This will be the last entry about Godzilla movies. I wanted to cover the most recent film, Shin Godzilla, and just write some final thoughts.
I’ve decided not to write about the trilogy of animated Godzilla films on Netflix (I saw the first one, and it didn’t really capture my interest for some reason) nor the American films (I didn’t like the Roland Emmerich one from the 90’s at all, but I do like the recent Legendary/Monsterverse ones quite a bit). Mostly I feel that Godzilla is a uniquely Japanese phenomenon, I guess, and that’s what is of interest to me.
Shin Godzilla is the first film in what is known as the Reiwa period (the eras are named for the Japanese emperor when the first film is released). The film is the first to incorporate CGI instead of “men in rubber suits,” and Godzilla is given a fairly radical redesign, most noticeably smaller, beady eyes. The film is a hard reboot, which is almost welcome at this point – after so many movies deciding that the first movie happened but none of the rest, this one clears the slate completely, and we get an all-new Godzilla origin story.
Rather than being a parable for Hiroshima like the 1954 film, this Godzilla is inspired by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Godzilla emerges as a very small creature at first, swimming up a Japanese canal, armless, then crawls up on shore, spewing blood from his gills everywhere. He stops, and goes through a sudden evolution, growing arms and standing erect. He grows throughout the film, evolving as the Japanese attack him and try to figure out what to do, which was a pretty interesting new take on the creature.
A lot of the film is a very realistic approach to how Japan deals with this attack. We’re shown council meetings and the inner workings and conflicts of Japanese bureaucracy and red tape, which gets even more interesting and political when the U.S. gets involved. The U.S. wants to nuke Godzilla, and the Japanese want to come up with another solution, so there’s a bit of geopolitics involved, along with a more body horror approach to Godzilla.
I would have liked to have seen this approach with another kaiju for Godzilla to fight, but it’s a pretty solid reboot, and there’s plans for sequels in the works, so maybe we’ll get there.
And now just some final thoughts.
It felt like a lot to take this project on – I watched over 30 films! But it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. As I said in the first entry, I have a high level of nostalgia for Godzilla. And my intention was to track Godzilla as a character, to see what his character arc was over so many films.
To that point, I would have to say that the project was a failure. There is very little continuity in Godzilla movies. They reboot constantly, or straight up ignore everything that came before. Godzilla will sometimes suddenly display new powers that are never used again, look different for no apparent reason, and switch back and forth between being the Earth’s protector to being a destroyer of cities. Some of the early films take place in the future, where Japan has colonized the moon, then they go back to present day. It’s pretty messy. I’m walking away feeling like the filmmakers have a serious problem of committing to the character somehow.
In that respect, Godzilla is such an iconic character that he somehow ends up being bulletproof. I think this has a lot more to do with his design than any sort of character building – you can go wrong with a giant lizard who spits fire and stomps on cities. Throw in other giant monsters for him to fight, and it’s time to break out the popcorn. The best Godzilla movies are the ones where there’s just monsters throwing each other around on top of tiny cityscapes.
The closest analogy I could think of for this kind of thing is Batman. Batman is also bulletproof as a character, and they’ve done a thousand different incarnations of him. But Batman also has a backstory, and there’s a character there to work with, so even that isn’t a one-to-one comparison.
I can’t, with a straight face, say this was a wise investment of time. I’m glad I’ve ticked it off my mental bucketlist, but I would not recommend the experience. Some of the films are great fun, but, with a few exceptions, you really could watch them in any order and get the same experience out of them.
I am looking forward to this year’s Kong vs. Godzilla film, though. I think the Legendary films have done a good job of building up their Monsterverse, and I’ll be there opening weekend to see the big monsters smack each other around.
Thanks for reading.