno and co-director Shinji Higuchi make this two hours of talking heads (and a constant stream of names and locations) pretty damn gripping, not only using amazing framing and colors and music (Shirō Sagisu) to keep things visually compelling, but also knowing how to juggle the tone such that the social criticisms are greatly apparent, but not done so to the utter destruction of rooting for these people amidst their plight, or over simplifying their roles – we see the human side of the PM, grappling with decisions to wield city-destroying weapons against Godzilla, just as we also note the political ambitions of hero Yaguchi, so that he’s not simply a boyscout. Similar care has been taken to balance out our kaiju’s appearance, firmly rooted in the design sensibilities of yore – slightly goofy, a little alien-like – but maintaining its inherent sense of threat, and also majistry and mystery. 

Satomi Ishihara, playing the American point of contact, is used a bit unevenly, both in terms of messaging and plotwise; the latter involves a semi-meet cute vibe with Yaguchi that somewhat falls flat. And overall, the movie could do with some condensing in its midsection, continuing to run around aimlessly after having made that point; there are also a few too many instance of Explaining The Point to us towards the end, though I appreciate that may have seemed necessary in such a talky flick. 

Otherwise, what a wonderfully unusual film: a respectful and exciting update / addition to the franchise, that’s not structured like any other would-be-blockbuster before or since.