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WARNING: This review might contain spoilers! Do not read further if you have not watched the film.
The twelve year wait for a new Japanese-made Godzilla movie is finally over with the debut of 2016’s Shin Godzilla, written and directed by Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno.
Set in an entirely new universe with no narrative connection to any of the preceding films, the film is a contemporary take on a classic character that embodies the spirit of the 1954 original. Audiences expecting a ‘typical monster movie’ may be confused or disappointed with the outcome.
The truth is, Shin Godzilla is political satire centered around the ineffectiveness of the Japanese government in handling crises. In fact, the first twenty minutes alone are dedicated to the bumbling and indecisive efforts of the Cabinet to respond to Godzilla’s initial emergence, a fact noted by a character in the film as ’embarrassing’.
Viewers are thrust into the midst of this conflict of ideals through the eyes of tenacious Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi, played wonderfully by Hiroki Hasegawa. Racing against time in anticipation of a possible reemergence by Godzilla, Yaguchi puts together a ragtag team of scientists and researchers to understand the creature while continuing to navigate through the overly complex layers of bureaucracy.
As for Godzilla himself, the latest incarnation of the character is downright terrifying. Not only is his skin impervious to the weapons of the entire Japan Self Defence Force, his classic atomic breath can also be fired from his mouth, tail and dorsal fins, causing an incredible amount of death and destruction in his path. In macabre fashion, Anno models the collateral damage left in Godzilla’s wake after the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, evoking memories of the darkest day in the history of postwar Japan.
The motivations of Godzilla’s appearance and movements are largely left to imagination, with more focus being called unto the misgivings of the powers that be. The Japanese government’s abominable handling of the incident, as well as the decision by a US-led United Nations coalition to drop a third atomic bomb on Japan in an effort to ‘exterminate’ Godzilla, all reek of a prevalent inability to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors.
Bureaucracy is the real villain here. Parallels to the Fukushima disaster of March 2011 and mentions of Hiroshima might also unavoidably provoke haunting memories for the Japanese. However, Anno’s final message is clear and distinct, albeit familiar: Amidst the unprecedented threat of a near-invincible giant monster and a third atomic bomb, the Japanese people still manage to emerge victorious through their sheer resilience, determination and hard work. Thanks to the right leadership.